All 21 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 19th Oct 2020

Mon 19th Oct 2020
Mon 19th Oct 2020
Mon 19th Oct 2020
Mon 19th Oct 2020
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Mon 19th Oct 2020
Mon 19th Oct 2020
Mon 19th Oct 2020

House of Commons

Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Monday 19 October 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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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]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Oral Answers to Questions

Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to ensure that the job entry targeted support programme supports jobseekers to move into growth sectors of the economy.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Our new JETS scheme has started rolling out across the country and blasted off in my hon. Friend’s constituency on 5 October. The scheme has £238 million of funding that is dedicated to helping people who have been out of work for three or more months and may be at risk of long-term unemployment. JETS will see a variety of providers work at our local jobcentre networks to offer a range of bespoke services, including important advice on how people can move into new, growing sectors, as well as help with CV building and interview coaching.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates
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I am glad that the scheme is already helping my constituents in Penistone and Stocksbridge, many of whom are now struggling to find work as a result of the pandemic. However, getting people back into work will require a national effort, so will he provide a broader update on the roll-out of the scheme?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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My hon. Friend is right to suggest that tackling the impacts of covid will require a national effort, and the DWP stands ready to deliver this with our network of local jobcentres, which we will be expanding. The JETS scheme started two weeks ago and is now live right across England and Wales, and we are contracting anew in Scotland. We anticipate that as JETS continues to roll out across Great Britain, it will help 280,000 of our claimants to find work and build the skills to pivot into new sectors if required.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for people in the sectors worst affected by the covid-19 outbreak.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, because he gives me the opportunity to highlight again what we are doing to help people in the sectors worst affected by the covid-19 outbreak. I have worked with my colleagues across government in forming and delivering our £30 billion plan for jobs to increase employment support, protect jobs and create new opportunities. He will be aware of the kickstart scheme, which particularly focuses on young people, but we will continue to help people of all ages to get back into work.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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May I raise the specific issue of the support that is available to single parents when their child has to self-isolate? They are not able to claim statutory sick pay if their child is having to self-isolate at school age. In addition, if they were to apply for universal credit, they would have to restart the process each and every time. I have constituents who have had to self-isolate on multiple occasions because their school-age children have been told they have to stay at home and cannot stay at home on their own. Can the Secretary of State either tell me now, or come back to me on it in writing, what specific support can be directed towards constituents who need that additional support as single parents?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I will certainly ask the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work to look into that detailed issue on SSP. If a person is required to self-isolate as a consequence of somebody in their household having symptoms, then, in my view, they should be eligible for SSP. But given that it is such a legal and technical issue, I will ask my hon. Friend to write to the hon. Gentleman specifically.

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP) [V]
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Ending the furlough scheme early is going to put livelihoods at risk, so will the Secretary of State provide an update on her discussions with the Treasury about extending the covid-related increase to universal credit and ensuring that it is expanded to legacy benefits? While she is in those discussions, will she raise extending the furlough scheme and ask that the covid self-isolation grants be tax-exempt, as called for by the Social Security Secretary in Scotland, Shirley-Ann Somerville?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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There are multiple questions there. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already responded by introducing the new job support scheme, which he updated for particular sectors, thinking of tier 3 in England, to extend even further the furlough scheme. It is clear that this Government are doing what is needed. In terms of the other things that the hon. Gentleman mentions, he will be aware that I continue to have regular discussions with my Treasury colleagues on the best way that we can help to support people during this pandemic.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on levels of child poverty.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
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This Government’s unprecedented support package has supported the poorest working households the most, with Her Majesty’s Treasury’s analysis showing that the poorest 10% of working households have seen no income reduction, owing to the fast action taken by this Government in responding to the pandemic, including a £9.3 billion injection into the welfare system.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern
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The problem with the Minister’s answer is that this crisis is only revealing problems with policies that we knew were there already. Members of this House are against it; members of faith communities are against it; leading charities are against it; and now Marcus Rashford is campaigning against it. So what is the Minister going to do to end the two-child policy for universal credit once and for all?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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The two-child policy in universal credit is one of fundamental fairness, and it means that those who are in receipt of benefits should be in the same position as those who are not. I am not a particular football fan, but I certainly know Marcus Rashford’s name now, and I congratulate him on his MBE. We welcome the establishment of the taskforce and will carefully consider its recommendations as we approach the spending review.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
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We already know that child poverty rates have been rising across north-west England, and that is before the economic impact of the restrictions consequent upon tier 3. The Chancellor talks about the way that the job support scheme and universal credit protect income, saying that it leaves households with 90% of their income, but many households will get nothing like that, and those who lose their jobs entirely sometimes go on to universal credit at 30% of income. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the restrictions on child poverty in the north-west and how that compares with a local furlough scheme that protects all jobs that are at risk?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I will look carefully at the points that the hon. Lady raises, but I stress that this Government have implemented an unprecedented support package, including the job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, which has helped families to cope with the financial impact of covid-19. For those most in need, we strengthened the welfare system with an additional £9 billion this year. That is in addition to the around £5 billion increase to benefit rates as part of the 2020-21 uprating, including around £400 million more on children’s benefits.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to support people into work throughout the UK.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to support people into work throughout the UK.

Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to support people into work throughout the UK.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies) [V]
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This Government are working hard to help people into work with our £30 billion plan for jobs. Kickstart will provide a high-quality paid work placement for young people across the UK, and our new job entry targeted support scheme—JETS—will help those who have been unemployed for more than three months move into new and growing sectors. Our additional job finding support service will provide targeted support for the newly unemployed, with local provisions available now and a national contract due in place from 21 January.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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In Carshalton and Wallington, we know that the self-employed are the risk takers, and the pandemic has shown that we need to be there for them. Work coaches have done a good job of knowing what is fair and reasonable and are able to apply discretion when setting work search requirements, so will my hon. Friend assure me that self-employed claimants will also benefit from this personalised, discretionary approach as the minimum income floor is reintroduced?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I can assure my hon. Friend that claimants will always be contacted before the minimum income floor is applied to them. Universal credit claimants who were subject to the minimum income floor prior to the pandemic will be given the opportunity to review their self-employment status and activity, ensuring that their current circumstances are reflected and their business continues to be viable before any reintroduction of the MIF. My hon. Friend will be aware that the regulations to relax the MIF are in place until November, and I will update the House on arrangements beyond that in due course.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney
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I joined my caseworker on a recent covid-safe visit to Huddersfield jobcentre, which is rolling out a seven-day-a-week operation to support jobseekers. Will the Minister join me in thanking all the team at Huddersfield jobcentre and continue to give them all the support required as they recruit the extra staff they need to support my constituents into work via kickstart and other schemes?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am more than happy to extend my great thanks to the DWP team in Huddersfield, as well as their new colleagues. They have done sterling work in setting up a new youth hub with Kirklees Council, as well as other activities involving kickstart, using sector-based work academy programmes—SWAPs—and mentoring circles and working with local employers to help more people in Huddersfield back into work.

Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher
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Does the Minister share my concern that young people in Bolsover and elsewhere are at risk of being held back by the coronavirus pandemic? Will she commit to doing everything possible to ensure that opportunities are available to enable them to move forward in their careers and ensure that they reach their potential?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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In September 2020, we started the implementation of our new DWP youth offer for all 18 to 24-year-olds making a claim for universal credit who are in the intensive work search group. We are on track in our ambitious plan for young people to open around 100 DWP-led youth hubs nationally, and many are already in place, supporting our young people to progress.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
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What steps she is taking through the Pension Schemes Bill to support the Government’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman) [V]
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As my hon. Friend knows, we want safer, better and greener pensions. This Government were the first in a G7 country to legislate for net zero by 2050. We lead the way on environmental regulation of pensions, and we are introducing transparency of climate-related financial disclosures in the Pension Schemes Bill that require schemes to take account of climate change goals, including net zero.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford
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I thank the Minister for his response. Climate change is the single biggest threat not only to mankind, but to the planet. Does he agree with me that if we are to meet the climate change targets set out in the Paris agreement, more needs to be done to ensure that large financial institutions, including institutional investors such as pension funds, channel more investment into areas that do not actively harm our environment and contribute to climate change?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are setting a regulatory framework and enabling pension funds to make sustainable investments happen, whether that is through the Bill itself or through our illiquid investments proposals, which will see renewables, hydrogen and potentially new nuclear. We do not believe in divestment, but we welcome the change in investment practice that is already beginning to take place, although we want to see more.

Jack Dromey Portrait Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab) [V]
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With David Attenborough urging pension funds to move away from fossil fuels, it is hugely welcome that the Government have joined Labour to incorporate in legislation, for the first time ever, climate change commitments on pension funds. Now we must translate our ambitions into action. Previously, the Minister has received positively our proposal for a pension fund summit. Will he now agree to work with us—across party and bringing together the world of pensions to save our planet—to organise a cross-party climate change summit, because this is the biggest form of investment potentially worldwide in climate change pension funds?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are already working with a large number of pension funds and also with companies. We all want to see a safer, better and greener pension system. I am happy to work with him on an ongoing basis, and I am happy to reach out on a collaborative basis on this particular issue, which matters to all of us.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
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What steps her Department has taken to support an effective transition between legacy benefits and universal credit.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
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What steps her Department has taken to support an effective transition between legacy benefits and universal credit.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
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My Department continually reviews its processes and the service it provides to claimants using a long-standing test and learn approach. In July, we introduced a two-week run-on of DWP income-related benefits, which is in addition to the existing two-week extension of housing benefit that is already payable to eligible claimants. Claimants who believe they may be better off on universal credit should check their eligibility before applying, as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon
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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. With difficult times ahead for Stoke-on-Trent families hit by the economic downturn caused by coronavirus, does my hon. Friend agree that it is more important than ever for universal credit to offer any necessary flexibility to ensure people get the support they need to return to work, particularly those affected by local lockdown restrictions?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Universal credit is designed to support people into work. It supports those who need help and is fair to everyone who pays for it. Throughout the pandemic many, sadly, have lost their jobs or seen their incomes reduced. Thankfully, universal credit and the Government’s £9.3 billion investment in the welfare safety net have been there to help catch many of those affected, and that has been vital for the 3 million people who have made a benefit claim since March.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson
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Our plan for jobs will help people get the skills they need at every stage of their lives and delivers on our promise to level up opportunity across the country. Work coaches will play a crucial role in delivering that agenda and helping people back into work, so will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the brilliant work coaches of Workington jobcentre, and commit to increasing the number of work coaches across the jobcentre network?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I too pay tribute to the brilliant work coaches in Workington Jobcentre Plus, who I know have done an incredible job in particular around partnership working, and I can point to the Maryport GP surgery outreach work, the youth hub, the sector-based work academy programmes and the virtual mentoring circle by Workington jobcentre. That is brilliant work and, yes, I can absolutely confirm that we are investing £895 million in doubling the number of work coaches and Jobcentre Pluses by March 2021.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now head to Lewisham and the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) [V]
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The £20-a-week uplift to universal credit has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, yet this vital extra support continues to be denied to legacy benefit claimants, many of whom are disabled. I raised this with Ministers in the Chamber on 11 May, again on 29 June and yet again on 14 September, each time getting a non-answer. To date, the uplift could have given legacy benefit claimants £600 of extra support. Minister, can we please have a straight answer today: will anything be done to rectify this?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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The hon. Lady is right is that she has asked this question on three occasions, and she has had three answers. The legacy benefits were increased by 1.7% in April 2020, following the Government’s announcement to end the benefit freeze. It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for universal credit if they believe that they will be better off. There are special arrangements for those in receipt of the severe disability premium, who will be able to make a new claim to UC from January 2021. But it is important—I stress this—that claimants should check their eligibility before applying to universal credit as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of resuming (a) benefits sanctions and (b) welfare conditionality during increased levels of unemployment as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of resuming (a) benefits sanctions and (b) welfare conditionality during increased levels of unemployment as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies) [V]
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Evidence suggests that active labour market policies can be even more effective during recessions. We will continue to encourage claimants to prepare and look for work where it is safe to do so. Claimants will not be subject to conditionality until they have agreed a new or updated claimant commitment. We firmly believe the best way to support claimants is through empowered work coaches who engage proactively with claimants to help them identify the options they need to build on their skills, increase their confidence and return to employment.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson
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Non-existent jobs. Liverpool has had the second highest unemployment increase in the country since March 2020. Our claimant rate has more than doubled from 12,000 to 32,000, and we now have the highest unemployment rate in the country. There are a further 27,000 people on furlough in our closed hospitality sector who will either be let go or have to survive on 67% of their wages come November. With benefits sanctions being reintroduced and welfare conditionality being reinstated, what evidence do the Government have that this is benefiting claimants and preventing a return to the high unemployment of the ’80s?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I stress to the hon. Lady that sanctions are only used when claimants fail to meet their conditionality requirements without good reason. As I said in my previous responses, work coaches will work to ensure that any requirements set are reasonable, taking into account the claimant’s circumstances and, crucially, the situation in the local labour market, while allowing them to adhere also to public health advice. We are absolutely determined to help people back into work, giving them the power to do that, and the way we can do that locally in Liverpool is through the flexible support fund and other measures.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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In Manchester, Withington there are 3,000 more people needing to claim unemployment benefits than this time last year, and unemployment is rising and will get worse at the end of the furlough scheme, so there are not 3,000 jobs for those people to go to. Suspending sanctions and welfare conditionality was the right thing to do in the crisis, but we are still in that crisis. Does the Minister not accept that we need to be more supportive and less punitive at the moment?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I hope the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will acknowledge that, despite the reintroduction of conditionality and sanctions, we fully recognise that these are difficult times. New jobs are being created in the digital, green and logistical sectors that can be carried out safely in line with social distancing and public health rules. There is a recognition that in some sectors there will be challenges, while in others there are opportunities, but we will always make sure that jobcentres respond suitably to local alert levels and always set that conditionality in line with individuals, helping them to progress and always listening to them; if they have a good reason and cannot adhere, we will support them and take that individual approach.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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In July, the Government chose to reinstate benefit sanctions and conditionality, against the advice of experts. We are now in the covid second wave, with businesses closing, unemployment rising and vacancies halved since March, but last week the Government said that the clinically extremely vulnerable and those they live with could have their benefits cut if they refuse a job that puts them at risk from the virus. Is that really the Government’s policy? Is it not time to end the threats and re-suspend benefit sanctions, or are we no longer in this together?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but if someone cannot work and must stay at home, there are ways of getting additional support, and I would urge anybody concerned to use the benefits calculator on gov.uk. I again remind the House that work coaches will always work to ensure that requirements are reasonable, always taking into account the claimant’s circumstances and the situation in the local labour market, and continuing to adhere to public health advice. Claimants who fail to meet the conditionality requirements without good reason may be sanctioned, but as I say, the rates are extraordinarily low—in fact, they have never been lower—and we are determined to help people back into work with the right individual support, based on their individual circumstances.

Rosie Cooper Portrait Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)
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What recent discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on extending the £20 additional universal credit payment during the covid-19 outbreak.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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If she will increase jobseeker’s allowance by £20 per week in line with universal credit.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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The 2020-21 universal credit increase was included in a package of welfare measures worth around £9.3 billion this year to help people with the financial consequences of what has happened with the covid-19 pandemic. I continue to work with the Treasury on the best ways to support those receiving benefits. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor that we must act in a way that recognises social justice, and that is the motivation of those on the Government Benches.

Rosie Cooper Portrait Rosie Cooper [V]
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Does the Secretary of State still intend to end the suspension of the minimum income floor for self-employed universal credit claimants, which is due to expire on 13 November?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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That policy is still under review. Clearly, this is a matter of discussion, because the regulations do come to an end. It is important to recognise that we have different measures happening around different parts of the country. We do need to try to take a national approach to the overall policy, but as ever, we trust and empower our work coaches to make the best decisions for the claimants they are helping, usually to help them get back into work.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, Stephen Timms.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms
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The Select Committee’s report published today calls for new starter payments to claimants of universal credit to help tide them over the very difficult five-week wait for their first regular benefit payment, and for the £20 a week increase, which the Secretary of State has referred to, to be made permanent. How can it possibly be justified for people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance to receive £20 a week less than people in identical circumstances who happen to be claiming universal credit?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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On what happened with legacy benefits and universal credit, I think the rationale was set out clearly at the time; in particular, it was also about having a rate that was quite similar to statutory sick pay. We will look carefully at the report that the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have issued to us today, but I remind him that of course people do not need to wait five weeks for a universal credit payment; they can get a payment within a matter of days, and that payment is then spread over the entire year.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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What recent discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on extending the temporary measures introduced by her Department in response to the covid-19 outbreak.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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What recent discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on extending the temporary measures introduced by her Department in response to the covid-19 outbreak.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Earlier this year, we suspended face-to-face assessments. That suspension is still in place and is kept under review in line with the latest public health guidance.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson
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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 1.3 million people across Scotland will lose out if the DWP does not make the £20 increase to universal credit permanent and extend it to legacy benefits. The Resolution Foundation also reports that one in three working-age families in the so-called red wall constituencies will be £1,000 a year worse off if the planned cuts to universal credit go ahead. How exactly is that levelling up?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I refer the hon. Member the answer that the Minister for Welfare Delivery has already given. The Government have introduced a package of temporary welfare measures worth £9.3 billion this year to help with the financial consequences of the pandemic.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald [V]
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More than ever, with millions facing unemployment and reduced hours or earnings, our social security system must be properly funded. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has rightly pointed out that cutting social security takes money out of the economy by reducing consumer spending. If the Minister is not yet convinced that cutting universal credit is grossly unjust, will he at least consider making this permanent to stimulate the economy?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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As I have just set out, we as a Government, through our £9.3 billion-worth of temporary support, which we continue to keep under review, have shown throughout these unprecedented times that we will be flexible and provide the support, including our comprehensive £30 billion plan for jobs, to make sure that we are standing side by side with those who are navigating the challenges of covid.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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If she will extend the suspension of benefit deductions for the recovery of universal credit and legacy benefit overpayments during the covid-19 outbreak.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
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There are currently no plans to extend the suspension of benefit deductions. Action to restart deductions commenced on 6 July and should be completed by mid-November. We recognise that there will be some people who may be experiencing financial difficulty, and anyone unable to afford the rate of recovery proposed is encouraged to contact the Department.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. These suspensions have provided a lifeline to many vulnerable people over the last six months. Unfortunately, there is at present no reason to believe that we will be in a better position in April 2021 than we were in April 2020, thus I urge my hon. Friend to consider extending the suspensions and working with local authorities to put in place fair local support arrangements that will operate in conjunction with the national welfare system and complement the Chancellor’s initiatives to get people back to work.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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It is right that those claimants who owe the Department money are able to resume payments to reduce their debt. We continue to apply a flexible approach to recovery and endeavour to recover without causing undue financial hardship. Anyone unable to afford the rate of recovery proposed is encouraged to contact the Department so that an affordable rate of repayment can be negotiated. In May, we will be launching the breathing space scheme to help to prevent problem debt and provide support to people who fall into that problem debt.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall (Gedling) (Con)
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What steps her Department is taking to ensure people of all ages have access to the job market.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies) [V]
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Our plan for jobs includes suitable interventions for people of all ages to support people back into work, including employment support delivered by our jobcentres, where we are doubling the number of work coaches across our national network. Last week, I held my latest meeting with our older workers champion, alongside employer organisations, focused on our fuller working lives agenda and opportunities for the over-50s.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall
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In the current pandemic, people of all ages are suddenly being made redundant. I was recently contacted by a 57-year-old constituent in Gedling, who is now looking for work and retraining. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is particularly important to help this sector of the population, and what help can I offer to my constituent to ensure that her skills are utilised?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this concern in his constituency. I assure him that the Government recently announced, in the plan for jobs, new funding to ensure that more people, including our older workers, get tailored Jobcentre Plus support to help them to find work and build the skills they need to get into new work, including the sector-based work academy programme and our new online job-finding support service. On 29 September, the Prime Minister announced a major expansion of post-18 education and training to prepare all workers for a post-covid economy, including a lifetime skills guarantee to give adults the chance to take free college courses by valued local employers.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps she is taking to ensure that the welfare payments that people receive meet the needs of the recipient.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

By law, benefit levels must be reviewed annually to determine if they are at the appropriate level. The most recent review resulted in the uprating of 1.7%. On disability benefits specifically, spending this year has increased by almost 5% from £19 billion to £20 billion.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Recently, I was pleased to meet my constituent, Tony Davies, who sadly lives with motor neurone disease. On behalf of Tony and the MND Association community, will the Minister kindly announce when he is likely to publish the outcome of the review into access to benefits for the terminally ill?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have been clear, following our comprehensive review, that there will be three themes: we will change the six-month rule, we will improve consistency and we will raise awareness of the support available. Only last week, I met the MND Association and the Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care as we work at great speed to bring forward those much-needed changes.

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

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of universal credit in reducing levels of poverty.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The latest statistics from 2018-19 show that the rates and numbers of people in absolute poverty were lower than in 2010. Since those statistics were published, we have injected a further £9.3 billion into our welfare system, including an increase to universal credit of up to £1,040 for this financial year.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reality is that that is not enough. Thanks to the efforts of the Scottish Government to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, Scotland has the lowest child poverty rates, but the impact of UK Government policies means that 4,600 children in my constituency are estimated to be living in poverty, which is absolutely shameful. Will the Minister listen to the calls of the End Child Poverty coalition and the likes of Macmillan Cancer Support and pledge to keep the £20 a week universal credit uplift to avoid putting more families and children into poverty?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One child in poverty is one child too many. We at the Department are continuing to work with Her Majesty’s Treasury and other Government Departments to monitor the evolving economic and labour market situation and identify the most effective ways to help people to stay in or close to work, both now and in future. It is important to stress that Her Majesty’s Treasury published a distributional analysis that assessed the impact of covid-19 on incomes compared with the incomes of working households in May 2020. That analysis showed that the Government’s interventions have supported the poorest households the most.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to help people with disabilities into employment.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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As a Government, we are proud that 1.3 million more disabled people are in work since 2013—a record high. We continue to offer support through the Work and Health, intensive personalised employment support, Disability Confident and Access to Work programmes.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The disability employment gap in my constituency is 25.4% and there are concerns that it will widen as the economy suffers from the impact of covid-19. What reassurance can the Minister give me that disabled people will get the specific help they need to find work —for example, through tailored support or the funding of reasonable adjustments on the kickstart scheme?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is absolutely the case that Access to Work is available and works hand in hand with schemes such as kickstart so that reasonable adjustments can be made for disabled employees. I have written to Disability Confident leaders to encourage them to sign up to kickstart.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps she has taken to support the welfare of people ineligible for the Government’s economic support packages during the covid-19 outbreak.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

During the pandemic, several economic support measures have been announced by the Chancellor, including supporting the retention of 9.6 million jobs through the furlough scheme. Additionally, 2.2 million individuals have claimed £5.6 billion under the second self-employment income support scheme grant announced by the Chancellor as part of his winter economic plan. The Department has spent £9.3 billion on additional support, including the increase of the universal credit standard allowance by £20 a week. Together, those measures provide a safety net for almost everyone who needs it, but eligibility for the different support packages is set out clearly on gov.uk.

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis [V]
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Small businesses account for about 13 million people employed, which is about 60% of the workforce, and many of them are in trouble. When I spoke this weekend to ForgottenLtd, which represents people who are not in receipt of benefit, it told me that its latest survey showed that 70% of its members receive no benefit whatsoever. Do the Government intend to do something about that? If so, will the Minister meet me to discuss the criteria for improvement?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my right hon. Friend has campaigned hard on the subject. The question may be better directed at the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Ministers from Her Majesty’s Treasury, as I know he has also done.

Universal credit is an in-work and out-of-work benefit. It is also available for those who are self-employed. As the Secretary of State set out in her letter to the Work and Pensions Committee last month, we plan to proceed with the reinstatement of the minimum income floor, and claimants will be contacted as it is reinstated for them. Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend’s point, more than £13 billion of support has already been provided for more than 2.6 million self-employed individuals through the first two stages of the self-employment income support scheme and the scheme has now been extended.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
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What steps her Department is taking to review the effectiveness of benefit fraud investigations.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
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The Department does not take benefit fraud lightly, and we are committed to using the full range of powers and penalties at our disposal. As part of our response to covid-19, we have established our integrated risk and intelligence service to prevent high-risk claims from going into payment. Our investigations have successfully led us to correct and suspend serious and organised claims fraud in large numbers, and we continue to review our processes and to anticipate new attacks, which will make it even harder for people to defraud the taxpayer in the future.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
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A constituent of mine, a mother of three children, recently had her universal credit and housing benefit stopped for over two months because of a fraudulent claim made in her name. She was completely innocent, but she and her young family suffered significant financial hardship. We know that benefit fraud, in universal credit in particular, is increasing, and I know of several other MPs who have had similar cases. What will the Government do to stop innocent families suffering for months just because this Government are failing to detect and investigate fraud?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to receive more details about that individual case, but first let me apologise, because that should not have happened. In effect, Ministers had to make decisions about the redeployment of staff in order to process the unprecedented number of claims, which went up from 2.2 million to 5.7 million claims. That meant deploying staff away from counter-fraud and into the processing of claims, but I am pleased to say that that has now changed and more staff are going back into fraud. We have to take fraud incredibly seriously, because it is individuals such as the hon. Lady’s constituent who are often the target of serious organised crime.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of employment.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies) [V]
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The latest official statistics show the level of employment at 32.6 million. We recognise that there are difficult times ahead, but our ambitious £30 billion plan for jobs will support people during this next phase of our recovery as we push to build back better and greener. We are working with other Government Departments, external organisations and our local partners to support people into work, to react to changes in local labour markets and to work with our local Jobcentre Plus provision to help communities to thrive.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When one of my constituents, who was working as a cleaner, was recently furloughed, she was recommended to move to universal credit and away from working tax credit. I wrote to the Department on 7 July and again on 7 August. I have just had a reply, on 12 October, telling me that because my constituent earned £666.21 in a month, she was entitled to nothing whatsoever from universal credit. Not only that, but she had to repay the advance loan that she had had at the beginning. This system is failing her, and she is in a desperate situation. When will the Government look at allowing people to return to working tax credit and move away from this unfair system of universal credit?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for raising what sounds like a concerning situation for that family. We recognise that we are currently in an unusual and challenging economic period, and I am sure that the Minister for welfare delivery, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), will have taken note of that particular case. I am sure we will be able to look at that once again, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Child Maintenance Service in collecting child maintenance.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies) [V]
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This Government have made clear their commitment to supporting both paying and receiving parents, especially during this difficult period. Around three quarters of paying parents are paying towards their liability. The Child Maintenance Service will continue to pursue all cases where appropriate, and I stress that anyone found to be abusing the system risks being subject to the full extent of our enforcement powers.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to say that the Minister’s words do not sit with the experience of some of my constituents, who feel that the Child Maintenance Service has failed them in pursuing outstanding claims. I shall give the House one example. In an appeal against a CMS decision to the tribunal in February, it was discovered that a private pension had not been disclosed. The CMS should therefore have recouped the shortfall, but there was no contact until May. When the CMS was asked how much it would recoup for my constituent, she again heard nothing until she got a letter saying that the CMS was writing off historic debt and would not pursue it. That is letting that person down, not supporting them.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and I stress that those found abusing the system are subject to the full extent of our enforcement powers. The CMS will pursue these people, where appropriate. Our key partners are in communication with us to make sure that we secure the appropriate court dates for cases impacted by the covid-19 pandemic and that we are establishing our full and normal range of enforcement services. Where payments have been missed we are taking action to re-establish compliance, and I am happy to look at the issue for him.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Unfortunately, we have run out of time, so we are going straight on to topicals.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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The Government’s new job support scheme being launched next month to protect viable jobs and businesses that are facing lower demand is yet another part of how my Department and the Government are standing ready to try to help people stay in work and to prepare to get back into work. [Interruption.] We will continue to do whatever it takes to make sure we are reaching people of all ages. In particular, I want to make sure that people who may newly be looking for support from the welfare state use the Government-funded help to claim service, administered by Citizens Advice. [Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order—apologies, Minister. Let me just say to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) that there was not time to call him. There was another Member before him on the call list, so there was not a chance that I could have called him before moving on; I do apologise. If he wants to hang around, I will try to get him into topical questions if he wishes to speak.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was pleased to see my right hon. Friend’s announcement that almost 1 million pensioners in receipt of pension credit will be receiving £140 off their energy bills through the warm home discount scheme. My constituency has a very elderly demographic, so that is a great lifeline for so many. Will she confirm that, alongside it, the Government will continue to make winter fuel payments to support our pensioners this winter?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and I praise him for raising this issue on behalf of the many people he represents. This Government are committed to tackling fuel poverty, particularly among pensioners, and will continue to deliver winter fuel payments this year. I was pleased by the work done by my Department to make sure that those on pension credit, including in your constituency, Mr Speaker, received the £140 from the warm home discount scheme, without lifting a finger.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Government place millions of people across the country under new covid restrictions, they will be asking many people to undergo significant cuts to their income. Last week, the Prime Minister said that due to the job support scheme and universal credit

“nobody gets less than 93% of their current income.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 368.]

Unfortunately, that is just completely wrong. The reality is that a person employed by a business that the Government are ordering to close could still lose a third of their income, and for an unspecified length of time. Their rent, mortgages and food bills will not be any lower, so how does the Secretary of State expect those people to get by?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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The Government have taken unprecedented action in the design of their new schemes, recognising that some businesses right around the country are still experiencing a loss in demand. As a consequence, we have developed two different schemes, one of which is “a third, a third, a third” in terms of helping people with their cost of living. Where we believe, in conjunction with local leadership, that it is the right thing for certain sectors to be closed in areas, the two-thirds support of wages is important. Of course if people do come under a certain threshold, they may well be eligible for UC, which would help top up their ongoing income during these difficult times.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Secretary of State, this is important, because it is the barrier to additional restrictions being introduced. As the Government know, people who are eligible for the job support scheme and may be losing only a third of their income are, comparatively, the lucky ones, as people in receipt of UC or jobseeker’s allowance will be left on just a fraction of their current income. With that in mind, I have a straightforward question for her: it is clear that we are not going to be out of this crisis by April next year, so will the Government do the right thing and scrap their plans to cut UC to an even lower amount next April?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is different from the regime we had earlier in the year is that then the strong message was very much for people to stay at home and retail was closed, along with a number of different sectors. That is not the case anymore: we have now had to intervene in a much more limited number of sectors, often in conjunction with the local leadership. As a consequence, we will continue to review the best ways to support people through the welfare system, as well as through the plan for jobs and the measures that the Chancellor has introduced.

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With forecasts showing that there may be as many as 1 million young people without a job, I urge the Minister to think outside the box. I have long argued that we should use graduates and gap-year students to help some of those pupils who have missed out on schooling to catch up. Can we devise, with the Department for Education, a scheme to pay them a variation of JSA to provide such a service, or at least offer greater flexibility for claimants who volunteer to help in such a way or to take the pressure off other public services?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One element of the kickstart scheme, a £2 billion investment in the future of our young people, is designed to help people to get on the first rung of the ladder with a proper job. It is a way for those people who have recently left school or university and are at risk of long-term unemployment to get experience and financing, which does not just have to be through private organisations and could be through local government or charitable or other sectors. It is a specific way to ensure that those people get not only a job but the extra training and wraparound support that they need to help them further on in their lives.

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For some time, the SNP has led the campaign to end the universal credit five-week wait. We think that is best done by the introduction of grants, so we welcome today’s Work and Pensions Committee report. We also agree with the idea of renaming advances as “new claim loans” to make clearer what they actually are. Will the Secretary of State look favourably on the report’s findings and accept its recommendations?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will look carefully at the report. Select Committee members will know that I have spoken to them on previous occasions, as have other Ministers, to explain that advances are a way to spread the payment of universal credit over a year—in fact, in future it will be over two years, if that is how long people want to spread that initial support—and it is not our intention in any way to introduce a grant at the beginning. The grant is there in the benefits—that is exactly what they are there to do—so I do not see how we will be responding positively to the Committee’s report in that regard.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen  Thompson  (Midlothian)  (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Applications for the new self-isolation payment are to be launched last week, but there is a real risk that some people may not apply for the £500 because of tax concerns. Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People has written to the Chancellor calling for an income tax exemption for the payments, similar to the exemption for the test and trace support payment scheme in England. Will the Secretary of State urge the Chancellor to exempt the new self-isolation payments from tax?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Tax matters are a matter for the Chancellor.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope next month to introduce a ten-minute rule Bill on the regulation of supported housing. I am particularly motivated by concern that unscrupulous landlords are moving into the sector so that they can take advantage of higher housing benefit rates. There is obviously an overlap with universal credit, so I wondered whether the Secretary of State has had any conversations with her colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about the fact that we badly need to regulate the sector because too many people are being exploited.

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is absolutely right—this issue is a concern for me and has been for some time. I am working closely with my counterpart at MHCLG and would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss progress.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The kickstart scheme has been enthusiastically taken up by employers in West Berkshire, but of course it is time limited and comes with no guarantees. What steps is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State taking to ensure that kickstarter placements lead to permanent employment, either with the placement employer or in the same sector?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the kickstart placements are six-month-long jobs, but the skills that people will learn and the experience they will gain will put them in good stead to secure future employment. We are investing in our young people in recognition of this difficult time, but of course if they do not secure a permanent job at the end of that time—although the placements may be a gateway to apprenticeships and similar—we will continue to support them until they find a job.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Knaresborough Connectors community group and Knaresborough chamber of trade are working together to build a scheme to enable participation in the kickstart scheme for smaller businesses in the area. It is good work and I am keen to help it. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State be encouraging the Department to work with local community organisations to ensure that all areas, urban and rural, and all businesses, small and large, can access the benefits of kickstart?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is always a champion of his local organisations and constituents. Yes, absolutely; many local authorities, charities and organisations, such as North Yorkshire County Council, have agreed to act as gateways or have submitted bids for funding.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many disabled people have lost carers and are struggling to employ replacements during the covid crisis. This can mean that they have lost vital support in applying for benefits. I spoke to a constituent today who flagged up that there is nowhere on the system for people to indicate that they have a high support need, so that extra care is taken in dealing with their application. She has missed the benefit deadline because of that. Will Ministers look into this matter and ensure that we help disabled people when they apply for benefits?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Our forthcoming Green Paper will look specifically at the importance of advocacy in the system, and at increasing it. That need should have been identified at the initial application. If he sends through the details, I will be happy to ensure that the claimant is not lost from the system.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill  (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of my constituents are receiving letters out of the blue saying that the Child Maintenance Service is writing off unpaid payments as part of a review of historical debt. Will my right hon. Friend tell me the basis for the review, what the criteria are for the cases, how many are involved, and by what means personal advance notice of the changes is being given to the people concerned?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My understanding is that the policy relates to people who have had child maintenance arrangements for a very long time. There comes a point when there is an element of understanding the different debts. My hon. Friend will be aware that, in a way, this is a very odd arrangement, with the state effectively becoming the arbiter between two parents. The only people who lose are the children. That is why I encourage everybody who has a responsibility towards their children—currently 111,000 children are owed £187 million by parents who refuse to pay up—to get on and do the right thing by them. We should not end up having to rely on the state to arbitrate between two parents.[Official Report, 16 November 2020, Vol. 684, c. 2MC.]

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

Like many schools across the country, a school in my constituency has had to close with less than 24 hours’ notice, leaving working parents having to care for their children at home. What discussions have Ministers had with their colleagues in Health and Education to see whether the £500 self-isolation payment can be extended to those working parents?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The £500 self-isolation payment administered by local councils was devised to achieve compliance with public health guidance. That is why the Department of Health and Social Care is leading on the matter. I am conscious that there may be local arrangements that need to be addressed. Often, the best way to tackle those is through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which has local funds that have been topped up by this Government to help with local welfare issues.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the exceptional team at Jobcentre Plus in Barnstaple for their work to support the vastly increased number of people in North Devon looking for work at this time? I extend an invitation to her to come to my constituency to thank them at first hand.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to praise hard-working DWP staff at her local Jobcentre Plus and across the network. The team in Barnstaple have worked with the National Careers Service to help with interview technique and build transferable skills among people who become unemployed, and great work is already under way at the North Devon youth support hub in Bideford and Barnstaple. I look forward to visiting the south-west. As she knows, the DWP jobcentre is a covid-secure environment and I look forward to joining her there in due course.

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

I, too, am greatly concerned about the ability of the Child Maintenance Service to deliver results. I wonder whether the Minister would be kind enough to meet me to discuss a constituent who has been unable to collect an unbelievable amount of arrears over the past decade, estimated at £30,000.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble Friend Baroness Stedman-Scott is the Minister responsible for the Child Maintenance Service. She is more than happy to meet colleagues who are having particular difficulties with paying parents who are refusing to cough up.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith  (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituent Joseph made a claim for industrial injuries disablement benefit in January. His assessment, along with all the other new assessments, was postponed because of covid, so he is living with the extra costs that come with having an industrial disease, but he does not have the extra benefits he needs. Can the Secretary of State please urgently resume IIDB assessments?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very much aware of this. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, we suspended face-to-face assessments across all disability benefits following the public health guidance. We are working as quickly as we can to roll out telephone assessments for IIDB where possible, and as soon as it is safe to do so, we will return to face-to-face assessments.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business, and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

15:30
Sitting suspended.

Petition

Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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

I rise to present a petition on behalf of the residents of High Peak calling for a railway station to be built in Gamesley. My long-standing petition, both online and on paper, has received strong local support, with over 30% of Gamesley’s adult population signing it. The people of Gamesley were first promised a railway station 52 years ago. I believe it is time to deliver on that promise.

The petition states:

The petition of the residents of High Peak,

Declares that the people of Gamesley were promised a railway station in 1968 to help residents commute on the Manchester to Glossop line; notes that a railway station would improve local transport connections by easing parking pressures at Dinting, shortening commuting times to Manchester, and reducing traffic around Glossop and Tintwistle; and further declares that the cost of a railway station would be modest for the Government and transformative for the life chances of residents.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to prioritise the reallocation of funds to build a railway station in Gamesley, transforming the lives of Gamesley’s residents.

And the petitioners remain, etc.

[P002611]

EU Exit: Negotiations and the Joint Committee

Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
15:34
Michael Gove Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Michael Gove)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the Government’s negotiations with the European Union on our future trading relationship and also the work of the UK/EU Joint Committee established under the withdrawal agreement.

First, on the talks on the new trade agreement, we had hoped to conclude a Canada-style free trade agreement before the transition period ends on 31 December this year but, as things stand, that will not now happen. We remain absolutely committed to securing a Canada-style FTA, but there does need to be a fundamental change in approach from the EU if the process is to get back on track. I have come to the House at the first available opportunity to explain why and how we have reached this point.

We have been clear since the summer that we saw 15 October—last Thursday—as the target date for reaching an agreement with the EU. The Prime Minister and the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed on 3 October that our negotiating team should work intensively to bridge the remaining gaps between us, and we made clear that we were willing to talk every day. But I have to report to the House that this intensification was not forthcoming. The EU was willing to conduct negotiations only on fewer than half the days available and would not engage on all of the outstanding issues. Moreover, the EU refused to discuss legal texts in any area, as it has done since the summer. Indeed, it is almost incredible to our negotiators that we have reached this point in the negotiations without any common legal texts of any kind.

On 15 October, the EU Heads of State and Government gathered for the European Council. The conclusions of that Council reaffirmed the EU’s original negotiating mandate. They dropped a reference to intensive talks that had been in the draft and they declared that all—all—future moves in the negotiation had to be made by the UK. Although some attempts were made to soften that message by some EU leaders, the European Council reaffirmed those conclusions as authoritative on Friday. That unfortunate sequence of events has, in effect, ended the trade negotiations because it leaves no basis on which we can actually find agreement. There is no point in negotiations proceeding as long as the EU sticks with that position. Such talks would be meaningless and would take us no nearer to finding a workable solution.

That is the situation we now face, and that is why the Prime Minister had to make it clear on 16 October that the EU had refused to negotiate seriously for much of the past month or so. The EU had now, at the European Council, explicitly ruled out a free trade agreement with us, like the one that it has with Canada, and therefore this country should get ready for 1 January 2021 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.

Now, if the EU wants to change that situation—and I devoutly hope it will—it needs to make a fundamental change in its approach and make clear it has done so. It has to be serious about talking intensively on all issues and trying to reach a conclusion, and I hope it will. But it also needs to accept that it is dealing with an independent and sovereign country now. We have tried to be clear from the start that we would not be able to reach an agreement inconsistent with that status. I do not think that we could be accused of keeping that a secret. Yet the proposals that the EU has discussed with us in recent weeks, which it presents as compromises, are simply not consistent with our new sovereign status—certainly not yet.

While I do not doubt that many on the EU side are well intentioned, we cannot accept the negotiators’ proposals that would require us to provide full, permanent access to our fishing waters, with quotas substantially unchanged to those that were imposed by EU membership. We cannot operate a state aid system which is essentially the same as the EU’s, with great discretion given to the EU to retaliate against us if it thought that we were deviating from it. More broadly, we cannot accept an arrangement that means that we stay in step with laws that have been proposed and adopted by the EU across areas of critical national importance.

In a nutshell, we have been asking for no more than what has been offered in trade agreements to other global trading countries, such as Canada—terms that, of course, the EU said last year it had no difficulty offering to us. We are not even asking for special favours reflecting our 45 years as a member state—during which we paid in every day more than we took out—quite the reverse. But even if this new arrangement is impossible for the EU, I must inform the House that we will be leaving on 31 December on Australian-style terms and trading on the basis of WTO rules.

With just 10 weeks left until the end of the transition period, I have to emphasise that that is not my preferred outcome and nor is it the Prime Minister’s. We recognise that there will be some turbulence, but we have not come so far to falter now, when we are so close to reclaiming our sovereignty. We have to be in control of our own borders and our fishing grounds. We have to set our own laws. We have to be free to thrive as an independent free trading nation, embracing the freedoms that flow as a result. So it is important that I turn to the preparations that we are now intensifying for the end of the transition period. These apply whether we have a free trade agreement or otherwise, of course.

I am not blithe or blasé about the challenges ahead, particularly given the additional problems that we have dealing with the covid-19 pandemic. However, leaving the EU on Australian terms is an outcome for which we are increasingly well prepared. Ever since the UK decided it would leave the single market and the customs union on 31 December, Government and businesses alike have been working hard to prepare for the new procedures that were the inevitable result. I congratulate businesses on the resourcefulness they have shown so far. We want to work with them so that they continue responding as energetically, flexibly and imaginatively as possible to the challenges of change. We also want to work with them to prepare for the opportunities ahead, including those stemming from our new free trade deals, such as the agreement with Japan struck by the Secretary of State for International Trade, which, of course, grants us far more favourable access to the world’s third biggest economy than we had as an EU member.

I would like to put on record my particular thanks to the road haulage industry, customs intermediaries and others for their constructive engagement with Government, including at our extensive roundtable last week.

This week, the Prime Minister and I will be speaking again to business leaders to discuss preparations for life outside the EU. We will continue to listen to their concerns, and we will redouble our efforts to help them to adjust and prosper. The XO Cabinet Committee—the EU Exit Operations Committee—meets daily and will intensify its operational focus on business readiness. We continue to work closely with our partners in the devolved Administrations because we want to ensure that every part of the UK is ready for the end of the transition period.

In these final 10 weeks, we are intensifying our public information campaign. Every firm will find the information it needs on new rules which govern trade between Britain and the EU at gov.uk/transition. Today, HMRC is writing to 200,000 traders that do business with the EU to reinforce their understanding of the new customs and tax rules. We are also putting in place IT systems to help goods flow across borders. We are giving business access to customs professionals to help with new ways of working and we have also planned how to fast-track vital goods in the first few weeks to get around EU bureaucracies. We have already published and indeed updated our border operating model. We have announced £705 million-worth of investment in jobs, infrastructure and technology at the border. We have also strengthened our maritime security to protect our fishing fleets and safeguard our seas.

In addition to the steps we are taking, we are also continuing our work with the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee. I would like to update the House on its latest meeting, which took place earlier this morning. Coming only three weeks after the last meeting, I am pleased to report that in this forum the approach from the EU is very constructive. There is a clear imperative on both sides to find solutions and we remain committed to working collaboratively with the EU through the Joint Committee process.

At our last meeting in Brussels I agreed with my co-chair, Vice-President Šefčovič, that we would intensify discussions to implement the withdrawal agreement, primarily around citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland protocol. Our officials have since held numerous sessions and today in London I reiterated the UK’s commitment to upholding all our obligations under both the withdrawal agreement and the Belfast agreement. We agreed that we will publish a joint update on citizens’ rights and I am pleased to confirm that almost 4 million EU citizens in the UK have now received status under our scheme. We have also discussed our work to implement the Northern Ireland protocol. We are taking steps to implement new agrifood arrangements. We also acknowledge the EU’s concerns about appropriate monitoring of implementation. We now have a better understanding of its requests and the reasoning behind them. We have confirmed that the specialised committee will work intensively to ensure that we can make progress in this area, and with respect to Gibraltar and the sovereign base issues.

A lot remains to be resolved before the end of December, but we have made substantial progress on implementation. I look forward to further engagement with Vice-President Šefčovič in the weeks ahead. I want to put on record my personal appreciation for the constructive tone and the pragmatic spirit with which he and his team have approached our discussions.

In his statement on Friday, the Prime Minister looked ahead to 2021 as a year of recovery and renewal when this Government will be focused on tackling covid-19 and building back better. We are getting ready to do now what the British people asked of us: to forge our own path and not to acquiesce to anyone else’s agenda. On the negotiations, our door is not closed. It remains ajar, and I very much hope that the EU will fundamentally change its position, but, come what may, on 31 December, we will take back control. I commend this statement to the House.

15:45
Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement this afternoon.

At the last general election, the Prime Minister said that he had an oven-ready deal ready to go. The withdrawal agreement was the starter course, but we are still waiting for the main meal: a trade agreement with the European Union. At the weekend, the right hon. Gentleman was reminded of some of his previous remarks in 2016 when he assured the country that the one thing that will not change is our ability to trade freely with Europe. Even at this late stage, Labour expects the Government to reach an agreement with the European Union that honours that commitment. It is a question of competence and it is a question of trust; it is what this Government promised the British people.

Of course we were supposed to have a deal by now. This is the third deadline that the Prime Minister has set himself, and it is the third deadline that the Prime Minister has missed. Initially, he said that a deal with the EU would be sorted by July. Then he said by September, and then he said by last week. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the Government find it so hard to meet their own deadlines and so hard to achieve their own promises?

Yesterday, when the Minister toured the television studios, he was asked what the chances were now of securing a deal, and he said it was less than two thirds. Can he tell businesses and this House the current probability, given that he has just said that events have, in effect, ended the trade negotiations? Over the past three days, we have heard more posturing than solutions, more excuses and explanations. It is time for the Government to take responsibility.

Of course everyone needs to prepare as best they can, but it is a bit rich for the Government to lecture businesses on getting ready when the Government cannot even tell them what they are getting ready for. Let us be clear: if the talks have run out of road, many industries will face prohibitive tariffs—from 10% for exporting cars to at least 40% for exporting lamb—to Britain’s biggest market in just 10 weeks’ time. I ask again: is that what the Government want businesses to get ready for, and is it even possible for those businesses to do business on those terms?

The Minister will recall that I raised the concerns of the car manufacturing industry on 1 October at Cabinet Office questions and the possibility of tariffs, and also on rules of origin. He agreed to meet the automotive industry and trade unions. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and Unite followed up with a joint letter on the same day—1 October. However, I am now informed that, 18 days later, that letter has not been replied to and that meeting has not happened. At what point did the British Government give up on British industry, and when will the Minister be meeting those businesses? It is all well and good to say prepare, but he cannot even be bothered to get round a table with them. I ask again: what are they supposed to be preparing for and what support are the Government giving them?

In his statement today, the Minister thanked the road haulage industry for its efforts, but you will also remember, Mr Speaker, that, at Cabinet Office questions, he said that the road haulage industry had been far from constructive, so I welcome the thanks that he gave them today. Earlier this month, I was with a haulage firm in Hull with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). It was a fantastic business, established more than 100 years ago, yet it does not know how many of its fleet of lorries will be able to operate in the EU come 1 January. How are they supposed to prepare for that?

Ministers have blithely referred to leaving with no trade deal as trading on “Australian terms”. This morning, the Business Secretary was pressed on the difference between an Australian deal and leaving with no deal, and he admitted that it was “semantics”—semantics! They can call it no deal. They can call it an Australia-style deal. They can call it a Narnia deal, as far as I am concerned, but let us be honest about what that means and how damaging it is for this country. [Interruption.] Someone says from a sedentary position that it is not damaging—10% tariffs on British cars being exported to the European Union is damage; 40% tariffs on lamb being exported to the European Union is damage. If any Member wants to stand up and tell their constituents, British industry and British farming that that is not damaging, they can be my guest, but it is not the truth.

The Prime Minister promised that the UK would “prosper mightily” without a trade deal with the EU. Given that confidence, will the Government publish their full economic impact assessment of the implications if no trade deal is achieved, broken down by industry and by the regions and nations of our United Kingdom? That may at least help us to understand what we are supposed to be planning for.

While the Government lecture businesses about being match-fit, their own preparations are badly off pace. In late July, the Government announced £50 million of funding for customs intermediaries. Could the Minister update the House on how much of that fund businesses have drawn down and give us the latest figures for the number of customs agents trained up to be ready for 1 January? The Government have given authorisation for a number of lorry parks, so how many of these “inland border facilities”, as the Minister likes to call them, have had work started on them, and how many are now completed? Can he list how many of the IT systems needed are on track and whether the crucial goods vehicle movement system has been tested with all haulage businesses? He mentioned business preparedness. What is happening in terms of security and data sharing?

This Government must deliver a deal that provides guarantees and safeguards on workers’ rights, environmental standards and animal welfare, protects jobs and does nothing to jeopardise the Good Friday agreement. That was all promised last year. Time is short, so my message to the Government is blunt: stop posturing, start negotiating and deliver the deal that you promised to the British people.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. With respect to an oven-ready deal, the withdrawal agreement was concluded happily and voted on by the House of Commons, so we had a deal—a deal which many on the Labour Benches opposed, but a deal which means that our destiny is certain and that we are fulfilling the wishes of the British people. In the same way as 52% of the population of the United Kingdom and 53% of the population of Leeds West—her constituency—voted to leave, we will leave. We are honouring our commitment to the British people.

The hon. Lady was kind enough to refer to some of the past statements I have made that were quoted on the television briefly at the weekend. I have to say—and this is no reflection on her—that if she is going to talk about past statements, she had better clear that with the Leader of the Opposition, who in the past has favoured EU membership, then said he would accept the referendum result, then said that we needed a second referendum in order to satisfy the first, then said that we should have an extension of our membership of the European Union and the transition period, and is now silent on all those questions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. This is a statement on Government policy, not the policy of the Opposition.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I was merely pointing out, Mr Speaker, that we had an oven-ready deal, and from Labour we had an indigestible dog’s breakfast and a Leader of the Opposition who will not eat his words.

The hon. Lady asked about the various deadlines. Those are deadlines that the UK Government have set but that the EU has not met. In any negotiation, both sides have to honour their commitments. As I pointed out in my statement—and she did not, of course, acknowledge this—we were available to talk every day in the weeks preceding the European Council, and the European Union was not. But our firmness on this proposition is now bearing fruit. As we were exchanging thoughts across the Dispatch Box earlier, my colleague David Frost was in conversation with Michel Barnier. I now believe it is the case that Michel Barnier has agreed both to the intensification of talks and to working on legal texts—a reflection of the strength and resolution that our Prime Minister showed, in stark contrast with the approach that the Opposition have often enjoined us to take, of simply accepting what the EU wants at every stage.

The hon. Lady asked about preparation. It is absolutely right to say that we should talk to the automotive sector. That is why, as I pointed out in my statement, the Prime Minister has a business roundtable tomorrow with business representative organisations. She also asked about inland sites. I can confirm that we will have two inland sites at Ashford—Sevington and Waterbook—and one at Ebbsfleet, one at Thames Gateway, one at North Weald, one at Birmingham, one at Warrington, one at Holyhead, one in south Wales and another at White Cliffs in Dover. All those sites will bring extra jobs and investment to the UK as we forge a confident path ahead.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. The Government appear resigned to the prospect of no deal, yet one area in which they should not be resigned to the prospect of no deal is security. I note that my right hon. Friend made no mention of security in his statement this afternoon, and the Prime Minister made no reference to security in his letter to parliamentarians on 16 October. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if the UK walks away with no deal, then our police and other law enforcement agencies will no longer have the necessary access to databases such as PNR—passenger name records—to be able to continue to identify and catch criminals and potential terrorists in order to keep us safe?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend makes a very important point about security. I would say three things. The first thing to say is that significant progress has been made in respect of security co-operation, but it is the case that the EU is insisting that, before we have access to systems such as the Schengen information system II, that we have to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We cannot accept that.

The second thing I would say is that there are many areas in which we can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside. Through a variety of methods and arrangements open to us, open to Border Force and open to our security and intelligence services, we can intensify the security that we give to the British people. The third thing I would say to my right hon. Friend is that I agree with her. When it comes to everything—security and other matters—no deal is better than a bad deal.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) [V]
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So here we go. The coveted no deal is now within touching distance. The dance of the no-deal seven veils is now down to its Brexit underwear. The easiest deal in history will now mean the UK leaving on Mongolian terms. The absolute rubbish we had to listen to about oven-ready deals and holding all the cards is now just the stuff of grotesque bad jokes. And whose fault is it? Well, not the Minister’s or that of this cabal of Tory anti-EU obsessives. It is all the fault of these Europeans. How dare they ask the Tories to stand by what they agreed, and how dare they ask for a level playing field and to retain the integrity of the single market! The EU must have the patience of saints to try to negotiate with these clown shoe-wearing goalpost shifters. As we have just heard, the EU has once again offered to have intensive talks, so it is back in your court, Minister.

The Minister somehow expects Scotland to go along with this disaster. Well there is a saying that he will know as a proud Scot, which will be Scotland’s response to this: he can go awa’ an’ bile his heid. Independence is now the settled will of the Scottish people, with 58% of Scots now in favour, so here is a proposition for the Minister: why does he not just go off and get his no-deal Brexit if that is what England indeed wants, and in Scotland we can now secure our independence—what our people want—which will allow us to design our own future European relationship? Surely there is nothing wrong with that. He gets what he wants and we get what we want. Will he agree to that at last, and say goodbye to his rotten Union and his rotten no-deal Brexit?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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As ever, I am in awe of the hon. Member’s ability, in a very short period, to bring so many metaphors together in what one can only describe as a car crash of similes. The Government, according to him, is wearing seven veils and clown shoes while also shifting goalposts. I have to say that I would love to see that circus performance, but I suspect that I will have to wait, because the SNP conference has I think been cancelled this year.

The second thing I would like to say in response to the hon. Member is that he refers disparagingly to this deal as a “Mongolian deal”. I do not know what Mongolia has ever done to offend the people of Scotland, but we in the UK value our friendship with the people of Ulaanbaatar and others. Certainly, we do not believe that this looking down on other peoples in other nations is appropriate. It may be appropriate for the atavistic nationalism which some SNP supporters avail themselves of, but those of us who believe in the Union, believe in friendship among all nations.

On the hon. Member’s final point about working together, I absolutely agree. The devolved Administrations must work with us and we must work with them to make sure that, as we leave the European Union, the communities of all parts of the United Kingdom prosper. One of the things I do regret is that, even though I value my close working with his colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, unfortunately, Scottish Government policy would mean that we would be back in the common fisheries policy. That would mean the people of Scotland’s coastal communities would lose out. I am sure he would not want that, and that is why I hope we can continue to work together to reap the benefits of the sea of opportunity that Brexit will bring.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I think he is right, because it was clear in the whole agreement that both sides needed to negotiate in good faith with a view to reaching an agreement. Yet it has been quite clear throughout that, for example, the refusal of those on the EU side to engage on financial services, which are 80% of our economy, but their determination to get a deal on the majority of theirs, which is trade in agri-products, is not good faith. How exactly does he intend to go forward with regard to the problems in the withdrawal agreement that will now be outstanding even if we make no trade deal?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend makes two very important points, the first of which relates to the approach that the European Union has taken. As I mentioned, even while I have been at the Dispatch Box it has been reported that there has been a constructive move on the part of the European Union, and I welcome that. Obviously we need to make sure that we work on the basis of the proposed intensification that it proposes. I prefer to look forward in optimism rather than necessarily to look back in anger. However, as he says, the difficult period that we have had over the past two weeks has been the result of some on the EU side not being as energetic as we have been in trying to reach agreement. He also makes an important point about making sure that we iron out all the difficulties in the withdrawal agreement. That is part of my role in the Joint Committee. I am grateful to him and to others for the advice they have offered as to how we should approach these difficult issues.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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Despite what the Minister said in his opening remarks, it is quite clear that negotiations are continuing, and the war of words now needs to stop. Both sides need to get together and agree a deal, recognising that both will have to compromise. On preparations for 1 January, given that businesses do not know exactly how trade between GB and Northern Ireland is going to work—the pharmaceuticals industry does not have a clue—and given that the goods movement IT system is not yet in operation because it is not ready, while nowhere near enough customs agents have yet been recruited, why is it the Government’s approach to say to firms that they have their head in the sand and are not ready, when the Government cannot tell them exactly what they are meant to be getting ready for?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I actually think that is a fair question that contains at least two very important pieces of wisdom. On the first, the EU took a position last week and in the weeks beforehand that was, as was widely acknowledged, not constructive, not designed to achieve progress, and not engaging with the detail. If, as a result of our clear view that we could not proceed on that basis, there has been movement, as it seems as though there has been today, then no one will welcome it more than me. But we cannot have from the EU the illusion of engagement without the reality of compromise: I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that.

On the second point, yes, both with regard to trade in Northern Ireland and more broadly, there are aspects that need to be worked out. That is why we want to intensify these negotiations. If occasionally, in the crossfire between different parts of business, Government and others, different people express their frustration, that is fine. The most important thing is that we make sure that we work together in order to deliver.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. If the EU does not want to complete negotiations by this time, then we have to ensure that the whole country is ready for the consequences, so nothing is more important than keeping our ports working efficiently and effectively. Will he join me in commending the work of the local resilience forum in Hampshire on plans to ensure that Portsmouth, which has particular local transport challenges, can continue to support EU-bound freight? Will he update the House on funding available to help make sure that resources for these very important plans are in place?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. Both the local resilience forum in Hampshire and the authorities in the port of Portsmouth have been working incredibly hard to make sure that they are ready for every eventuality. New facilities are being built at the port of Portsmouth. The port of Portsmouth is putting in an application to the port infrastructure fund for them. I had the opportunity to meet the leader of Portsmouth council and the chief executive of the port alongside my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General last Thursday. It is the case that some additional resource will be required to make sure that we can avoid any potential traffic congestion near Portsmouth, and we are working with the local authority to achieve just that.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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The Government are planning to break the withdrawal agreement they signed only last year, thereby breaking international law and sending us into economic self-isolation. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster knows that a Canada deal is possible if he agrees the protections that are required for workers’ rights and our environment. Will he go back and agree those protections and, with them, a tariff-free trade agreement so that we can avoid the self-infliction of a no-deal Brexit alongside a raging pandemic, which would be a complete disaster for everyone in the UK?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I have great affection for the hon. Gentleman, but he gets three things wrong. He says that we are planning to resile from the withdrawal agreement, he says that we will go into economic self-isolation, and he suggests that we should accept EU rules in all the areas that he mentions. My reply is: no, no, no.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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As my right hon. Friend mentioned in his statement, Warrington is set to be the location of a new inland border facility on a former coach interchange in my constituency. Will he tell us a little more about what that will mean for jobs in my local area? What assurances can he give to local residents who are concerned about lorries clogging up village roads?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My colleague Lord Agnew, the Cabinet Office Minister, has been in touch with my hon. Friend and with the local authority to stress that there will be additional investment, which will mean more jobs in Warrington. We expect that there will be an additional 375 jobs created in Warrington, split between new jobs for colleagues in the Border Force, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Mitie and the haulage firm Wincanton. The current expectation is that that number will rise to around 460 jobs by December next year. We are also working to make sure that there is appropriate additional funding to ensure that there is no additional traffic problem for him, his constituents or those in neighbouring villages.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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I have known the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster all his political career. May I urge him not to keep the door ajar but to open the door to continuing negotiations? Not to have a deal would be a historic, shameful failure. It would hurt my constituents and his, with broken businesses and unemployment, and blight the future of a new generation and generations to come. Please, I beg him to try again for all of us.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We sincerely want an agreement, but we cannot have an agreement on any terms. I know that his constituents, like mine, voted to leave the European Union—

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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indicated dissent.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Oh, a curious absence, then, in Yorkshire. Whatever our disagreements, the hon. Gentleman and I agree that we should work together in the best interests of all the citizens of the United Kingdom. I am always grateful for his wisdom. Ever since I first arrived in the House, he has been a good friend and a wise head, and whenever I have gone wrong it is because I have not paid too much attention—sorry, it is because I have not paid enough attention to his words.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)
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The UK will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation with control over our money, laws and borders. What support has my right hon. Friend put in place to help business leaders in West Bromwich East prepare for the changes and opportunities that that will bring when we leave the transition period at the end of this year?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Fundamentally, whatever turbulence may occur, whatever bumps in the road there might be in the months ahead, the strengths and resilience of our economy mean that we will prosper mightily. The manufacturing leaders in her constituency in West Bromwich and more widely across the Black Country and the west midlands are benefiting directly from the investment that we are making in customs intermediaries, in new IT processes and systems, and in our Prime Minister’s broader commitment to levelling up. We must make opportunity more equal across the United Kingdom, and my hon. Friend’s championing of business in West Bromwich is a critical part of that.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
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Protecting the Good Friday agreement means protecting Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom, for that is the settled will of the people of Northern Ireland exercised through the principle of consent. Will the Secretary of State give us an update on discussions in the Joint Committee on the issue of export declarations and the fact that they are not required for goods travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain? Will he also give us an update on the issue of goods at risk and the EU attitude on this, to ensure that goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland that are not passing on to the Republic of Ireland are not subject to unnecessary and costly disruption?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend makes three very important points. On the first, about exit declarations, he is absolutely right: the protocol is there both to help us safeguard the EU’s single market, but also to affirm Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom and within its customs territory, and there is no need for customs declarations for goods coming from Northern Ireland to the rest of Great Britain. As for his point about goods at risk, he is absolutely right about that as well: bread that is baked in Huddersfield and goes into a supermarket in Ballymena should not be subject to tariffs, because it is trade within the United Kingdom. And his final point is right as well: the Belfast agreement was a balanced agreement, and sometimes some of the rhetoric we hear about the Belfast agreement seems to me to be inadequate in its understanding of the vital importance of the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland have voted to stay part of the United Kingdom. Their rights, their views, their loyalty needs to be respected.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
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The toughest negotiators in this country are the farmers in my constituency, and my farmers recognise at this moment that my right hon. Friend and Lord Frost are excellent negotiators. That is borne out by the news that the talks are intensifying, including on legal texts. May I ask my right hon. Friend to meet me to talk about business engagement, especially in the agricultural sector in the devolved Administrations environment, since the devolved Administrations seem hostile to us getting any kind of successful deal?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: I have met farmers in his constituency, and a tougher bunch of negotiators we would be hard-pressed to find. But he is absolutely right also that their interests need to be protected, and not just by the UK Government but by the devolved Administration—by the Government in Wales. We need to work together to ensure that we are supporting them. In the event of an Australian-style exit, one of the sectors that we will need most energetically to support is the sheepmeat sector, and we will—and to be fair to the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), she made that point.

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

The UK imports 37 million packets of medicines from the EU every single month. The pharmaceutical industry has highlighted the difficulty in rebuilding full stockpiles for the end of transition due to the impact of covid, so, with just 74 days to go, how will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there are no drug shortages, particularly of insulin, which the UK does not produce, and radioisotopes, which cannot be stockpiled?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady brings formidable expertise to this area, and she is absolutely right to highlight the fact that we need rapid access to both insulin and radioisotopes. That is why the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Transport have put in place contingency arrangements should there be any risk of disruption, but we are also confident that the steps we have taken more broadly will ensure that we have freight flowing freely between the UK and the EU, including in this critical area.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I should pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), for her exemplary communications with my constituents who live near the Sevington lorry park; I am very grateful.

I still hope and expect that we will get a deal, but either way, may I ask my right hon. Friend how confident he is that the smart freight system will be fully operational by 1 January, and if it is not, what does he think will happen?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I join my right hon. Friend in praising the efforts of the Transport Minister, who has been incredibly energetic and determined to make sure that colleagues in Kent from all parties are kept informed on the progress of our preparations. The smart freight portal is being shared with hauliers and others as we speak. It is currently in its beta phase and we want to ensure that it is further refined, but the straightforward approach that it should provide should enable us to minimise any disruption that my right hon. Friend or his constituents face. I am absolutely confident it will be in place; if it were not, other measures would need to be taken, but they would not be as helpful as the smart freight system.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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We have heard it all now: it is just, according to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, “an unfortunate sequence of events”, otherwise known as the Lemony Snicket defence—all the fault of evil uncle Olaf and his foreign friends. But on the serious point about this, consider how it will affect, for example, our musicians who go on tour. They are usually not part of large operations. They might take their instrument, fly on a budget flight, try to sell some of their merchandise, cross a few borders in the European Union—that is how they scrape a living. They are making no money now. Will he please consider the consequences of no deal, admit that this is not a frivolous issue but a matter of people’s livelihoods, and seriously engage with it rather than take this frivolous and superficial approach?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I certainly would not take a frivolous approach towards the livelihoods of anyone, whether they are freelance musicians or anyone else who contributes to the health, prosperity and economy of this country. That is one of the reasons why we are so anxious to secure an agreement with the European Union and why we have been working so hard and in such a dedicated fashion in the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee. I mentioned earlier that as a result of the progress that we have made with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, the rights of 4 million EU citizens in the UK are now guaranteed, as are the rights of over 1 million citizens of the UK in the EU. More needs to be done to ensure that we can have a free trade agreement, but I absolutely take seriously the rights of citizens—whether they are, as I say, freelancers or others—to continue to be able to work and live freely.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Has my right hon. Friend seen how much popular and excellent quality fresh food there is in our supermarkets with the Union flag on the packaging? Will he confirm that if the EU insists on high tariffs on food trade, where it sells us massively more than we sell it, that would be a huge opportunity for our farmers to grow and rear more for the domestic market and get back the huge amounts of market share stolen from them under the common agricultural policy?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes three very important points. The first thing is that UK producers are doing a fantastic job in increasing production in a sustainable way. Championing the quality of UK produce is something that we should all do and recognise, whether it is Orkney cheddar or Welsh lamb, that the UK flag is a symbol that connects quality not just to our consumers but worldwide. The second point that he makes, which is absolutely right, is that the common agricultural policy has been harmful, and our escape from it will ensure both that our farmers can prosper and that our environment can improve. His third point is that we should be confident not just that we can sell more excellent produce here in the UK but that, as we emerge into the world as a global free-trading nation, new opportunities to sell our excellent produce are available to our farmers, and he is absolutely right to be optimistic.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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The Minister has acknowledged the issue of the free flow of medicines into this country. Will he respond to the urgent appeal today from the pharmaceuticals industry to find a deal, and will he accept the approaches from the European Union and do everything in his power to ensure that my constituents, like those across the country who need medicines such as insulin, will have the deal that ensures that they can rely upon it?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Absolutely.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend knows from our time in Cabinet together that I have nothing but the greatest possible respect and admiration for his negotiating skills and abilities. Given that we are advised that fish and state aids are the main stumbling blocks to a deal, will he draw to the attention of Monsieur Macron, the President of France, the fact that if there is no deal on fishing, there will not be any French boats fishing in British waters, and that the size of the British fishing industry is approximately 1.7% of the size of the British car and automotive industry? Finally, will my right hon. Friend remember that one of the reasons that Mrs Thatcher imposed a three-line Whip in support of the European single market Act was to stop false competition as a result of the unfair use of state aids?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the three important points he makes. First, I am sure that the French President and others are increasingly aware of the point he makes about the consequence of no deal. Secondly, the automotive sector is vital not just to the economy of the west midlands but to the whole UK, and we need to make sure that we invest in it for the future. And his third point is right: we need to have our own state aid regime, not the European one, but we also need to make sure that it is consistent with our market principles.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
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The Road Haulage Association is afraid that trade will grind to a halt if there are insufficient customs agents to help goods to cross the border in January. Some 50,000 customs agents are needed. On paper, the Government have allocated £84 million to the task of training the necessary people. I know the Minister has good attention to detail, so will he tell me how many customs agents have been trained from the allocated money?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a matter for the market.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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What preparations are being made by the Royal Navy to provide requisite support in a potential no-deal situation to our fishery protection vessels to prevent what would then be the illegal plunder of our seas by an armada of French and Spanish trawlers?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have a series of assets to make sure that we can safeguard our waters, such as the offshore patrol vessels—the River class fishery protection vessels that are at the disposal of the Royal Navy—and other assets, including aircraft and drones. Of course, the joint maritime security centre in Portsmouth provides us with maritime domain awareness so that we can safeguard our waters.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP) [V]
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We have 73 days to go here and businesses, deep in the middle of a pandemic, are trying their best to prepare, but there are many unanswered questions that add up to costs that Northern Ireland cannot afford. Firms and families here desperately want a deal, but we are hearing only about a blame game, brinkmanship, deflection and jingoism. People in Northern Ireland are more anxious than they have been in decades, with absolutely no sense that the Government understand that, given the misrepresentation of the agreement even in the last hour. I ask the Minister whether there is any upper limit to the damage that he thinks Northern Ireland should have to sustain for a Brexit that it has rejected at every possible opportunity.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her points. In my statement, I made the point—I hope that she will forgive me for making it again—that we made significant progress today in the Joint Committee, thanks to the constructive approach taken by Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. We are lucky that he and his team are so committed to making sure that the protocol works. I remind her that the protocol is there to give effect to the Belfast agreement, which is about agreement across communities, rather than a culture of grievance.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend may not have known it before December 2019, but Carshalton and Wallington residents voted to leave the European Union and are keen to see us get on and return to being an independent, free-trading global nation. Although we hope that the EU will return constructively to the table, will he confirm that, irrespective of whether a deal is struck, we will continue to go out into the world to seek free trade agreements, such as the one we recently secured with Japan?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. A cloud lifted from Carshalton and Wallington in December last year, and we were able to see at last that the people of that constituency who voted for Brexit had a representative who believed in them.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC) [V]
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The Government say that they just want the terms that Canada enjoys with the European Union. Last year, exports to the European Union accounted for more than 60% of Welsh trade; Holyhead alone accounts for more than 400,000 freight movements each year across the Irish sea. Wales’s relationship with the European Union is nothing like that of Canada. Do those facts not demonstrate that, for Wales, the Minister’s preferred Canada-style agreement is just not good enough?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that Government and Opposition Front Benchers recognise that a Canada-style agreement is entirely consistent with how people voted in the referendum, including the people of Wales, who did vote to leave. It provides us with an opportunity to trade freely with the European Union but to chart our own destiny.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
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I share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment in the EU’s continued intransigence. It is right that we do everything we can to prepare for all outcomes on 31 December, but it remains the case that it is in the best interests of both the UK and the EU to reach a long-term trade deal. Can he confirm that if the EU does shift its position and return to the negotiating table, the Government stand ready to talk and that we are prepared to consider individual deals or agreements on specific areas such as haulage and security?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was not party to the telephone call that took place earlier between Michel Barnier and Lord Frost, but if it does presage a change of approach on the part of the EU and a proper intensification, no one would welcome that more than I do. It would mean that we could make progress, but obviously the proof of the pudding remains. On my hon. Friend’s second point, if we leave on Australian-style terms, we will be negotiating and discussing with our friends and neighbours to ensure that we have effective interim arrangements, particularly in areas such as freight transport.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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I am pleased that, at least on the face of it, the Government appear to be standing up to the bullying tactics by Brussels and have indicated that we will not leave on the basis of an agreement that compromises our sovereignty or our independence. On the Joint Committee, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned two things. First, he said that the Government had outlined what steps they had taken to deal with the new agrifood arrangements. Secondly, he said that the Government now understood the EU’s position on monitoring those arrangements. Will he tell us whether the EU has agreed that the goods at risk will not include those goods that stay in Northern Ireland and that those goods will therefore not be taxed or subject to controls? Secondly, has the EU demanded that the implementation of that monitoring will require EU officials to be present in Northern Ireland?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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On the first point, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but I think that the EU has a very good understanding of exactly the points we make. On the second point, we want to have a pragmatic approach whereby the UK is responsible for the administration of these controls, but we want to provide the EU with reassurance wherever possible.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)
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I voted to leave in the referendum, and I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend that we have to have the right deal, but does he agree, given the economic challenges and the common security threats that we are facing from Russia, China and the middle east, that a deal is still the best outcome for both the UK and EU?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. The broader point that my hon. Friend makes about the need for solidarity among democracies at a time of increasing insecurity across the globe is an important one. We cannot agree to a deal at any price—we have been very clear about that—but the broader context that he provides is very helpful.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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My very first question in this place was to ask the then Prime Minister whether she would consider separately negotiating access to Erasmus and Horizon, which did not need to be part of the wider agreement, because of the risk of a deal falling down. Now that the deal has fallen down and all predictions about this incompetent Government have come true, will the Government consider a separate track to negotiate Erasmus and Horizon entry—which they can do and which the European Union was willing to do—so that our students and universities can have security on this issue?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and we would like to continue participation in both those programmes, but obviously that depends to a significant extent on conversations that are still going on.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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Can my right hon. Friend elaborate a bit more on his point about state aid? Is there state aid that we wish to give to UK companies that we were not able to do under the EU regime, or is the dispute more about the retaliation mechanism, as he put it in his statement?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is significantly about the retaliation procedures, but it is also about the mode of governance by which we would report and notify the state aids that we might wish to issue.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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The Prime Minister promised the nation an “oven-ready” deal, and it was avowedly going to be

“one of the easiest in human history”

to negotiate. Instead, this Conservative Government have shown that they are happy to rip up an agreement only months after signing it, thereby breaking international law, and they are now hurtling us towards a disastrous no-deal Brexit. So, on behalf of the Prime Minister, would the right hon. Gentleman like to apologise to the British people for having made false promises? Will he tell us what changes he will be making to his approach to prove that the UK can be taken seriously and act in good faith, despite the best efforts of this incompetent Government?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, as the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, since last Friday, since the Prime Minister’s statement and since the preparation of my statement earlier, we have seen a welcome indication of movement on the part of the EU. I think that those who were prepared to criticise the Prime Minister on Friday and over the weekend should perhaps, in fairness and with appropriate humility, recognise that he has been standing up for Britain, and therefore no apology is required.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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As the clock ticks down, the pressure will undoubtedly mount on the British Government and on the EU government. It would be reassuring to hear from my right hon. Friend some assurance that he will not go wobbly and reach for any deal on offer at that time just because it is on offer, and that as the likelihood of not securing a free trade agreement with the EU rises, he and his Department are working on a plan of retaliatory fiscal, tax and government state aid actions that could then be put in place.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, may I say that I wish I had my hon. Friend’s lean physique, because I am afraid that bits of me are wobbly? That is not the case with him. On the substance, he is right: we both need to be firm in these negotiations, as the Prime Minister has been, and ready for any eventuality. That means that if we do go to Australian terms, we need to use the freedoms that that affords.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
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In 2019, £300 billion of UK exports went to the EU, which was 43% of our entire total, and not even 2% went to Australia. This is the Minister who told us that these would be the easiest negotiations ever, but businesses in Southwark tell me that they have lost patience with the Government, that uncertainty is costing them and that their employees face losing their jobs as a result of his failure to secure a deal. The simple question is: why do my constituents face losing their jobs as a result of his inability to do his?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that is what we call a leading question, but the hon. Gentleman misattributes the earlier quotation—I think someone else, rather than me, made that point. More broadly, however, prosperity for his constituents and mine depends on making sure that we embrace the free trading, outward-looking approach that the Prime Minister has outlined. That is the best way of making sure that can export not just to Europe and Australia, but across the world.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the Munich security conference last year, the term “westlessness” was first coined, meaning an absence of what the west now stands for, what we believe in and what we are willing to defend. I hope my right hon. Friend agrees that European defence and security must sit above the politics of Europe, because the threats are increasing, no longer recognising state borders or indeed membership of international institutions, but the Galileo project illustrates how EU politics is weakening collective European resolve. I hope he will reconfirm our commitment to joint European security, not least through NATO.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point; NATO is the keystone of our defence architecture. More broadly, I hope that whatever occurs in the next couple of months as we resolve our economic relationship with the EU, the strong bilateral and multilateral ties we have with European allies, from Estonia to France, remain and are strengthened in order to make sure that the west is strong and democracy is reinforced.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

More than 40% of UK external trade is with the EU27, whereas about 10% of the EU27’s trade is with the UK, so clearly the UK badly needs a deal. If we end up with a World Trade Organisation rules outcome, there still needs to be agreement in the Joint Committee about goods at risk, so will the right hon. Gentleman give businesses and households in Northern Ireland a firm guarantee that in no circumstances will any tariffs be levied down the Irish sea interface?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, and that was an admirably Unionist intervention from the hon. Gentleman .

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Businesses in Dudley South and across the Black Country trade with countries in every part of the world. Further to the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards), what support is available for businesses to understand the changes to customs and tax rules, so that they can prepare to take advantage of those opportunities as we become an independent trading nation again?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is the case that we are intensifying our communications campaign. On the Government Digital Service gov.uk website, the transition page outlines some of the information required. The Prime Minister and I are meeting business representative organisations tomorrow in order to reinforce that, but I would be very happy to talk to him and other colleagues in the west midlands, in our manufacturing heartland, to reinforce exactly what it is that we can provide businesses to support them to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster knows, his earlier pessimism that the talks had broken down was misjudged, because in fact we know that, while he has been on his feet, the European Union has said that it is happy to talk about any legal texts. Therefore, his pessimism that we were headed towards an Australian-style deal was misjudged, but can he just confirm for my constituents why he would be so pessimistic about an Australian deal, because his own Brexit analysis in 2018 said that such a deal would cost 8% of GDP, or £2,500 per person in layman’s terms. Are those figures still correct? Is that the price of this failure?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point. She is absolutely right. As a result of the Prime Minister standing firm in defiance of criticism from some in this House, it appears—it appears—that, at this stage, the EU has moved in a way that intensifies talks and sees legal texts being exchanged. I sincerely hope that that is the case. We will find out more in the days ahead. As for the analysis that she quotes, that was not mine.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend recognised earlier the importance of, if at all possible, obtaining continuing arrangements for security co-operation and access to the very important Europol, Eurojust and related databases. All of those matters require an agreement on data sharing, as does much access for the financial services business. What specific advance has there been in relation to data adequacy and data sharing?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to secure data adequacy in order to have the best possible set of arrangements for business and for security. It is an autonomous process, but we believe that the EU should grant us adequacy on the basis of the information that we have provided. More broadly, there are a variety of security and law enforcement tools to which we believe we will have access, but, because of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, there are one or two that remain difficult.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP) [V]
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We have heard the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster basically blame the EU for the breakdown in the talks, but the EU has not walked away from the talks despite the Government setting out a course of action that will break international law and the withdrawal agreement that was reached less than a year ago. Has the right hon. Gentleman considered that his Government bear responsibility for any collapse in negotiations, given their obligations to respect the rule of international law?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but I think that it is misconceived, and recent events underline that.

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

The Government should be congratulated on their trade deal with Japan, the world’s third largest economy. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, irrespective of a deal with the EU, the UK will continue to pursue trade opportunities with the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies, including those that might benefit exporters in Stockton South?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the credit should go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade. She has not just concluded a free trade agreement with Japan, but has made progress on free trade agreements with Australia, on our accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and on other opportunities for businesses, including those in Stockton South, for which he is such a brilliant advocate.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been listening patiently for the past hour and I am still not certain whether we are heading for a no-deal Brexit or for a deal Brexit. Business always says that it wants certainty. What certainty can the right hon. Gentleman offer business at this very late stage now for 1 January 2021?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The certainty that I can offer is that we will be out of the customs union and out of the single market, and that as a result we will be able to take our place as an independent free trading nation. Businesses in Bath and elsewhere know what it is that they need to do. That is certainty. It is very different from the proposition that the Liberal Democrats put forward at the last general election, which was a second referendum or a third referendum—I have no idea how many referendums the Liberal Democrats wanted. One thing I do know is that they returned fewer than a dozen MPs, which shows what the country thought of that.

Cheryl Gillan Portrait Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If what my right hon. Friend has told the House today is accurate—that the EU has realised at the eleventh hour that it is in its best interests to reach an accommodation with the United Kingdom and it can no longer dictate to this country—can he tell me what will happen with those businesses that have not prepared for the end of the transition period? The permanent secretary of his Department told the Public Accounts Committee last week that 36% of our small businesses had not made preparations. Has that figure now been reduced? What further communications are planned to ensure that all businesses are ready for the end of the year, whether we get a deal or not? May I say that I very much hope we do get a deal?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend: we do very much want a deal. We hope that developments this afternoon are moving us in the right direction. She is also absolutely on the button when she says that, with or without a free trade agreement, businesses need to prepare. The number that are getting prepared is increasing all the time, and it is my Department’s responsibility, along with HMRC, to make sure they have the information they require, whatever happens. Outside the single market and the customs union, there will be new procedures. I look forward to working with her and others on the Public Accounts Committee to ensure that we communicate the detail required through our new intensified campaign.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for a few minutes.

16:40
Sitting suspended.
16:44
Matt Hancock Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Matt Hancock)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to make a statement on coronavirus. As winter draws in, the virus is on the offensive: 40 million coronavirus case have now been recorded worldwide. Weekly deaths in Europe have increased by 33% and here in the UK, deaths have tragically doubled in the last 12 days. The situation remains perilous.

While the disease is dangerous for all adults, especially with growing evidence of the debilitating consequences of long covid, we know it is especially dangerous for older people. Cases continue to rise among the over-60s, who are most likely to end up in hospital or worse. I am very worried that the cases per 100,000 among the over 60s is 401 in the Liverpool city region, 241 in Lancashire and, in Greater Manchester, has risen over the past week from 171 to 283. That is why the Government have been working so hard to act, and I am very glad that we have been able to agree, across party lines, the necessary measures in Liverpool and Lancashire, and we are working hard to reach such an agreement in Greater Manchester.

We are doing everything in our power to suppress the virus, support the economy, support education and support the NHS until a vaccine is available. That is the right strategy, charting a path that allows for the greatest economic and social freedom while protecting life. The director general of the World Health Organisation said last week:

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical.”

I agree. I know that this is difficult and I know that it is relentless, but we must have resolve, see this through and never stop striving to support the science that will one day make us safe.

I was at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital this morning meeting NHS colleagues who are caring for patients with such dedication, as they always do. I heard from them how important it is for everyone to support the NHS by keeping the virus down so that the NHS is not overwhelmed by covid patients and it can deliver all the essential non-covid care that people need. I am glad to report that the number of people experiencing a long wait for cancer treatment has been brought down by 63% since its peak in July. I want to thank all the cancer teams who are working so hard to ensure people get the cancer screening, diagnostics and treatment that they need, even in these difficult circumstances, but the best way to protect cancer treatment and all the other treatments in the NHS is to keep the prevalence of coronavirus down.

In doing this, of course, we are taking as localised and targeted a way as possible. Our local code alert level system means that we can have different rules in places such as Cornwall, where transmission is low, and Liverpool, where transmission is high and rising. On Thursday, I updated the House about several areas of the country that we are moving into the high alert level and today I would like to inform the House at the earliest possible opportunity that Lancashire has now moved into the very high alert level. Infection rates in Lancashire are among the highest in the country and are continuing to rise rapidly, including in the over-60s as I mentioned. Both the number of cases and the number of hospital admissions are doubling almost every fortnight, and the number of covid patients in intensive care beds in Lancashire has already reached nearly half the number seen at the height of the pandemic earlier this year. So we knew we had to take rapid action to suppress the epidemic in Lancashire.

We have always said that we stand side by side with any local area that agreed to move into this third tier and offer substantial support to local authorities, including for testing, tracing, enforcement and business support. I would like to thank local leaders in Lancashire who have been working with us so constructively, and I am sure that their willingness to put politics aside in the national interest, and in the interests of the people whom we serve, will save lives and protect livelihoods at this difficult time.

Following the successful introduction of measures in Liverpool and Lancashire, talks continue this afternoon with Greater Manchester, led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. This week, further discussions are planned with South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, the north-east and Teesside.

Sadly, over the weekend, we have seen very directly the impact of this disease. I was shocked to learn on Saturday of the sad death from coronavirus of Bill Anderson, the brother of Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson. My heart and, I am sure, the sympathies of the whole House go out to the Anderson family and the people of Liverpool, who have lost a brother. All our thoughts are with our colleague, the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who is in hospital with pneumonia after testing positive for covid-19. We wish her a speedy recovery and send all our support to the NHS in Greater Manchester, which is caring for her and so many others.

I would also like to provide an update on testing—another vital line of defence. We are testing more people than any other country in Europe. We are now doing over 300,000 tests a day, up from 2,000 a day in February, and we have opened over 500 test sites, including new walk-in centres in Dundee on Friday, in Edinburgh on Saturday and in Newcastle this morning.

Alongside that important work, we are working hard to discover and evaluate new testing technologies that are simpler, faster and cheaper. Some of these tests can produce a result as quickly as in 15 minutes, and we will make them available to local directors of public health as part of our strategy for local action, starting with areas in the very high alert level. We are rolling them out across hospitals and care homes, to test patients and residents yet more regularly and keep people safe, and for schools and universities, so that we can keep education open safely through the winter. These tests have shown real promise, and we are both buying them now and ramping up our ability to produce them at scale here in the UK. We will stop at nothing to support this extraordinary scientific and logistical endeavour, which can give us hope on the path back to normal life.

Finally, I would like to inform the House that on Friday, we laid regulations to support the roll-out of both the flu vaccination and any covid vaccination. While, of course, no vaccine technology is certain, we must be prepared to deploy a vaccine as soon as one is safely available. The new regulations provide for a wider range of clinically qualified people to administer vaccines and for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to grant a UK licence for a vaccine before the end of the transition period, should that be necessary. We wish all our scientists well in this vital work, and we will give them all the support they need.

We are once again at a decisive moment in our fight against coronavirus. While our scientists work round the clock on the solutions that will finally bring this crisis to an end, we must all play our part, come together and work together to keep people safe, suppress the virus and save both livelihoods and lives. I commend this statement to the House.

Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op)
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May I start by sending my party’s condolences to Joe Anderson for the sad loss of his brother from this horrific virus? I also send our best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for a speedy recovery.

As always, I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. The virus continues to grow nationwide. The R rate is between 1.3 and 1.5. An increasing number of care homes across the country have seen outbreaks, with 214 in the last week. Admissions to critical care continue to rise nationwide—yes, at a slower rate than in the first wave, but at this stage in the first wave, critical care admissions were starting to fall because of the lockdown. They currently continue to rise.

We welcome the progress that is being made on saliva testing and LAMP—loop-mediated isothermal amplificationn —testing. It will allow us to introduce wider mass testing, which is a vital tool in taking on this virus. I pay tribute to the universities that are developing great testing innovations, such as Southampton University, and Leicester University in my constituency. What is the timescale for the advances in testing that the Secretary of State is talking about? Is the plan still for millions of tests a day? There was speculation back in September that his plan was for 10 million tests a day by February, so can he tell us what the daily testing capacity will be by the end of the year? We have seen delays in the pilots. Salford was supposed to be testing 250 people a day using saliva testing, but that has now been refocused. It is vital that testing of all frontline healthcare workers is now introduced to help the NHS get through the winter, so will the Secretary of State urgently speed up the validation of pooled polymerase chain reaction testing in the Lighthouse labs? It is not yet happening in those labs, and we really need it to be.

This virus spreads with speed, so testing must be quick, yet results are still not turned around in 24 hours. Again, when will they be turned around in 24 hours? Contacts must be traced quickly, and those who are traced must be given support to isolate, yet we have—to be frank—a badly designed system that is failing to trace sufficient contacts, costing £12 billion and paying consultants £7,000 a day. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) justified these failings yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show”, saying that when the virus is accelerating,

“any test and trace system of whatever kind has less utility”.

After spending £12 billion, Ministers now just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, the virus is accelerating, so contact tracing is less useful.” It is simply not good enough. The country is facing further restrictions because test and trace failed, so again, I urge the Secretary of State to fund local public health teams to do contact tracing everywhere and follow international best practice, such as Japan’s, where they focus on investigating clusters using retrospective contact tracing. We need that backward contact tracing everywhere, not just in the places that are hotspots.

This virus exploits clustering and social interaction, and I have always accepted that socialising in closed spaces, especially with poor ventilation, is a driver of transmission. However, for interventions to be effective, the consent of local people is needed and economic support is vital, yet we are now in a situation where the Bishop of Manchester—a bishop, for goodness’ sake—describes Liverpool as “feeling cheated”, Lancashire as “feeling bullied”, and Manchester as “angrily determined”. If the Secretary of State is seeking to impose greater restrictions on Greater Manchester, surely it needs financial support so that people’s livelihoods are not put at risk, so can he tell the Chancellor to spend less time admiring himself on Instagram and instead deliver a financial package to safeguard jobs across Greater Manchester?

The Prime Minister has promoted the tier 3 restrictions because they mean that, in his words, “there is a chance” to bring the R number down, but how do these restrictions in the north arrest growth in the virus across the rest of the country? The R number across the south-east is 1.3 to 1.5; across the south-west, it is 1.3 to 1.6; and across the east of England, it is 1.3 to 1.5. Cornwall, Devon, Suffolk, Somerset and Ipswich have recorded covid rates per 100,000 in recent days that are higher than the average rates across Greater Manchester when it went into lockdown in the summer, so to get the national R number below 1, more intervention will be needed than is currently proposed. Is it not in the national interest to now follow the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, and adopt a two to three-week circuit break?

Last week, when asked about a circuit break, the Prime Minister said, “I rule out nothing”. He also said that he “stands ready” to apply those measures if necessary. However, the Minister for the Cabinet Office yesterday ruled out a circuit break, so for clarity, have the Government now completely ruled out a circuit break in all circumstances? The cost of delay could be a deeper, longer, fuller lockdown. Is the Secretary of State now ruling that out?

I say to the Secretary of State that we have a window of opportunity. For much of the country, it is half term next week. If it is politically easier for him, he does not have to call it a circuit break: he can call it a firewall or a national moment of reset. Whatever he calls it, we need something, because the longer the Prime Minister dithers, the harder it becomes to take back control of this virus, protect the NHS and save lives. We urge him to act before it is too late.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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I absolutely will address the questions that the hon. Gentleman raised. On the first set of questions about testing, I might have missed it, but I think he omitted to support and congratulate the work of everybody involved in getting more than 300,000 tests a day delivered—on track to a capacity of more than half a million tests a day by the end of this month. He rightly asked about batch testing, which is currently being trialled.

The hon. Gentleman asked us to fund local contact tracing everywhere. We have put those funds into each local authority, but of course we put the most support into the areas that need it most. The Government’s approach of targeting the support and measures on the areas where they are needed most is at the core of how we—as he put it—retain the consent of people while we go through these difficult actions.

To be truthful, the hon. Gentleman is far closer to and more supportive of the Government’s position than he feels able to express at the Dispatch Box, not least because he asked for economic support. Let me just leap to the Chancellor’s aid and defence. The Government have put in unprecedented economic support to help people through these difficult times—billions of pounds of aid and further aid forthcoming. The hon. Gentleman asked in particular for economic support when an area goes into tier 3, which is exactly what I announced in respect of Lancashire. That is of course part of the discussions that we have with local authorities when further actions are needed.

So, there absolutely will be more economic support from the Government, yes; more work with local authorities to deliver the local approach that is needed, yes; and more testing capacity, yes. These are all the things that the Government are delivering and it behoves the hon. Gentleman to acknowledge and support them, as clearly we are all trying to deliver the same thing, which is to suppress the virus and save lives.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
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I congratulate the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the news about LAMP—loop-mediated isothermal amplification—and lateral flow testing, which is potentially the most significant news about the fight against the virus that the House has heard for many weeks.

Given the dangers of conflicting public health messages when local leaders and national leaders say different things, is it not time to consider aligning incentives by saying that local leaders have the responsibility to bring down the R rate and giving them the powers and resources to do that if necessary, but also saying that if they fail to do that, they will be stripped of those powers to allow the Government to—to coin a phrase—take back control?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The approach we are taking, which is working effectively in almost every local area, is to work with local leaders. We are doing that across party lines, whether in Liverpool or Lancashire, as I mentioned, or in South Yorkshire, the north-east and Teesside, where the discussions are collaborative and consensual. That is the way we need to deliver the public health messages that are best delivered with everybody speaking with one voice and all working together to tackle the virus. That is not to mention London, where there has been a similar approach.

I would merely point out that over the past week in Greater Manchester the rate of infection among those aged over 60, which is the group most likely to end up in hospital, has risen from 171 per 100,000 to 283, so it is absolutely vital, from a public health perspective, that we act.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP) [V]
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The economic impact on areas under the tightest covid restrictions is significant, particularly for the hospitality industry, where many young workers are employed. Covid will be with us for some considerable time, so we need to learn to adapt and live with it as safely as possible. As I have highlighted previously, covid is spread by airborne particles as well as droplets, so ventilation is key to reducing the risk of spread. There are ventilation systems that incorporate antimicrobial technology, which could reduce spread in indoor settings. Last week, I asked the Secretary of State whether he would speak to the Chancellor about promoting their installation by removing VAT and making them tax deductible. He did not answer, so I ask him again: does he recognise the importance of ventilation in the battle against covid? If so, will his Government use their taxation powers to help to make hospitality settings more covid-secure and avoid their being repeatedly shut down?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Absolutely we will support hospitality businesses and all the sectors of the economy. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has supported the hospitality industry more than any other. In fact, the UK Government are supporting businesses right across the whole country. When the Scottish Government take action on public health grounds in a devolved way, the UK Government then come in with the economic support. That is yet another example of how much stronger we all are working together. I will take away the hon. Lady’s detailed point and talk to the Treasury. It is, of course, a question for the Treasury rather than for me as Health Secretary, but I just underline the importance of us all working together across Scotland and across the whole of the UK, and of the economic firepower of the UK Exchequer supporting people right across this land.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
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In Hyndburn and Haslingden—and, in fact, across Lancashire—we have some of the strongest people I have ever met. We will do everything we can to get our infection rate down, because that is what we do when times are tough: we come together. However, morale is low and mental health is suffering as people cannot see their families and some have been unable to see their loved ones in care homes since March. Will the Secretary of State outline what the Government are doing to mitigate that situation, and what steps are being taken to try to facilitate safe visits, given that there is no clear end date?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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My hon. Friend has shown real leadership in Hyndburn in very difficult times. This has not been easy for the people of Lancashire. In Hyndburn, there have been restrictions for some time and I appreciate how hard that is, but I think everybody will look to the way my hon. Friend has tried to support people as much as possible, contacting me day and night with the cases of individual constituents, and has put herself at the service of her constituents. The people of Hyndburn are very well represented.

On the specific point that my hon. Friend makes, absolutely we must ensure, just as places have to go into level 3 restrictions when we are concerned about the ability of the NHS to cope if things get further out of hand, that so too will we reduce those restrictions as soon as we can safely. We will do that not necessarily across a whole county, but on a district-by-district level if that is what the data says should be done. That is something we are constantly looking at. For now, the single most important message to everybody in Hyndburn and across Lancashire is: let’s pull together, follow the rules and get this under control.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab) [V]
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I thank the Secretary of State for the meeting he had with north-east MPs on Friday. I can tell him that, if the data is accurate, the signs over the weekend are that we are moving in the right direction.

I understand that SAGE highlighted that the impact of further potential restrictions will be felt very differently by different communities. SAGE suggests the need for immediate planning to refine measures to minimise potential harms and to mitigate impacts on vulnerable groups. Given the Government’s commitment to the levelling-up agenda, what are the Government’s plans to reduce the real risk that measures taken to respond to covid will continue to increase inequality and worsening levels of poverty and deprivation? In the north-east, we are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination, but can I urge the people of the north-east to carry on doing the right things?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The hon. Gentleman speaks for everyone across the north-east. The cross-party working has been first rate and I pay tribute to all colleagues from the north-east who have been working so hard. The message to everybody in the north-east is that there are early signs that the measures are starting to work, but we are not there yet, so let us all stick with it, work together, support each other, support the NHS and absolutely we will bring in the economic support to ensure both that we help businesses as much as possible, help employers and help individuals through this crisis. After that, the levelling-up agenda is vital to unite the whole country.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
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How correct my right hon. Friend is that the most effective actions are those that are local and targeted. Will he confirm that he will look at tier 2 reviews in the light of regulation 8 in part 4 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (High) (England) Regulations 2020, so that we can target on a local basis? Given that so many cases are asymptomatic, could he say when he expects the new test to be more widely available across the community?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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My hon Friend makes an incredibly important point, which is that the regulations are written on a borough-by-borough basis, and if we can take specific boroughs out of the regulations sooner, based on the data, then we will do so, and we have done. In fact in some cases we have taken part of a district or a borough out of the regulations when that is what the data has shown. I can give him that assurance.

On the testing, we are rolling out the tests as fast as we can. The use case is one of ensuring that more NHS staff are tested on an asymptomatic basis; there is more testing in care homes, where it is important to protect the most vulnerable; there is more support in education, to make sure we can keep education as open as effectively possible; and there is asymptomatic testing in areas where there is a big outbreak. All of that will be there to support outbreak control and get this virus under control.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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The Welsh Government have today announced a stringent two-week firebreak to try to bring the R number down. Central to the strategy, of course, must be sufficient economic support for businesses and livelihoods. Will the Secretary of State press the Chancellor to ensure that the Welsh Government have sufficient financial flexibility to pursue their chosen public health policy?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Yes, of course. The Welsh Government respond to the circumstances in Wales as they see fit, according to the devolution settlement. As I was saying to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), we are absolutely prepared, ready and engaged in supporting communities and businesses right across the UK and in supporting individuals who, through no fault of their own, fall on what can be incredibly hard times because of the impact of coronavirus.

Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con)
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The Secretary of State knows that pubs, bingo halls and gyms have gone to enormous lengths to ensure that they offer a safe environment, and many of us in Greater Manchester and elsewhere are sceptical that closing those institutions would make a significant difference to the spread of the virus, but can I ask him why the Government will not extend the additional resources for Test and Trace independently of those measures? Surely, it would be beneficial to do so.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Across Greater Manchester and across Trafford, we had extended further support for Test and Trace before the tier system came in. We have engaged to make sure that we get the benefits of local teams accessing and, because they have boots on the ground, finding people whom the national team simply cannot find, and that will continue. Of course, the negotiations and the discussions about the future of what extra we need to do in Greater Manchester continue. I know that my hon. Friend requires further persuasion that some of the actions that appear to be starting to work elsewhere should be put in place. I would gently point him to the fact that we did manage to level off the increase in infections in Bolton when we brought in firmer measures, but they have since then started to go up again after we removed those measures. Nevertheless he is absolutely right—absolutely right—that the best way we can tackle this is by people taking personal responsibility for reducing their social interaction to reduce the risk of spread, and I hope that we can all metaphorically link arms and get that message across.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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Small businesses in a tier 2 area such as Newcastle may not be asked to close, but they will face severe reductions in revenue due to local restrictions affecting football, for example, in the centre of our great city. The Secretary of State talks about unprecedented support, but these are unprecedented challenges for viable jobs in our city centre. In addition to what he has already mentioned, what local economic support will he offer to businesses in Newcastle?