With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the introduction of public health measures at the border in response to coronavirus. This is another cross-Government measure in our continued collective fight against the virus, to save lives and protect the British public by preventing a second wave of the disease. Our priority has always been to protect people’s health and to keep those in the UK safe from this virus, and introducing this measure now will play an important role in our fight against coronavirus.
The tragic events of recent months have shown that, in a world of serious threats to the UK and to global stability, pandemics have no boundaries. Throughout this national endeavour, the introduction of public health measures has been to protect the public, keep the virus under control and now to protect our hard-won progress as we move in the right direction.
The scientific advice has been consistent and clear, and thanks to the collective determination and the resolve of the British public we are past the peak, but we are now more vulnerable to infections being brought in from abroad. Some have suggested that public health measures at the border should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at that time, the scientific advice was clear that such measures would have made little difference when domestic transmission was widespread. Now, however, the transmission rate in the United Kingdom continues to decline, and international travel is likely to resume from its record low. Therefore, the scientific advice is that imported cases of the virus pose a more significant threat to our national effort and our recovery. Travellers from overseas could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the UK, and therefore increase the spread of the disease. The Government are therefore taking a proportionate and time-limited approach to protect the health of the British public.
I will recap and recall to the House the key points of the public health measures that the Government are putting in place from 8 June. These temporary requirements are set out in full in the Health Protection Regulations laid today. These will apply across England, with the devolved Administrations laying their own regulations to set out their enforcement approaches.
To limit the spread of infection, arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days; this is the incubation period of coronavirus. This follows expert medical advice and is in line with the NHS test and trace service self-isolation period for anyone who has been in contact with the disease.
Working with key industries, the Government have deliberately included a limited number of exemptions to the self-isolation rules, to allow essential services and supply chains to continue, keeping food on our tables, and getting vital medicine and PPE to the frontline. The responsibility for sector-specific exemptions sits with relevant Government Departments.
Arrivals to the UK will be required to fill in a contact locator form, including details of where they will isolate and how they can be contacted. That form will be found on gov.uk and a Government-led working group, with the industry, has developed a process for carriers to inform travellers about the information they need to provide in order to travel to the UK. The form must be completed in advance of travel to provide details of the journey. Border Force will be at the frontline of enforcing this requirement. Passengers will require a receipt, either printed or on their phone electronically, to prove that they have completed the form. Border Force will undertake spot checks at the border and may refuse entry to non-resident nationals who refuse to comply. It will have the power to impose a £100 fixed penalty notice on those who do not comply. Our fantastic frontline Border Force officers are world class and are consistently working to keep our borders safe and secure.
The data collected will be used by Public Health England, which will undertake checks and ensure that people understand and are following the rules. If Public Health England has reason to believe that someone is not following the law as they should be, it will inform the police.
We trust the British people and our visitors to play their part in acting responsibly and following the rules to control the spread of coronavirus, but we will not allow a reckless minority to put our domestic recovery at risk, so there will be penalties and enforcement for those who break them. A breach of self-isolation could result in a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution. This programme will work alongside test and trace to help us further minimise the public health threat of coronavirus.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Secretaries of State for Transport, Business and Health have worked across Government and the devolved Administrations, with science and industry, carefully to develop the policy for this public health action. In line with all Government covid-19 measures, and as I announced on 22 May, the measures will be kept under regular review to ensure that they remain proportionate and necessary. I can inform the House that the first review will take place in the week commencing 28 June, and the measures will be assessed on an ongoing basis thereafter, together with all other measures to fight this disease.
We will publish in due course more information on the criteria that must be satisfied for these health measures to be lifted, but I can update the House on some factors that will be considered. These include the rate of infection and transmission internationally and the credibility of reporting; the measures that international partners have put in place; levels of imported cases in other countries where there are more relaxed border measures, and the degree to which antibody and other methods of testing prove effective in minimising the health risk.
Country-specific reports will be provided to allow us to monitor global progress, but we will consider reviewing these measures only when the evidence shows that it is safe to do so, because public health will always come first. As we have considered for all our cross-Government covid-19 measures, we will take into account the impact on the economy and industry.
The aviation and travel industry is home to some of Britain’s most successful businesses and supports thousands of jobs. Across Government, we understand how tough the public health measures to prevent a second wave of coronavirus are for this sector. The industry has a proud record of making the safety of its passengers and staff its No. 1 priority. It also has a record of dynamism and innovation. Engagement with the industry is crucial, and we are asking it to work with us on these measures.
We are liaising with bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation on this and other covid-19-related issues, and we will continue to work closely with companies and carriers. That is why, with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, we will tomorrow host a roundtable to work across the travel sector and the broader business sector on how we can innovate and move forward together and form a long-term plan for the industry. The Government and the industry share the same aim: to get Britain and our economy moving again in a way that is safe and practical for everyone.
Our priority has always been the safety of our people. That has driven our evidence-led cross-Government approach to this whole crisis. The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel abroad, or against any travel at all to countries where the risk of covid-19 remains unacceptably high. There has been engagement with embassies representing countries around the world to explain our approach. By taking this public health action alongside our other measures, including test and trace and continued social distancing, we will ensure that we can have greater freedom in the longer term. Of course, that includes international travel corridors, a subject that has already been discussed in the House this afternoon.
Currently there should only be essential travel, but we will continue to work across Government and with the sector to explore all options for future safe travel. Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned, and of course we will need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe. We are not alone in our fight against this disease or in the measures that we have taken to stop it.
These measures are backed by science and supported by the public, and are essential to save lives. We know that they will present difficulties for the tourism industry, but that is why we have an unprecedented package of support—the most comprehensive in the world—for employees and for business. We will all suffer in the long run if we get this wrong, which is why it is crucial that we introduce these measures now. Let us not throw away our hard-won progress in tackling the virus. First and foremost, we owe it to the thousands of people who have died, as well as to the millions of people across the whole United Kingdom whose sacrifices over the previous months in following social distancing have together helped us to bring this virus under control. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for providing us with advance sight of it.
We have been calling for sensible screening measures at the border for months, and will of course study the detail of what has been announced. It is vital that the UK has a plan for minimising the risk of infections coming into the country, but the Home Secretary must also realise that there are fundamental questions that she needs to answer: why these particular measures, and why now? From 1 January to 23 March, when the lockdown was imposed, only 273 people were formally quarantined from four flights—three from Wuhan and one from Tokyo—when over 18 million people enter the country by air. The Home Secretary just said in her statement that this was because domestic transmission was widespread, but the Government’s own chief scientific adviser said that
“a lot of the cases in the UK didn’t come from China and didn’t come from the place you might have expected, they came from European imports and the high level of travel into the UK at that time.”
Ministers saw on their television screens what was happening in Italy and Spain.
On 30 April, I wrote to the Home Secretary to ask her to publish in full the scientific advice that her decisions on measures at the border at that time were based on so that we could learn the lessons going forward. She has not even replied to my letter. Not making all that information public is a mistake. Unfortunately, like too much of the Home Office’s handling of this crisis, the management of arrivals to the United Kingdom has lacked urgency and coherence.
As long ago as 10 May, the Prime Minister gave notice of these quarantining measures. Why have the Government wasted precious weeks talking about possible border restrictions, rather than taking effective actions? If these measures are necessary from 8 June, why have they not been necessary in recent weeks or from when they were first announced by the Home Secretary herself —on 22 May? Can the Home Secretary give me her assurance that the measures that will take effect from Monday next week have been recommended and approved by SAGE? I join her in her praise of what those at Border Force have done, but can she give me further assurance that Border Force staff on the frontline will have all the resources and protection that they need?
The Government’s confusion over arrivals and quarantine has widespread implications for the UK economy, particularly aviation, hospitality and tourism, and related supply chains. Huge numbers of jobs are at risk, yet the crucial package of support for these industries that Labour has argued for has yet to materialise. In her statement, the Home Secretary mentioned a roundtable with the Transport Secretary and businesses tomorrow, but the Government should already have done that. They should be presenting these steps today as part of an all-encompassing approach to travel and the aviation sector, backed up by the published scientific evidence. This is necessary because there has to be reassurance that quarantine has a genuine public health benefit now that, according to the Government, it did not have in past months, and that these measures are not just a three-week fudge to try to spare the Government the embarrassment of failing to grip this issue at the right time.
Given that there is no vaccine at the moment and that test, track and isolate is not fully up and running as the Government promised it would be, will the Home Secretary make a commitment to report back to the House before the end of the initial three-week window on that first review that she mentioned in her statement, outlining her proposed exit strategy from these measures and her plans for any travel corridors? Can the Home Secretary pass on the message to the Government about how urgent it is that the comprehensive package to support jobs is brought forward as soon as possible?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, his questions and his remarks. First of all, I think all Members of the House will recognise the difficulties that the entire country has experienced through coronavirus and throughout this outbreak. Across Government, led by the scientific advice but also by my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, we have had a comprehensive response. Throughout the outbreak we have brought in the right measures at the right time, based on scientific advice. That dates as far back as January and continued throughout February and into March as well.
During the contain phase, the Government had at the borders an enhanced monitoring policy and an approach to identify symptomatic travellers from high-risk areas in the early stages and, importantly, safely triage them through the system. That was applied to those returning from Wuhan on 22 January, and that approach was broadened—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would let me finish, please, and listen to the facts I am providing him with—[Interruption.] They are facts, and they are very specific dates. That approach was broadened in conjunction with the Department for Transport to the whole of China on 25 January and then to Japan on 8 February, Iran on 25 February, northern Italy on 4 March and the whole of Italy on 5 March.
When there was significant transmission within the UK, border restrictions would have been marginal in their impact on the epidemic within the UK. Ministers at the time articulated that across Government comprehensively—this is a cross-Government pandemic and all Government Departments work together. At that point it was recognised that transmission from outside would have been contributing a tiny proportion of the number of new infections in the UK. Now that domestic transmission within the UK is coming under control, it is the right time to prepare for these new measures at the border.
The hon. Gentleman also asked, for the benefit of the House, about the health measures brought in during the very early stages. They were brought in through the general aircraft declaration system in aviation. The measures were in place through my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary’s Department in conjunction with Border Force. When that process concluded, it had covered 13 UK airports, 15 territories and 24 airlines. Some 1,116 flights were monitored, with a 98% compliance rate on the general aircraft declaration. The purpose of those declarations is to provide the details of any illnesses on board and therefore inform public health risk assessments so that the appropriate action can be taken with passengers at that particular time.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about and touched on a number of other factors, including PPE for border staff. Border Force has been exceptional throughout this crisis. It is worth paying tribute to its staff for how they have worked to keep our borders safe and secure. Throughout this, following all the public health guidance from Public Health England, they have had adequate PPE protection. That remains so and will continue.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman rightly asked about a comprehensive approach for the sector—for travel, tourism and aviation. We have world-class industries in the United Kingdom, and I worked with many of those sectors in my previous career as well. A comprehensive approach is being taken. He asked why we are only meeting with them now, but that is not the case at all. The Department of Transport and I have been in touch with many representatives from the industry as well. We work across Government. The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head in response to a comment from the Transport Secretary. The hon. Gentleman would rightly expect a comprehensive approach. That comprehensive approach will be introduced on the Floor of the House not just by me but by my right hon. Friends across Government who lead those Departments, so there is a collective response to this issue.
Quarantine will have an impact on businesses that rely heavily on the hospitality sector such as ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent. Churchill China and Steelite have spoken to me about that, so can my right hon. Friend explain the position and reassure ceramic manufacturers that quarantine will not hinder their work as they try to reboot the local economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the fantastic ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent, and he is a great advocate for it. There are some important points to make about this, and I reiterate that these are public health measures designed to protect the British public against imported cases of coronavirus. Of course, we are global Britain, and our borders are not shut—let me emphasise that to the House—and we are global Britain when it comes to goods and exports; goods coming in and goods going out of the country. All of that will continue, and businesses continue to be at the forefront of global Britain, and that will continue for the ceramics industry.
I thank the Home Secretary of advance sight of her statement. Like her, I pay tribute to our Border Force and other key workers.
The Scottish National party has been calling on the UK Government to introduce public health measures at UK borders for some months. The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford has said that the effectiveness of quarantine during a viral outbreak relies on the timing and accuracy of the quarantine period, as well as the ability of individuals and healthcare providers to follow quarantine procedures. I fear that the Home Secretary’s statement does not fully address these matters. There is widespread concern that the UK is out of step with most other countries, which introduced public health measures at their borders far earlier in the pandemic. The best way for her to address the failure to introduce any measures to date, as well as the effectiveness of the measures that she proposes, is to publish the evidence and advice on which she has relied.
The matter was discussed at the meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on 7 May, but its advice has yet to published. Will the Home Secretary undertake to publish that advice today, and can she tell us what advice SAGE has given about the widely reported suggestions that the Government intend to water down the quarantine proposals? Does SAGE think that the quarantine measures will be effective if the watered-down proposals are introduced? The Home Secretary said that the measures would be considered regularly, commencing the week beginning 28 June, but can she tell us how long overall she envisages that the measures will be in place?
Finally, the measures at the border are her responsibility as Home Secretary, but part of their delivery and enforcement will be in Scotland, and will be the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Will she undertake to engage meaningfully with my colleagues in the Scottish Government on their requirements before any changes are made in the weeks and months ahead?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her questions and comments. I shall allude to a number of points. I reiterate and restate the points that I made about the measures that have been taken from the beginning of the year, including public health measures in the aviation sector and enhancing measures at the borders to identify symptomatic travellers from high-risk areas. That happened early and safely, and people were triaged to health systems. It is really important for everyone to remember that, and to be mindful of the fact that these are public health measures.
The hon. and learned Lady—and this is in response to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) as well—made a point about publishing advice from SAGE. SAGE publishes its advice accordingly, and that is ongoing. She referred to the potential downgrading of the measures. These are public health measures, and this is not something for the Home Office or for me as Home Secretary to consider in isolation or independently. This is part of a wide package of public measures, in line with public health regulations that have been introduced in Parliament to reduce the R value and protect the British public.
It is important for the British public, and for all right hon. and hon. Members, to put this into perspective. We are in a national health emergency right now. This is not about the convenience or inconvenience of certain regulations and measures, and their application. We are here to ensure that we protect public health first and foremost. These measures will be reconsidered in due course. They will be aligned with other regulations, which will also be reviewed, and it is important that we consider this issue within the totality of how we can protect the public and their health.
If I am honest, I think many people will think that this is the right move at the wrong time. We keep being told to use our common sense, but the idea that this was wrong when Europe was at the centre of a pandemic, but right now—it does not add up to me. But perhaps that is just me. We are where we are, and we cannot go back, so we start from here. Hundreds of my constituents rely on Southampton airport for their livelihoods. It was on its knees before covid. I appreciate that there is much talk today of travel corridors, but can I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government will consider travel gates to block incoming travellers from certain countries, based on the science—basically, a more targeted, risk-based approach to the screening of passengers, as happens with aviation security standards now?
My hon. Friend is right: there will be a range of measures, and I emphasise that this is part of our ongoing dialogue with the industry. It is not just for the Government to specify the type of actions that the sector should undertake; we have to innovate together and look at new international aviation health screening options and opportunities, and at how we can work to innovate and set these standards internationally. We want to be at the forefront of that, and we urge our industry to do that as well.
Sir Patrick Vallance has said that the crisis escalated in this country as a result of many, many cases coming from Spain and Italy during March. So clearly, the triage system was not working. The Home Affairs Committee was also told that in a 10-day period from 13 to 23 March, up to 10,000 passengers with coronavirus are likely to have arrived at our ports and airports. The Home Secretary has still not published the science that we were promised behind those decisions. Can I urge her now to do so and to tell us her estimate of the number of people who, in the next three-week period, are likely to arrive in the UK with coronavirus?
I have been clear and I have outlined them. I even provided dates to the House, and I have given examples of the number of airports, territories, airlines and flights that were monitored throughout the period from 22 January to 12 March. In terms of publishing the advice, I think the right hon. Lady refers specifically to advice from the Home Office, and I will ensure that the Home Affairs Committee receives it. On the number of incoming passengers, it is well known and documented through air passenger data—that does not include ports, which are separate—that the number of passengers travelling to and arriving in the United Kingdom has been at an all-time low and completely fallen off. We obviously cannot predict those figures for the next three weeks, but working with the Department for Transport we will collate that information and make it public.
The introduction of a 14-day quarantine is a blunt tool that has many downsides and consequences, and effectively it grounds the aviation industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than using that blunt tool, we should move as quickly as possible to a precise and targeted approach that is based on science and international safety standards that will protect passengers and the public, as well as the staff who work for the airlines, the airports and on public transport; and that by doing so, we will enable our planes to fly again, saving livelihoods and businesses while keeping the public safe?
My hon. Friend makes important points. I pay tribute to the aviation industry, which is dynamic and innovative. When we look at the work it has done over decades when it comes to keeping the public safe in aviation travel, it has been world leading, and that is exactly what we want to do in the work that we undertake with the sector. This is of course an international crisis, and no one person or organisation has a bespoke way of working through this crisis for the aviation sector. My final point is that planes are of course still flying and goods are coming into the United Kingdom. I have made the point about export goods, which are still very important for the aviation sector and for the freight sector in particular, and that is of course important not only for the health of our economy but the way in which we can continue to innovate.
The Home Secretary has made much of the scientific advice earlier in the pandemic that it was
“clear that such measures would have made little difference”.
Will she acknowledge that, as we have an acknowledged death toll approaching 50,000 people, perhaps that little difference might have been significant to a lot of people in this country at that time? Does she now regret not making that little difference? Will she please answer the question from the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) about whether that advice and the advice to which she refers today both came from SAGE?
The hon. Lady will be well aware that we are working not just with SAGE but with representatives of SAGE in Departments across Government, and that is the scientific advice that we as Ministers are guided by. It is important to consider this in terms of the entire period from January to March and the enhanced measures that were taken at the border. It is important to recall and be very mindful of the enhanced public health protection measures that were undertaken. Had those measures not been put in place, the severity of what could have followed could have been even more damaging than we have seen over the recent months.
I welcome the introduction of a self-isolation period for those arriving in the UK. Like the Government, I want to do all that I can to protect rural mid-Wales from a second spike in the virus. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Welsh Government and with rural police forces to ensure that these measures can be enforced in a four-nation approach?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the devolved Administrations. The shadow Home Secretary, hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), asked me about the time period in respect of when this was announced and these measures now coming into place. Much of this has been complicated because of the different approach in terms of the powers that are devolved, particularly in relation to enforcement. The devolved Administrations will of course be introducing their own regulations on enforcement, but we have had constant contact and discussion across the four nations with the devolved Administrations from the get-go—from the outset—and that will of course continue.
This is not just about tourism and business, important though they are; it is also about people. My constituent Professor Matthew Gaunt’s eight-year-old son Dylan lives in Germany. Professor Gaunt and his ex-wife have joint custody, and in former times he used to visit fortnightly to stay with Dylan for four days. The pandemic has torn apart families throughout the nation, but it is an international problem, too. Will the Home Secretary ensure that such difficult cases are prioritised?
This is such a difficult time for everybody around the world. Of course, we have all been split apart from family, friends and loved ones. Of course, we do want to ensure that we can prioritise key cases and, as we move forward with changes to regulations and keep this under review, look at how we can do our utmost to reunite friends, family and loved ones.
I welcome the huge amount of work that the Home Secretary is doing on air bridges, and urge her to suspend the implementation of this blanket quarantine requirement to give just a few more weeks to get in place those safe air corridors so that we can save jobs in aviation and let families go on their summer breaks in the sun.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. There are some important points in respect of how we can work collectively with the travel sector—not just aviation, but across every single carrier; whether it is coaches, trains or ferries, they are all part of the health and wellbeing of the travel sector and the travel economy. We will of course work with everybody on this. The fact of the matter is that these are complicated matters. My right hon. Friend will have heard me say in my statement that we would require bilateral agreements with countries, which is exactly what the FCO is working on. That is why there is a cross-Government effort to ensure that we can not only get our country moving again but do the right thing in terms of keeping the public safe.
At the start of this crisis, I had border staff writing to me to say that they had no personal protective equipment and constituents writing to me to say that they had come back from northern Italy and Spain without being stopped at the border at all. It was a completely bungled response at the beginning. Now the horse has bolted, our recovery is one of the worst in Europe and our death rates are the second worst in the world, the Government are embarrassed and trying to close the stable, but I am afraid it is too late. To build any sort of trust, will the Secretary of State publish the advice she has on this matter before she destroys our hospitality sector?
I am afraid I simply cannot get my head around the public health mental gymnastics of this policy. If such a barrier is required, why was it not introduced earlier in the outbreak and if it is a contingency measure against a so-called second wave, why apply it to countries with a lower infection rate than we already have? Surely, the answer lies in the Government’s test and trace system, rather than unnecessary economic isolation. I know that my right hon. Friend is not answerable for the public health elements, but can she please tell us, from a Home Office perspective, in the event of air bridges being established: how will it be possible to identify transit and, more importantly, stopover passengers, who may be able to come to the UK through the bridge from higher-risk areas?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his point about transit passengers and future travel corridors—I am sure we will all agree on a term to use in the future. The fact of the matter is, from a Home Office perspective, that we have created the contact locator form. It is that data that will be instrumental in giving people that safe passage and the clearance to transit on to other locations. That piece of work has been done. We should look at how we can adapt that, again working with the aviation sector, so that in due course the form can contain so much more information, including covid test data or even electronic travel authorisation, which can help to bolster the industry and the sector, get people moving, planes flying and people travelling internationally again, and give the public confidence about the health protections they are looking for.
At a time when most European countries are in a much improved condition compared with the UK, the concern of communities in constituencies such as mine is transition by travellers within and between the nations of the UK. I have spoken to the police, representatives of the tourism industry in north Wales and local community leaders, and we all want our attractions and accommodation to open as soon as possible, so we need to be able to provide every assurance to vulnerable residents and their families anxious about the risks implicit in thousands—I emphasise, thousands—of people arriving in their communities the day after internal holiday travel restrictions are lifted in the UK. Will the Home Secretary come back to the House to explain what steps she is taking to ensure that holidays at home are safe for everyone?
First, let me pay tribute to the police across the country for their approach to enforcement and encouraging people on socially distancing. I am well aware, across the four nations but particularly in Wales, of the great work that has taken place. On the point about domestic tourism, vulnerability and people who are shielding, I would be more than happy, working with colleagues across Government, to come back to give the assurances on the public health measures and protections required.
More than 90% of countries have deployed a form of quarantine so far. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the measures she has outlined today are being taken by the rest of the world and are consistent and vital to keeping our citizens safe?
I thank my hon. Friend for the point and his question. There is a reflection here, in that other countries have introduced measures at the border, whether self-isolation—much of this is self-isolation—or other measures, on the basis of protecting their domestic population from the imported spreading of the virus. It is right that we are doing this now. The science has been consistent on this and that is in the interests of protecting public health.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border and is therefore literally on the frontline. Can the Home Secretary tell us more about the discussions and talks with the Northern Ireland Assembly that she referred to? How does she believe she can marry the health measures at our ports and airports with those in neighbouring Republic of Ireland to ensure the viability of our ports and airports for trade and tourism as well as safety and wisdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right. When it comes to trade and keeping passenger flows going, we have been working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of some of the discussions that have been taking place. As ever, we undertake these measures for the right reasons: to collectively stop the spread of the virus and to protect public health. I would be happy to talk to him over future days, in the run-up to 8 June, about the work we are doing in Northern Ireland.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost if the airlines are unable to fly their crucial peak summer schedules, but the airlines are making those decisions now. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to make sure that we have clear criteria for air corridors and the first list of safe countries well before the three-week review on 29 June?
I am very familiar with my hon. Friend’s regional airport and the operators there, and I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be leading on this issue. Of course, I will work with him and all colleagues across Government to ensure that we really pursue those plans and proposals and get aviation up and running again and safeguard jobs and the economy, but at the same time, as I said, look at the methods by which we can protect public health.
The horse has bolted. I do not understand why the Secretary of State does not get this. She will not be able to screen people at ports, she cannot track them when they leave the airports, she cannot enforce quarantine when people get to their homes and she cannot even ensure that those who might be covid positive are not using public transport to get from the ports to their homes, so she will not be protecting anybody. Can she name a single country in Europe that has a higher infection rate than the UK?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement and the reason why these measures are coming in. I recognise from the tone of his question that he fundamentally disagrees with the Government’s position and the approach we have taken collectively. We will work bilaterally with other countries on travel corridors and how to move the sector forward to bring in the right kinds of public health measures that safeguard countries, travellers and passengers. That is the right thing to do. As I have explained to the House, the science has been consistent on this. These measures are here to protect public health.
As I explained in my statement, the advice has been provided consistently both to the Home Office and other Departments. As I have outlined, there will be a three-week review period, but the review will be aligned with the other health reviews that are taking place, based on protecting the public. These are public health measures, and it is right that we look at all public health measures and regulations in the round to protect the British public.
Before I ask my question, I put on record that my wife works as a contractor for an international travel company. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that these health measures will be time-limited, will remain proportional to the threat facing our country and will be altered when we can be sure that that will not jeopardise the health of UK citizens?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I have said, these measures will be reviewed and aligned with the other health measures being brought in. I emphasise again that it is important to look at this in its totality and in the round, alongside the desire of our country and Government to get the R value down, so that we can unlock and reopen society in many other ways.
Just now we had a junior Transport Minister, subbing for the Chancellor, wringing her hands about the aviation industry, but the Home Secretary has just thrown her, the industry and its workers under the bus, and at the same time put up a massive “Britain is closed” sign. At the very least, will she demand from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he extends the furlough scheme to try to avert hundreds of thousands of workers being thrown on the dole in the next few weeks?
First of all, I find the right hon. Gentleman’s tone somewhat objectionable. I have been incredibly supportive of the aviation industry. [Interruption.] I can hear sarcastic cries of “tough”. It is important to reflect the way in which the aviation industry is dynamic, innovative and huge to our economy.
I am not shutting it down—on the contrary. I am working with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, the Business Secretary and all colleagues across Government. I will restate to all Members of this House that these are cross-Government measures to protect the public health of our nation. I hear the right hon. Gentleman’s comment with regard to the furlough scheme and protecting jobs. Of course, we all want to protect jobs. This has been a tremendously difficult period economically. We will have major economic issues to confront as we come out of this dreadful situation. We are not on our own. The international economy is in exactly the same space. It is right that we work collectively, rather than in an aggressive and hostile way, to find the right solutions for the people of this country, to protect not only their health but their long-term jobs and livelihoods.
After 9/11, the aviation industry found a way almost instantly to find box cutters and get them off aeroplanes. After the shoe bomber, the aviation industry found a way almost right away to detect the smallest quantity of liquid in people’s luggage. If, tomorrow, the aviation industry and the inventive people around the world are able to find a way to swab, take temperatures and get an almost instant result back before and after every flight, will the Home Secretary drop these regulations?
First, it is not for me personally to drop these regulations. These regulations are being laid in the House in conjunction with other Departments. I want to emphasise what I said on 22 May: this is just one component. We are speaking about track, trace and isolate and potential fast testing for passengers. There are many other aspects to how we can make aviation travel safe, to protect passengers’ health. That is exactly what we need to do, working with the aviation sector, the travel sector and carriers. It is for them to innovate, and we will support them and work with them to ensure that we look at all measures we can bring forward for the sector to keep passengers safe while protecting the British public.
Scientific research into this virus is, thankfully, an international effort. Can the Home Secretary explain the evidence she has seen that underpins her decision to introduce a blanket 14-day quarantine now, at precisely the time that other countries are beginning to ease restrictions that they introduced months ago? Why is the UK Government’s approach so at odds with our neighbours?
First, I refer the hon. Lady to my statement in terms of why these measures are coming in now. My second point is that these are cross-Government measures; they have not been taken in isolation by just one Department. We are working across Government, led by the Department of Health and Social Care, with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, the Business Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These measures have been put in place collectively, and they will stay in place until the public health situation in this country changes. This Government are absolutely committed to protecting the public health of our nation. That is the right priority.
In terms of our soft borders, which are our beaches, can my right hon. Friend reassure the residents of Hastings and Rye that the migrants illegally crossing the channel in small boats who are not returned to France are being given health checks for their own safety and wellbeing and for the safety and wellbeing of my constituents?
Many of my constituents depend on the aviation sector for their livelihoods. Bracknell also has the offices of more than 150 global companies. Can the Home Secretary assure me that support for my constituency and beyond will be given through a pragmatic application of the policy and that the policy will not just be reviewed but lifted at the first opportunity?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right, and he makes a powerful case on behalf of his constituents and their livelihoods for the sector they are employed in. It is right that the Government continue to work to give that support. I am committed to doing that, as are all Secretaries of State across Government.
When reviewing safe journeys in the coming weeks, will my right hon. Friend consider that ferries have a covid-secure option that aeroplanes simply do not have? May I ask her to keep front of mind our beautiful white cliffs country and the Dover-Calais ferry for not just a safe and enjoyable holiday break but to save our local jobs and livelihoods?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to represent her constituency, her constituents and the local economy, and what she says applies across the country where we have ports. She is absolutely right to highlight the need to have safe travel. Applying that consistently across travel carriers is something that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and I will be putting forward, raising and discussing in our roundtable tomorrow.
What discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about how to mitigate the impact of these measures on the aviation industry? How will they affect efforts to support the industry if it is to play a sustainable role in rebuilding the economy at a local, national and regional level?
Discussions have taken place through the usual channels across Government. In fact, up until recently, there was a series of committees including the Treasury and every involved Government Department to discuss the economic and health impacts of the public health measures and how they would be brought together, enforced and applied across the four nations.
A couple of months ago, my constituents were overwhelmingly of the view that an international quarantine should have been introduced then. I believe that, right now, they are finely balanced but still just of a view that one is necessary, so I will be supporting the Government on this. However, at the same time I am getting more and more emails from constituents who have loved ones in other countries. Will the Home Secretary please commit to a flexible approach, and at the nearest opportunity will she please relax it?
I hear everybody’s comments, and I am very conscious of this, as are my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and the whole of the Government. The fact of the matter is that we all want to be reunited with friends and loved ones as soon as possible, but we have to do this in a safe and responsible way, and that is what this Government are committed to achieving.
Reports suggest that SAGE was not asked for updated advice before this announcement was made. May I ask the Secretary of State what the estimate is of the likely numbers in the outlined exemption categories to her policy? What is the scientific assessment of potential transmission from these groups?
I refer the hon. Lady to my statement earlier. We have based this on scientific advice not just within the Home Office but across other Government Departments. As I said in my statement, that information in due course will be provided in the normal way, but it is important to reflect on and recognise why these measures are coming into place, which is to protect the health and wellbeing of the British public.
On behalf of a significant number of constituents whose jobs are affected in the travel, tourism and leisure business, may I ask my right hon. Friend if she would seriously consider and review as urgently as possible establishing air bridges, particularly with countries where the rate of infection is lower than our own?
By mid-March, over 80 countries had imposed quarantine measures and travel restrictions. By May, it was reported that over 95,000 people had flown into the UK through the lockdown. Does the Home Secretary feel that her delayed action has contributed more or less to the UK having the second highest coronavirus death rate in the world?
I could not have been clearer in my statement, and when I outlined the enhanced monitoring process that took place at the border between 22 January and 12 March. It is right that those measures were undertaken, and I have said in my statement why these measures are being brought in now.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to show that Britain is open for business. We have a designated testing Minister. May I tell my constituents in Arundel and South Downs who are devastated, who will be the accountable Minister for putting in place agreements with safe countries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask this question because these are cross-Government measures. Bilateral agreements will of course be with the Foreign Office, and on the test, trace and isolate approach, it is the Department of Health and Social Care. When it comes to sector-specific issues, they will be Department by Department, but when it comes to travel and aviation, it will obviously be the Secretary of State for Transport and me. I will continue to work collaboratively with all Government Departments.
Regardless of the merits or otherwise of this measure, it will disproportionately hit tourist economies, especially in rural areas such as the one I represent. The Secretary of State said earlier that she understood the impact. What specific conversations has she had with the Chancellor about extending the furlough and issuing grants to help the sector to survive?
I have discussions with the Chancellor on a regular basis, and, of course, that applies to all aspects of the economy, not just the furlough scheme. I would be very happy, having heard the hon. Gentleman, to take away specific points that he has and I will raise them with the Chancellor.
The Home Secretary acknowledged in her statement that introducing public health measures at our borders once we were at the peak was too late, so will she finally concede that we should have introduced this well before community transmission was widespread? And will she answer many hon. Members’ questions with a direct yes or no—was SAGE consulted on and did it recommend the measures that she is announcing today?
I have outlined my position in the statement earlier on. It is important to say that when it comes to measures at the borders, I have outlined the dates on which enhanced measures were taken, but also, I have not referred to the millions of British nationals who were stranded abroad, and had we closed our borders in the way in which the hon. Lady is referring to, they would not have been able to come back to the UK —[Interruption.]
Everyone in this House, including my right hon. Friend, will know the very stark dangers that a second wave could present to not only our economy, but our society. Does she agree that by introducing these new health measures at the border, we will be limiting the possibility of a second wave and keeping our citizens safe?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She has just emphasised the need to protect the British public from a second wave, and that is the purpose of all the measures—the public health measures—that the Government have been bringing forward, because at the end of the day, we do not want to lose the gains that we have made in recent weeks. We are past the peak of this virus and that is something that we still need to continue to double down on and make great progress on.
Constituents who are due to be travelling in the next two to three weeks have emailed me asking specifically about using public transport or whether family can collect all of them from Heathrow airport. The Home Secretary does not seem to have answered the question despite being asked, “What will the guidance be?” My constituents need to know now, not in several days’ or weeks’ time.
Many businesses, especially those engaged in manufacturing, have a need to get a key worker on site quickly. That could be a UK employee returning from holiday not able to work from home, or an overseas specialist, such as a plant maintenance engineer, to keep a plant going. Will there be an exemption to support British business in circumstances such as these?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask that question. We will be publishing the list of exemptions and, within that, there will be critical infrastructure workers and specific categories, led by the key Departments that are sponsoring those exemptions. Of course, there will be key sectors that are also included in that exemption list.
The Government’s quarantine policy is not universal and there is a relatively long list of occupations exempted from the self-isolation requirement. Can the Home Secretary confirm that those exempted from quarantine will still be tested for coronavirus upon arrival at the UK border, and if they test positive for the virus, what will they be required to do?
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, many of those are deemed to be key workers. They have access to testing and are being encouraged to test. Anyone who is symptomatic or who tests positive must follow the guidance that has been put in place, which is, obviously, to self-isolate if they are sick, and to self-isolate if they are symptomatic. They must also get medical advice and treatment.
With small businesses in particular being asked to step up and reboot our economy, they need certainty. I have been contacted by a business in my constituency, which is concerned that, notwithstanding the general advice for non-essential travel, some employees are still determined to have their holidays. Can my right hon. Friend give clarity over the status of returning holidaymakers in terms of whether the business should swallow that cost or whether the holidaymaker should be forced to take it out of annual leave?
I cannot give specific advice to businesses and employees, but it is important to follow the Foreign Office travel advice and guidance right now. The FCO has been very clear about not travelling because of the coronavirus and that all non-essential travel should not take place.
This will affect the aviation sector and also hospitality, travel and tourism, but, upstream, it will also affect our aerospace manufacturing sector. Can the Home Secretary tell the House what specific economic impact assessment was made on the effect of this policy on the aerospace sector?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter of economics. This issue has been discussed in various economic Committees at government level. I have also been speaking about it with the Chancellor and working across Government with my colleagues. It is important to reflect on the fact that we have had those discussions and that impact assessments have been undertaken by Government Departments in the right kind of way.
Three hundred people are working safely today, constructing the £4 billion Anglo-American Sirius mine in North Yorkshire. The driving of the one-mile deep shaft and the 23-mile-long tunnel to Teesport does require a small number of specialist engineers from places such as Germany and Austria living in specialist accommodation away from their families. Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that workers such as these will be part of the exemption from the quarantine?
I understand the case that my hon. Friend makes. We do, of course, have an extensive exemption list for specialist skills and individuals that are required for key projects and key work. I will take away the full details of the case and raise them with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The exclusion of medical and care professionals from the travel restrictions highlights how essential they are to the UK. It also highlight how problematic the Government’s new immigration rules will be. Will the Secretary of State commit to a much fairer and safer immigration policy than the one that is currently on the table?
My right hon. Friend just made reference to the professions that will be covered by this measure. Given that the credibility of it is hanging by a very slim thread right now, can she reassure me that Members of Parliament will not be on that list of exempt professions?
As with care homes, I fear that the failure to act when it could have made a difference will be one of the great tragedies of this crisis when the inevitable inquiries follow. The Home Secretary keeps saying that she was following the science and that the science was consistent, but the chief scientific adviser to the Government said to the Health and Social Care Committee on 5 May that the UK got
“many, many different imports of virus”
that seeded right the way across the country as early as March. If that is the case, why did the Government let in 23.7 million passengers, many of whom were British returning from hotspots abroad between 1 January and 31 March? Why were measures not put in place earlier, and will she now not only publish the advice, but tell us whether it is true that SAGE first discussed this matter on 3 February? Was she involved in that discussion? Was the Transport Secretary involved? And who overruled whom about taking action?
SAGE papers are being published and they are in the public domain, so the hon. Gentleman can look out for them and see what information has been put in place. I do come back to the point that I made earlier about the enhanced monitoring process that was taken at the border, all of which I highlighted in my opening remarks.
What I would say to my hon. Friend is that the Government have been guided by the science from the outset. This is not just for one Department, but across Government. Collectively, we have been guided by that scientific advice. That has been consistent when it comes to public health measures at the border, which is why these measures are being introduced now.