With permission, Mr Speaker,
I will make a statement on the measures we must now take to contain the autumn surge of coronavirus, protect our NHS and save lives. On Saturday evening, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser described the remorseless advance of this second wave. The extraordinary efforts being made by millions of people across the country—especially those in very high alert areas—have made a real difference, suppressing the R rate below where it would otherwise have been. But the R is still above one in every part of England—as it is across much of Europe—and the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario. There are already more covid patients in some hospitals now than at the height of the first wave: 2,000 more this Sunday than last Sunday.
While the prevalence of the virus is worse in parts of the north, the doubling time in the south-east and the midlands is now faster than in the north-west. Even in the south-west, where incidence remains low, current projections mean that it will start to run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks. The modelling presented by our scientists suggests that, without action, we could see up to twice as many deaths over the winter as we saw in the first wave.
Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level. I believe it was right to try every possible option to get the virus under control at a local level, with strong local action and strong local leadership. I reject any suggestion that we are somehow slower in taking measures than our European friends and partners. In fact, we are moving to national measures when the rate both of deaths and infections is lower than they were in, for example, France.
We are engaged as a country in a constant struggle to protect lives and livelihoods, and we must balance the restrictions we introduce against the long-term scars they leave, whether for business and jobs, or our physical and mental health. No one wants to impose measures unless absolutely essential, so it made sense to focus initially on the areas where the disease was surging and not to shut businesses, pubs and restaurants in parts of the country where incidence was low.
I want to thank the millions who have put up with local restrictions, sometimes for months on end. I thank them and the local leaders who have understood the gravity of the position. We will continue so far as possible to adopt a pragmatic and local approach in the months ahead. But we are fighting a disease, and when the data changes course, we must change course too. To those in this House who believe we should resist further national measures, let me spell out the medical and moral disaster we face.
If we allow our health system to be overwhelmed—exactly as the data now suggests—that would not only be a disaster for thousands of covid patients, because their survival rates would fall, but we would also reach a point where the NHS was no longer there for everyone. The sick would be turned away because there was no room in our hospitals. That sacred principle of care for anyone who needs it, whoever they are and whenever they need it, could be broken for the first time in our lives. Doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die.
That existential threat to our NHS comes not from focusing too much on coronavirus, but from not focusing enough. If we fail to get coronavirus under control, the sheer weight of demand from covid patients would deprive others of the care they need. Cancer treatment, heart surgery, other life-saving procedures: all this could be put at risk if we do not get the virus under control. Even though we are so much better prepared than before, with stockpiles of PPE and ventilators, the Nightingales on standby, and 13,000 more nurses than last year, I am afraid that the virus is doubling faster than we could ever conceivably add capacity. Even if we doubled capacity, the gain would be consumed in a single doubling of the virus.
And so on Wednesday the House will vote on regulations which, if passed, will mean that, from Thursday until 2 December in England, people will only be permitted to leave home for specific reasons, including: for education; for work, if you cannot work from home; for exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own, or with one person from another household or support bubble; for medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; to shop for food and essentials; and to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer.
Essential shops will remain open and click-and-collect services will continue, so people do not need to stock up, but I am afraid that non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues and the personal care sector will all be closed. Hospitality must close except for takeaway and delivery services. Places of worship can open for individual prayer, funerals and formal childcare, but sadly not for services. However, Remembrance Sunday events can go ahead, provided they are held outside and observe social distancing. Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home, for example in construction or manufacturing. Elite sport will also be able to continue.
Single adult households can still form exclusive support bubbles with one other household, and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated. The clinically vulnerable and those over 60 should minimise their contact with others. While we will not ask people to shield again in the same way, the clinically extremely vulnerable should only work from home.
I am truly sorry for the anguish these measures will impose, particularly for businesses that had just got back on their feet—businesses across the country that have gone to such trouble to make themselves covid-secure, to install Perspex screens and to do the right thing. Each of these actions has helped to bring R down, and their hard work will stand them in good stead, but it is now clear that we must do more together.
The Government will continue to do everything possible to support jobs and livelihoods in the next four weeks, as we have throughout. We protected almost 10 million jobs with furlough, and we are now extending the scheme throughout November. We have already paid out £13.7 billion to help the self-employed, and I can announce today that for November we will double our support from 40% to 80% of trading profits. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will also extend the deadline for applications to the covid loan schemes, from the end of this month to the end of next, to ensure that small businesses can have access to additional loans if required.
We are not going back to the full-scale lockdown of March and April, and there are ways in which these measures are less prohibitive. We have, for instance, a moral duty to keep schools open now that it is safe to do so, because we must not let this virus damage our children’s futures. Schools, colleges, universities, childcare and early years settings will remain open, and I am pleased that that will command support across the House.
It is also vital that we continue provision for non-covid healthcare, so people should turn up to use the NHS and to get their scans. They should turn up for appointments and collect treatments.
Let me stress that these restrictions are time limited. After four weeks, on Wednesday 2 December, they will expire, and we intend to return to a tiered system on a local and regional basis, according to the latest data and trends. The House will have a vote to agree the way forward. We have updated the devolved Administrations on the action we are taking in England, and we will continue to work with them on plans for Christmas and beyond.
While scientists are bleak in their predictions over the short term, they are unanimously optimistic about the medium and long-term. If the House asked me, “What is the exit strategy? What is the way out?”, let me be as clear as I can that the way out is to get R down now, to beat this autumn surge and to use this moment to exploit the medical and technical advances we are making to keep it low.
We now have not only much better medication and the prospect of a vaccine, but we have the immediate prospect of many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid turnaround tests with results in minutes. Trials have already shown that we can help to suppress the disease in hospitals, schools and universities by testing large numbers of NHS workers, children, teachers and students.
These tests, crucially, identify people who are infectious but who do not have symptoms, allowing them immediately to self-isolate and stop the spread of the disease and allowing those who are not infectious to continue as normal. This means that, unlike in the spring, it is possible to keep these institutions open and still stop the spread of the disease.
Over the next few days and weeks we plan a steady but massive expansion in the deployment of these quick turnaround tests, which we will be manufacturing in this country and applying in an ever-growing number of situations, from helping women to have their partners with them when they are giving birth on labour wards to testing whole towns and even cities. The Army has been brought in to work on the logistics, and the programme will begin in a matter of days. We have dexamethasone, the first validated life-saving treatment for the disease, pioneered in this country. We have the real prospect of a vaccine, as I say, in the first quarter of next year; and we will have ever more sophisticated means of providing virtually instant tests.
I believe that those technical developments, taken together, will enable us to defeat the virus by the spring, as humanity has defeated every other infectious disease, and I am not alone in this optimism. But I cannot pretend that the way ahead is easy or without painful choices for us all, so for the next four weeks I must again ask the people of this country to come together, to protect the NHS and to save many thousands of lives. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his call on Saturday to brief me on developments.
The central lesson from the first wave of this virus was that if you do not act early and decisively, the cost will be far worse, more people will lose their jobs, more businesses will be forced to close and, tragically, more people will lose their loved ones. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor failed to learn that lesson; as a result, this lockdown will be longer than it needed to be—at least four weeks—it will be harder, as we have just missed half-term, and the human cost will be higher.
On 21 September, when the Government’s own scientists—SAGE—recommended an urgent two to three-week circuit break, there were 11 deaths from covid-19 and just over 4,000 covid infections. For 40 days, the Prime Minister ignored that advice, and when he finally announced a longer and deeper national lockdown on Saturday, those figures had increased to 326 deaths a day and 22,000 covid cases. That is the human cost of the Government’s inaction.
The reality is that the two pillars of the Prime Minister’s strategy, the £12 billion track and trace and regional restrictions, have not only failed to stop the second wave, they have been swept away by it. At every stage, the Prime Minister has been too slow, behind the curve. At every stage, he has pushed away challenge, ignored advice and put what he hoped would happen ahead of what is happening. At every stage, he has over-promised and under-delivered. Rejecting the advice of his own scientists for 40 days was a catastrophic failure of leadership and of judgment. The Prime Minister now needs to explain to the British people why he failed to act and to listen for so long. But tougher national restrictions are now needed, the virus is out of control and the cost of further inaction would be huge, so Labour will provide the votes necessary to make this happen.
But we will also demand that the Government do not waste these four weeks and repeat past mistakes, so can the Prime Minister answer some very simple and direct questions? Will the Government finally use this period to fix the broken track and trace system and give control to local authorities, as we have proposed for months? We all agree that schools should be kept open, so will the Prime Minister finally put in place the additional testing, support and strategy needed to make that happen? Will the Prime Minister confirm that the new economic package—I think it will be the Chancellor’s fourth in five weeks—will be at least as generous as in March? Despite the partial step he announced today, will he go further to close the gaping holes in support for the self-employed, and will there be further support for the 1 million people who have already lost their jobs since March?
How does the Prime Minister plan to get a grip on messaging and rebuild public trust? After all, this announcement is only happening today because it was leaked to the national papers before it came to Parliament.
Finally, can the Prime Minister clarify what the process will be for exiting lockdown? Will it be only when the national R rate is below 1, or will some regions exit lockdown before others? I noted the Prime Minister did not make this clear in his statement. This really matters, because even before this national lockdown, millions of people have been living under restrictions for months—Leicester, for example, is on day 127—and after everything the British people have been through and are being asked to sacrifice again, they need confidence that the Government actually have a plan; that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I know how difficult this next month will be, and the months to come. The lockdown will be harder, longer and more damaging than it needed to be, and now more than ever we must stand together as a country, as families and as communities, and show once again that at a moment of national crisis, the British people always rise to the moment and support those in need.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for supporting these measures, and I think he is right to do so, but I make absolutely no apology whatever for doing my level best—our level best as a Government—to avoid going back into a national lockdown, with all the damage that entails for people’s livelihoods, for people’s mental health and for jobs across this country. That was our intention, and it is absolutely true, as the House has learned today and has seen, that the virus has risen across much of northern Europe. That does not mean that it was wrong to go for a local approach, and it does not mean it was wrong to support NHS Test and Trace, because both of those approaches—both of those means—have done a fantastic job, in their way, of bringing the virus under control and reducing the R. It is lower than it would have been without those heroic local efforts, and it is lower than it would have been without NHS Test and Trace. In my view, the right hon. and learned. Gentleman should stop continually knocking NHS Test and Trace, because we need people to self-isolate. I will accept many criticisms, but the one thing I do think we need to get right is that we need to see people self-isolating to a greater extent than they currently are. It would be good if people across this House could therefore back and support NHS Test and Trace, because it is absolutely vital.
Turning to some of the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made, yes it is absolutely true that we are going to protect schools particularly, and we are massively expanding testing for schools. Earlier in my remarks, I mentioned what mass testing can do for particular institutions: schools, hospitals, universities and others. He asked about help for the economy, for businesses and for the self-employed. He perhaps did not hear what I said: we are massively increasing help for the self-employed, and will continue to support businesses and livelihoods across this country. I once again thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the creativity he brings to these problems.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked when these measures would end. As I have already told the House, they will end on 2 December. The House has the right to decide, and will vote on whatever measures it chooses to bring in, but we will then go back to the tiered system based on the data as it presents itself. He asked the people of this country to stand together against the coronavirus, and I could not agree with him more. All I respectfully say to him is that I think the people of this country would also like to see the politicians of this country standing together a little bit more coherently in the face of this virus.
The impact of the pandemic goes well beyond covid patients to all parts of the NHS, the economy, and our personal and social wellbeing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that for this House to be able to determine that decisions across all parts of Government have been taken on the best available evidence, a new parliamentary Committee—perhaps time limited, or made up of Privy Counsellors—should be established to reassure the British public that the cure is not worse than the disease?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the very interesting suggestion that he makes. I must tell him that throughout the pandemic, individual departmental Select Committees, as well as the Liaison Committee, have shown that they are more than capable of scrutinising these issues. However, I leave it up to the House to decide what arrangements it chooses to make.
It is right that the UK Government extend furlough as a consequence of new lockdown measures; it is right that economic support is put in place when Governments restrain work opportunities as a consequence of the health measures; and it is right that flexibility to take necessary financial decisions is also held by the devolved Administrations when they are taking lockdown decisions. That is why, since the start of September, I have asked the Prime Minister on no fewer than six separate occasions to extend the furlough scheme—yet every time the Prime Minister rejected that call.
This weekend’s last-minute U-turn on furlough has finally buried the nonsense of a Union of equals. People across these islands saw exactly what happened at the weekend: a mini-extension to furlough was granted only at the 11th hour when one part of the United Kingdom needed it. This is a democratic disgrace. The Prime Minister acted only when England needed support; when Scotland needed full furlough support, Westminster said no.
For many, this U-turn is already far too late. Thousands have already lost their jobs unnecessarily. Many good businesses have gone under and millions of the self-employed are still excluded.
Today I have one very direct question for the Prime Minister: if requested by the devolved Governments, particularly if they need to put in place additional lockdown measures, will the Prime Minister guarantee that the Treasury will make 80% furlough payments available when Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish workers or businesses need them over the coming months? It is a simple question, Prime Minister. For once, give us a straight answer to a question which the people of Scotland want to know. No more ducking and diving—is it yes or no?
The answer is yes because the furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme and it applies across the whole of the UK. It is true that Scotland is currently taking a slightly different approach, but the right hon. Gentleman was talking complete nonsense about the non-application of furlough in Scotland—absolute nonsense. The Treasury of the United Kingdom has supplied £7.2 billion to support the people of Scotland, and quite right too. That has protected 900,000 jobs in Scotland, thanks to the might of the UK Treasury.
I will not be supporting the Government’s legislation on Wednesday, because as we drift further into an authoritarian, coercive state, the only legal mechanism left open to me is to vote against that legislation. That is all we have left, Mr Speaker—if my constituents protest, they get arrested.
Given that the people of this country will never, ever forgive the political class for criminalising parents seeing children and children seeing parents, does the Prime Minister not agree with me that now is the time for a written constitution that guarantees the fundamental rights of our constituents—a constitution underpinned and enforced by the Supreme Court?
What the people of this country want, rather than delectable disputations on a written constitution, is to defeat the coronavirus. That is why I think that overwhelmingly they understand the need for these measures and the need for us to come together as a country and get the R down in the way that we are proposing.
In confirming that the Liberal Democrats will back this new lockdown, can I tell the Prime Minister that we will hold this Government to account for failing to listen to the scientists, refusing to lock down weeks ago and costing many more lives?
Throughout this pandemic, many people have been let down by this Government—the excluded self-employed, students, key workers. But I want to ask the Prime Minister about one particular group who have been forgotten: unpaid carers. Many carers have been struggling for months, often relying on food banks as they care for other people. Will the Prime Minister follow the advice of Carers UK: increase the carer’s allowance by £20 a week—the same rise as for universal credit—and give these incredible people a lifeline?
I am very grateful to carers—unpaid carers, in particular—for everything they have done to keep this country going throughout the pandemic. I will look at the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal but remind him of the colossal interventions we have already made, worth £200 billion, to support jobs and livelihoods across the whole of the UK. We will continue, as I say, to put our arms around the people of this country.
Brecon and Radnorshire has around 50 miles of the border between Wales and England. My constituents, who are already in lockdown, regularly travel across the border for work, healthcare and education. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that essential travel across the border is not only permitted, but encouraged, and that the Welsh Government should not be using this pandemic to create artificial barriers between Wales and England?
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustrations and know how deeply difficult it is for people throughout this country to go through the restrictions on our normal way of life that we are asking of them again. I apologise to her and the House for what we are obliged to do, but we must ask people, unless it is absolutely necessary, to stay at home and stop transmission of the virus, and that applies throughout the UK.
We were promised a Churchillian response to this virus, but rather than a Churchillian response, we have had a response more like that of Lord Halifax, because while we have had the rhetoric of defiance, this announcement today is really an announcement of defeat. We have surrendered our freedoms; we have surrendered our economy; we have driven people to despair with daily doses of doom-laden data. Can the Prime Minister promise us that, once we get past this latest lockdown, if there is another upsurge we will not get a bout of the same destructive medicine, but we will get a policy that allows this country and individuals to run their own lives and not be ruled by this virus?
I sympathise very much with the sentiments the right hon. Gentleman expresses about the loss of freedom and people’s frustrations; I do understand that, but I must say that I think what the people of this country want to see is this virus brought down. They want to see a reduction in the infection rate and, alas, at the moment this is the best tool we have to do that when we look at the whole national picture. But I am optimistic when I look at the scientific interventions that we have coming down the track, and even the medical and scientific advisers, who are not normally full of cheer on this matter, are optimistic when they consider the therapies, the prospect of a vaccine and the prospect of mass testing of the kind I have outlined to the House.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I accept that we need to do something to ensure hospitalisation numbers are controlled and the R rate falls, but will he please review the regulations around socially distanced outdoor sports such as golf and tennis, as these are good forms of exercise for all ages and present very little risk of infection?
I sympathise again with that point, and I am glad my hon. Friend makes it. All I can say is that hon. Members and members of the public should get on to the website and look at exactly what is permitted, but the reality is that we have to break the transmission of the disease, and that is why, I am afraid, I must, with great sadness, tell my hon. Friends that we have to make these restrictions for the next four weeks. I bitterly regret it, but that is what we have got to do.
We have learned so much since spring: we have learned that we are expected to act grateful in Wales; we have learned that the Treasury is only there for us when the home counties of England go into lockdown—a casual dismissal of devolution that cost people their jobs; the news simply came too late. The Prime Minister may not have noticed yet, but he and his Chancellor are fronting a membership drive for the independence movement YesCymru, which added 2,000 members in two days this weekend. Would he accept my grateful thanks?
The Prime Minister is clearly and quite properly trying to do everything possible to cut infections and deaths from covid-19. To that end, over the weekend, a number of eminent scientists called on the Government to try to resolve the vitamin D deficiency issues in the United Kingdom to reduce the severity of the pandemic. There have been dozens of studies over hundreds of countries in the last six months that show—or imply, anyway—that that could reduce infection rates by half and case death rates by half again. The Scottish Government are sending four months’ supply of vitamin D to everybody who shielded in Scotland. Given that it is low cost and there is no medical downside, will our Government consider the same approach in England?
Extending support for the self-employed is welcome, but it does nothing for the more than 3 million self-employed and freelancers who were unfairly left out of previous schemes and are still excluded—huge numbers of those working in the arts and hospitality in my Brighton constituency, for example. Will the Prime Minister look at that again and take one small but simple step that would help? Will he acknowledge that the minimum income floor under universal credit discriminates against anyone with an unpredictable and variable income, and will he delay its impending reintroduction?
I can tell the hon. Lady that we are supporting the arts, as she knows, with a £1.57 billion package. They are vital for our country; they are massively important to the UK economy. Her point about the minimum income floor for universal credit is one that the Government well understand and that we are looking at actively at the moment.
May I thank the Prime Minister for the bitter medicine that he has had to deliver over the last two or three days? I assure him that I will support his measures, because nobody has put forward a viable immediate alternative that would avoid the overwhelming of the NHS, but what can he do to strengthen public confidence in the Government’s covid response? He has started today to set out some of the features of what might be called a plan for living with coronavirus—a combination of vaccines and testing, and tracking and tracing. Will he consider setting that out in a White Paper? Would that include transformation not just of the logistics of test, track and trace but of its leadership, so that it can run a coherent and viable campaign to change behaviour by consent and co-operation, and get compliance and public confidence in that programme? Finally, will my right hon. Friend publish more of the analysis and data behind the decisions he has had to take so that people can understand more clearly why the Government are making these decisions and there is more transparency and accountability?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all his excellent suggestions. We are certainly happy to publish all the data. I tried to set out to the House earlier on our plan for the way forward. He is absolutely correct that it relies not just on getting the virus down now, in this four-week period—that is the objective—but on ensuring that we make the maximum possible use of the various scientific developments, not just the vaccine and new therapies but, as he says, improved testing. I can certainly assure him that the military will be closely involved.
My constituents did everything asked of them. They obeyed the rules, at great personal sacrifice, and now they are being asked to do it again because of the Government’s failure. Trust is absolutely now at rock bottom. The Prime Minister’s two key planks to rebuild that trust are around test and trace and the tier system. First, he needs to sack Baroness Harding. I know she is a friend and I know it is difficult, but test and trace has clearly been a failure. He needs to give that £12 billion resource back to the experts on the ground locally who know how to use it and to support people isolating. Secondly, he is going to return to the tier system; that is all we know about what will happen on 3 December. What is the real plan? If the tier system has worked—Bristol is currently in tier 1—are we to expect Bristolians to return to tier 1 on 3 December?
First, again NHS Test and Trace—whatever the drawbacks, whatever the frustrations that people legitimately feel—will achieve its target of 500,000 capacity by the end of October. It already has achieved that target, and I think that is a considerable thing to have done. I thank everybody working in NHS Test and Trace for their efforts. As I say, we need people to self-isolate to give the system the effectiveness that it needs.
I can tell the hon. Member that, when we come to 2 December, the tier that areas go into will depend very much on the effectiveness with which we have all followed the instructions that we are giving today, and that is the guidance she should give her constituents.
Lockdown is a necessary evil and comes with a lot of pain, and like my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), many of my constituents in Bracknell have contacted me to express concern about the effective closure of gymnasiums, golf clubs and tennis clubs. Given the proven benefits of exercise and the lack of any clear evidence that these activities have contributed to an increase in the R rate, might the Prime Minister be willing to reconsider the current guidance within the next four weeks?
Again, I must apologise to my hon. Friend for not being able to offer the House a huge list of exemptions to the rules that we are setting out, because once you unpick at one thing, alas, the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised. That is why I want everybody to work together for the next four weeks, as I say, to get the R under control so that we can open things up again in time for December.
What is the Prime Minister and the Chancellor’s estimate of the additional economic cost of implementing this second lockdown now, for four weeks or possibly more in the run-up to Christmas, compared with implementing it for two weeks when the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies first recommended it back on 21 September?
As the chief medical officer said I think on Saturday night, there is “no right time” to close businesses, or to close pubs and restaurants. We do not—no Government—want to do that. We hope very much that this limited four-week action will get the R down, and I think it is greatly to be preferred to a rolling series of lockdowns of the kind that I believe were being proposed.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I thank my right hon. Friend, in particular for laying out the scientific data on which this decision is based. Most people will say they are prepared obviously to do the right thing in order to eliminate and defeat this virus, but could he set out the criteria that he will use to ensure that we can come out of this partial lockdown on 2 December? The risk is that things could get worse over these next two or three weeks before we see an improvement, and people want to know what they have to do to make sure that we get the infection rate down and make sure it stays down.
Just to repeat the point that I think I made to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the R is above 1, but it is not much above 1—it is not much above 1—and if we work hard between now and 2 December, I believe that we can get it below 1. But whatever happens, these restrictions end on 2 December, and any further measures will be a matter for this House of Commons.
What plans will be put in place to address the spiralling waiting lists for cancer services, and what additional support are the Government giving to the many thousands of people who have had their cancer treatment disrupted due to the pandemic?
The hon. Member makes an excellent point. It is precisely to protect cancer services and to ensure that non-covid patients get access to the treatment they need that we have to put in place the package of measures that we have announced today.
I understand that the data leaves the Government with no choice but to enter a national lockdown, but given the huge consequences that that entails, can my right hon. Friend give assurances that the new tools at his disposal, particularly the 15-minute tests, will be sufficiently ubiquitous and effective in the coming weeks to avoid any future national lockdown after November?
The Prime Minister’s furlough is in place until December; the German equivalent is in place until December 2021. That is the kind of certainty that employers and employees in Glasgow North are looking for. He said that the furlough scheme is UK-wide, so does that mean that, if parts of the United Kingdom are still in a lockdown beyond December, devolved Administrations will have the resources they need to extend the 80% furlough?
The hon. Gentleman must have missed my answer to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I can tell him that the furlough is a UK-wide scheme that applies throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I remind him that the UK has already contributed £7.2 billion to support the people of Scotland throughout the crisis.
Before Wednesday, will my right hon. Friend publish a full impact assessment, setting out the cost of the lockdown in terms of the jobs that will be lost, the businesses that will fail, the enormous toll on people’s mental health and other aspects of their health and the lives that will be lost as a result of lockdown, as well as those that we hope to save?
There are many estimates of the economic impact that the country has already sustained and many projections of the losses in employment that we, alas, expect. Against them, we must set the tragic loss of life that would inevitably ensue if the House failed to act on Wednesday.
It has been 33 weeks since the start of the first lockdown. In that time, one in 20 people who are part of the working population have had no work, but have been ineligible for furlough, self-employed financial support and business grants and loans. What is the Prime Minister’s message to the millions of people who have had no financial support about how they should put food on the table for their families?
The lockdown since March has been devastating for many people and only very reluctantly will I be supporting the latest lockdown measures when they come to the House on Wednesday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real problem is for people’s mental health, whether it is elderly people who are in care homes or who are desperately missing their families; business people who are seeing their life’s efforts ruined around them; or, of course, families with very young children who are isolated and, frankly, miserable? Will he do everything possible to make sure that this lockdown is a compassionate one and that those who are vulnerable and who have mental health problems will be supported through it?
Indeed, that is why we put another £12 billion into supporting our mental healthcare. The general point that my right hon. Friend makes is very important. That is one of the reasons why no Government would want to impose these measures lightly and why we want to make sure that we get through them as fast as we can.
The Prime Minister rightly spoke of the importance of strong local action and strong local leadership, but he needs to acknowledge that his dithering and delay, and the lack of communication, has made local leaders’ jobs far more difficult. Will he and the Chancellor commit today to talk to the core cities to assess the economic impact of lockdown on them and, in the first instance, the need for a winter support package to tackle issues such as rough sleeping, food poverty and mental health, as the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We are in constant contact with government—regional, local and city—at all levels throughout this country to help it to protect and support our constituents. We have given about £3.7 billion to local councils and we will continue to support local government throughout the crisis.
It is important that Parliament should have the chance to scrutinise the scientific advice behind these recommendations, so I am grateful to Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Whitty for agreeing to appear before the Select Committee on Science and Technology tomorrow. But will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is his policy to have the minimum level of restrictions on businesses and people in every place, consistent with the need to avoid overwhelming the NHS?
I accept the need for extra restrictions in order to get on top of the R rate and bring it down, but it is disturbing that the Government do not seem to have any specific targets that they seek to achieve through this lockdown. When we have the debate on Wednesday, will the Government be coming back with specific targets they want to achieve by 2 December?
These measures are time-limited—they elapse on 2 December—but I repeat that the objective is to get the infection rate to stop doubling and to start halving. To do that, we need to get the R down below 1—it is currently estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.3; I think the Office for National Statistics said recently that it was 1.6, but it has been coming down. Our intention is to use this period to get it below 1 and get that infection rate halving, not doubling.
Some northern Mayors are playing a dangerous game of trying to divide the country along geographical lines. I remind the Prime Minister that lots of leaders in the north of England, including those in my area, want to work with the Government to defeat this virus and will not run off to the nearest TV studio once they have engaged in that partnership with the Government. May I, however, push him on the issue of mental health? This is causing particular issues for many people with anxiety. Will he ensure that therapies such as talking therapies and charities that work with those who have anxiety conditions will be properly funded throughout this whole process?
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend will have seen that there are specific exemptions for volunteers and people who are helping—for therapists and others. We continue to put many millions of support into mental health charities, in addition to supporting NHS mental health.
When local leaders asked the Government to maintain the furlough scheme at 80% when tier 3 restrictions were imposed across much of the north-west, north-east and west midlands, they refused. Instead, the lowest-paid northerners were told that a 67% wage subsidy was sufficient for them. When similar restrictions were extended to the rest of England over the weekend, the Chancellor appears to have changed his mind, shaken the magic money tree and returned to 80%. Does the Prime Minister understand why the north believes it is being treated with utter contempt? Can he now confirm that the Government will maintain an 80% wage subsidy for any ongoing tier 3 restrictions after the national lockdown is lifted?
The crucial point here is that the measures we are enacting today—or that I hope the House will vote through on Wednesday—are very different from the tier 3 measures, and therefore the package of support is, appropriately, different as well.
Small businesses across the north-west have been operating under significant restrictions for some time. I have seen for myself the ingenuity and creativity with which business owners have adapted, as they have reported weak demand and reduced cash reserves. Many of them were looking forward to the run-up to Christmas for some relief, so can my right hon. Friend outline the measures that will be introduced to protect livelihoods and secure jobs in the north-west and Warrington South?
I am grateful to the people of Warrington for everything they have done; I know that they have had a very tough time. It has been tough to control the disease there, as it has been across many parts of the country, and they have done a great job in bringing the R down. I think there is the prospect of a much brighter future ahead if we can make a success of these national measures and open up again in December, to give people the chance of some shopping and economic activity in the weeks leading up to Christmas and beyond.
We all know that those who want to break up the United Kingdom love nothing more than a manufactured grievance, but I have to tell the Prime Minister that he does nothing to help those of us who want the United Kingdom to stay together when he is the one manufacturing the grievances. His position in relation to the future access to furlough funds for Scotland and the other devolved Administrations is unfair and untenable, and it has to change. He does not need to take my word for it; he can ask the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who takes exactly the same view.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his statement, and I take note of his answers to my hon. Friends the Members for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland) that there are outdoor recreational activities, such as swimming at the Beccles lido, that can take place in a socially distanced and responsible way. I urge him to reflect on that. Will he also ensure that indoor leisure and hospitality businesses that are required to close will receive the necessary support to get them and their staff through this crisis?
In all intellectual humility, we will look at all the suggestions made by right hon. and hon. Members across the House. We will look at any exceptions that we can sensibly make, but I just go back to the point I made earlier that it is difficult to take out one part of the Jenga block without disturbing the whole package. I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I can assure him that indoor and outdoor businesses will certainly be receiving support.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement today. I understand that there will be a Barnett consequential for Northern Ireland, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to that, but I ask him to recognise that the closure of many sectors in England has a massive impact across the United Kingdom, particularly given that so many companies in Northern Ireland supply the English market, and that UK-wide support is therefore needed. What will the Barnett consequentials be for Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and we are making sure that people across the whole of the UK get the support that they need. I think that things have been tough in Northern Ireland lately, and the overall package has been worth about £2.4 billion so far, but obviously there will be more to come.
I strongly support these painful measures, and the Prime Minister’s transparent reluctance to take away people’s liberties will reassure many people that they are absolutely necessary. It will not surprise him that I want to ask him about the testing of NHS staff. In July, Chris Whitty told the Select Committee that he supported regular testing of NHS staff if there was a surge. We now have that surge, but less than half of NHS trusts are testing all their staff on a weekly basis. Will the Prime Minister reassure NHS staff that they are not infecting their own patients, reassure cancer patients that it is safe to go into hospitals, and reassure the country that the NHS is not going to become a covid-only service, by saying that when we start this new lockdown, we will also start weekly testing of all NHS staff?
We are rolling out testing of all NHS staff as fast as we possibly can, and we are all too aware of the risk of nosocomial infection of the kind that we saw last time. One of the things that we are doing this time is greatly expanding the use of novel mass testing devices such as the LAMP technology, with which I am sure my right hon. Friend is familiar, in NHS settings. As I told the House earlier, we want to get to a world in which we are testing these particularly vulnerable institutions—hospitals, care homes, schools and universities—with regular mass lateral flow testing of the kind that I have described.
Participation in sport is vital for our nation’s physical and mental health. The Prime Minister triumphantly announced at his press conference on Saturday night that the premier league would continue, but his announcement today means that local amateur football will not be able to continue. Golf clubs and gyms will be closed despite their valiant efforts to ensure that they are covid safe. Will the Prime Minister publish the scientific data behind this set of decisions?
I am happy to provide all the scientific data on which these decisions have been made, but I think that the House will appreciate that for any particular human activity, one can always find an arguable exemption from these measures—or from many of them. The difficulty is that to be consistent and have a package that works, we need a thoroughgoing series of measures of the kind that we have described. I bitterly regret that we have to curtail for 28 days football clubs and sporting activities in the way that we are—I bitterly, bitterly regret it—but I believe that that is necessary to get the R down.
This lockdown will inevitably have very serious consequences for our economy, and for the livelihoods of millions of people up and down the country, for many years to come. My right hon. Friend has rightly stated that he does not wish to see the NHS overwhelmed, but, equally, we do not wish to see the UK economy overwhelmed. Will he therefore agree that perhaps we need a more balanced debate about lockdown, involving both scientists and economists more prominently? With that in mind, would he consider the Government’s chief economic adviser—or similar economic expert—joining the Government’s scientific experts for the No. 10 press briefings?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that point. I am not sure that I want to put the Government’s chief economic adviser through the experience of the press briefings, but we are always aware of the economic consequences and the downsides of what, alas, we are forced to do at the moment. That is why it is vital that we work together and get the R down below 1 again; it is only just above 1, and I do believe that we can do it by 2 December. We can then open up the economy again in the way that I know both he and I would like to see.
Small businesses in my constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith, and right across the UK, are facing permanent closure. The rainy day funds are exhausted, the personal investments of owners and partners are about to be lost, and the millions of people that they employ are facing redundancy. Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that this will be treated with the same urgency with which a UK Government treated a threat to the banks a few years ago, and will he commit to directing major cash resources to small enterprises and the self-employed to see them through this period? Any recovery will be built on their backs. What will his Government do to protect them?
The hon. Member is completely correct in what she says about the recovery; it will be on the backs of small and medium-sized businesses up and down the land. As she knows, that is why we have extended a massive package of support including £25,000 grants, bounce back loans and all the investments that have been made—a total package worth £200 billion. For those now forced to close by these restrictions, there are grants of £3,000. There are also grants of £2,100 for those that may not be legally forced to close, but which are adversely affected. As she knows, we have also put in place cuts to VAT and deferred business rates until next year.
I am pleased that, in his answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), the Prime Minister acknowledged the burden on businesses. After a difficult year, independent traders and hospitality venues in Rugby and Bulkington were looking forward to their peak sales period in the run-up to Christmas. Is the Prime Minister confident that the cost to businesses through the loss of turnover and jobs is a price worth paying? Can he reassure them that, after this short-term pain, it will be back to business on 2 December? Why can pubs not sell takeaway beer to go with their takeaway food?
Again, there is a budget of measures that we need to bring together to get the R down, and alas, when we start unpicking one bit, logically, a lot of the rest of it comes out. My hon. Friend’s fundamental question is the right one. I think that the people of this country want to put human life first, and they want to save as many lives as possible. That must be our overriding aim, and it is our overriding aim. We think that if we enforce these measures properly, if people self-isolate and if they are contacted in the way that they should be, we can get the R down below 1 in the way that I have described, and we can have businesses able to open up again and do Christmas business in so far as they possibly can.
The Prime Minister knows that Luton suppressed the virus by increasing local testing capacity to track and isolate the virus and by the huge effort made by our diverse community to do our bit. With the virus increasing across the country, what protections will he put in place for black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who we know are at risk and are currently disproportionately represented in ICU admissions?
I am grateful to the people of Luton for everything that they have done, as I am to everywhere across the country that has worked so hard to get the virus down. It is absolutely true that some people, such as black and minority groups, have proved particularly vulnerable. They need enhanced protection and enhanced testing arrangements, which we put in place long ago, and particularly to ensure that people who are working in conditions where they may be more vulnerable to viral load from others get the protection that they need.
I have listened carefully and engaged in many detailed briefing sessions about this latest escalation. To respond to my constituents and questions from Members across the House, can the Prime Minister give some clarification on the rationale for gym closures and restrictions on places of worship, especially as so many in Hyndburn and Haslingden have worked extremely hard to make sure that they are covid-secure?
Charities have never been more needed. As fundraising opportunities have dried up and retail stores are closing down, charities are predicted to have a £10 billion deficit, and yet they are providing more and more services. What additional resources will the Prime Minister provide to ensure that they can deliver vital services at this time?
I mentioned the support that we have been giving to mental health charities across the country. We will be doing much more over the winter to support the voluntary sector, which, as the hon. Lady rightly says, does a fantastic job of helping in this crisis.
People and businesses in Burnley and Padiham have had additional restrictions on them for most of the last seven months. While everyone is willing to make sacrifices, that is now taking its toll on our local economy. Could the Prime Minister assure me that not only will the support be put in place to get through the next month, but that when it comes to rebuilding our economy, the Government will put the same vigour into making sure we build back better?
I certainly will. It is in order to allow the economy to open up again in December that we are taking the steps we are now. I believe that this crisis must be met, as my hon. Friend rightly says, with a huge Government plan to build back better, which is exactly what we are going to do.
The Prime Minister will know that Rochdale, Greater Manchester and large parts of the north have been under some form of restriction for many, many months. When we come out of this in early December, the one thing that the Prime Minister has to guarantee—he has not given us this today—is not simply that testing will have large numbers, but that the trace element of test, track and trace will really work. If it does not, he will be letting down the people of Greater Manchester, with the sacrifices they have made, and, frankly, the whole of the country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says about the importance of testing. He is right. The capacity is massively increasing; as I said, it is up to 500,000. We are now testing more than any other country in Europe—I think 30 million tests have been conducted—but what needs to happen is that those who are contacted need to self-isolate. We will be making a big, big push on that because at the moment, alas—I must be absolutely candid with the House—the proportion of people who are self-isolating in response to the urgings of NHS test, trace and isolate is not yet high enough.
My right hon. Friend knows very well that the big challenge of lockdown for many people is the loss of agency, the loss of control over their own lives, and the inability therefore to control the mental health impacts that follow. He has had to balance—I understand this difficulty—health today over the implications for health tomorrow. What is he going to do to encourage agency in local communities, to encourage volunteering and to encourage charities? Even now, when many people would be getting ready to organise Remembrance Sunday services, the Government’s advice is sadly not up to date today, and I am sure that he will want to put that right so that people can take control of their own lives and have agency at this difficult time.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I said in my statement earlier that Remembrance Sunday services can go ahead, provided they are socially distanced and outside. I think he is absolutely right in what he says, and we expressly want to encourage volunteering to help others in this difficult time.
Last Friday, 361 beds in Nottingham’s hospitals were occupied by covid patients—that is 40% higher than in April at the peak of the first wave. The trust has already been forced to cancel operations and there is still a huge backlog of elective surgeries from the first lockdown. Further cancelled operations will have a very serious impact on some patients’ quality of life but, frankly, the Prime Minister’s dither and delay in Nottingham, in going into tier 2 and in going into tier 3, and now on a national lockdown has made that almost inevitable. What extra support will he provide to Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust to ensure that every single one of my constituents who needs healthcare can access it this autumn?
I am grateful to the people of Nottingham for what they are doing. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: it has been a very tough time, but they have been working very hard to get the infection rate down, and we will continue to support them. Specifically on the NHS, we are making a colossal investment, as she knows—a £34 billion investment even before the epidemic hit us. It is the biggest ever investment in the NHS.
Cases in the south-west remain lower than in most of England, although the numbers are heading in the wrong direction. We are well prepared in Devon with the Nightingale hospital in Exeter. We must take steps to ensure that our NHS is not put under severe strain this winter and keep our hospitals open for non-covid admissions. We have a duty to protect lives and livelihoods, and our local economy is already incredibly fragile. What assurances can the Prime Minister give East Devon that come 2 December, without a shred of doubt, the return to a regional tiered approach will happen to reduce the spread and keep businesses going?
I can tell my hon. Friend without a shred of doubt that these measures are time-limited and expire automatically on 2 December, and we will go back into the tiered system, depending on the data—though he is entirely right in what he says, alas, about the spread at the moment in the south-west. But it will depend on the state of the data at the time.
Since the start of the first lockdown, we have been talking about the second wave, and we knew the current trajectory weeks ago, so it beggars belief that the Prime Minister ended up having to make an emergency announcement on Saturday. The devolved nations had to wait until infection rates in the south-east of England reached a dangerous level, and five hours before furlough was due to end, before he took action. Now that he acknowledges that we are in the second wave, will he devolve responsibility for furlough to the Scottish Parliament to ensure that we can support individuals and businesses in Scotland when they most need it?
Professor Karol Sikora of the University of Buckingham Medical School concluded about the first lockdown:
“Many seriously ill people stayed at home, they protected the NHS, but it didn’t save their lives.”
This week, with Macmillan reporting up to 50,000 people with undiagnosed cancer due to covid restrictions, what reassurances can my right hon. Friend give me that, if this House does vote for a second lockdown on Wednesday, the Government will do absolutely everything necessary to avoid a repeat of Professor Sikora’s devastating conclusion from the first lockdown?
I understand the point that Professor Sikora makes, and I also understand the concerns of everybody who has cancer or who has a family member who suffers from cancer or any other life-threatening disease. It is precisely to protect those non-covid patients and to give them access to the NHS that we cannot allow our health service to be overwhelmed, as it would be on the current projections. That is why we must take the action that we are taking now. I hope that he sees the point and why it is precisely because we want to help cancer patients that we need to take this action now.
My constituent Elizabeth O’Connor lay in agony for six hours after fracturing her hip and breaking four ribs waiting for an ambulance. Her distressed daughters were unable to comfort her or to see her when she was initially admitted to hospital. Elizabeth suffers from dementia and lives in a care home. Throughout this pandemic, the Government’s treatment of care home residents, staff and families has been negligent and unforgivable. The very least that the Prime Minister can do is allow one family member to be treated as a key worker for visits to help ease some of this suffering. Why will he not do so?
I am so sorry about the case that the hon. Lady describes. I have met, as I am sure Members across the House have, bereaved family members of those who have lost their lives in care homes, who have not been able to visit them, and it is an absolute tragedy. All I can tell her is that we are doing our absolute best to allow people to visit their relatives in extreme circumstances, making sure that they have the necessary PPE. What we cannot have is another outbreak of the kind that we saw in care homes and, alas, the virus is transmitted readily in care homes and between care homes and we must not see that again.
I commend the Prime Minister for his statement and will be supporting the Government on Wednesday. We must prioritise saving lives wherever possible, but may I suggest that the elderly should be allowed more leeway? Given that Sweden recently removed shielding advice for its over-70s, concluding that the general risks to their health from loneliness and isolation outweighed those from the virus, what cost-benefit analysis have the Government undertaken as to the balance of risks to public health and society from lockdown on the one hand and from the coronavirus on the other?
We are not bringing back shielding, as I mentioned earlier, although we do think that the elderly need to take special steps to protect themselves. In connection with Sweden, actually the Swedish example is not quite the slam-dunk that perhaps people think. Sweden does not, for instance, allow pupils over 15 to get back into school, whereas we prioritise keeping our schools open. That is the balance that we strike the whole time—a balance between keeping our economy moving as far as we can, keeping our schools open, and defeating the virus. That is what we are trying to do.
We are now halfway through our firebreak lockdown in Wales, and much of the north-west, the north-east and the west midlands has faced significant local restrictions for months now. When devolved Administrations and local government argued that the 67% furlough scheme was insufficient, the UK Government said that it was the best they could do. Yet when similar restrictions were extended to England, including large swathes of the south, they then changed their minds and have gone back to 80%. Why do this Government have one rule for the south of England and another one for the rest of the United Kingdom?
The answer is that we have a different package of support for different measures, and that is entirely what you would expect. There is now uniformity, and it is our view that furlough remains available throughout the UK.
My right hon. Friend will know the basis on which the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 is subject to judicial review. Would he look at the advice given to MPs by Lord Sumption this morning that now that Parliament is sitting throughout this lockdown, we could increase parliamentary scrutiny and the legitimacy of the lockdown by moving to using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 instead of the Public Health Act 1984?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can certainly reassure him that this measure is time-limited and will expire on 2 December. As for the legal basis, the Civil Contingencies Act has a strict test known as the triple lock that must be met before emergency regulations under the Act can be made. One of these tests is that there must not be existing powers elsewhere, and the Public Health Act 1984 offers clear powers to impose restrictions on public health grounds. That is why, despite his very useful suggestion, the Public Health Act is the more appropriate route.
No one is more disappointed with this lockdown than my constituents in North Norfolk. It is a bitter pill to swallow, as we have consistently been one of the lowest infection areas in the entire country. But the simple fact now is that in the past four weeks our hospital admissions have gone up over tenfold. So will the Prime Minister please tell us, and reassure my constituents, that we must now have these measures simply to protect my local health services so that they are not overrun?
It was reported at the weekend that the chair of the UK Government’s vaccine taskforce showed official sensitive Government documents to an event for US venture capitalists—a move that a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life described as “seriously ill-advised”. With jobs being awarded, even in the midst of a pandemic, without recourse to the approved recruitment processes, and billions of pounds of public procurement being awarded without going through open processes, what steps does the Prime Minister plan to take to restore public confidence in the competence and probity of his Government, and to help to reassure people that there is not a cronyvirus at the heart of his Government that requires eradication every bit as much as the coronavirus outside of it?
I thank people who are working pro bono on NHS Test and Trace, who come under repeated attack, or on our vaccine taskforce. It is thanks to their hard work that the UK is among the frontrunners in being on the verge of being able to deliver a vaccine. If and when a vaccine is produced next year—I must tell the House that it is by no means certain, but if and when it emerges—it will be at least partly thanks to their hard work.
Will the Prime Minister please ensure that he works with the devolved Administrations to get a united approach for Christmas? My constituents and local businesses can ill afford the hokey-cokey of Wales out, England in, Wales back in and England back out.
Will the Prime Minister indicate what assessment he has made of the idea of keeping gyms open during the new lockdown to support people’s health and mental health? A low prevalence of transmission is attributed to the industry, and I have many people almost begging to be able to exercise in gyms.
With great regret, I must repeat the answer that I have given to colleagues from all parties this afternoon, which is that we have to put in a full package of measures to get the virus down. I set them out earlier, but people who wish to know exactly what they are should look at our website.
I support the Prime Minister on the difficult balance and the difficult decision that he had to make this weekend, but I urge him, before he signs off on the guidance for care homes, to do everything possible to help families who visit loved ones in care homes and to look into things like the idea of a designated family member who would be tested regularly and able to visit.
The Prime Minister could possibly be a bit confused. In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), he said that the furlough scheme is available “throughout the UK”. On 16 October, the Welsh First Minister asked the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme from 67% of pay to 80%. On 19 October, the Chancellor told the First Minister that that could not be done for “technical reasons”. What are those technical reasons? Or is this more about the fact that when it suits the Prime Minister, furlough applies to the whole UK, and when it does not suit him for party political reasons, it does not?
We are going back into measures across England that are necessary to drive the R down. They differ from the measures currently obtaining in Scotland, but in so far as people across this country need furlough, in Wales or elsewhere, they have access to furlough. It is a UK-wide system.
Doctors are between two and five times more likely to take their lives than the general population. In 2018, my constituent Dr Jagdip Sidhu was a consultant cardiologist at Darent Valley Hospital. He was at the cutting edge of medical treatment but, alas, could not cope with the pressure that he faced and, sadly, he took his own life. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that we do as much as possible for the welfare of clinicians during what is going to be a very challenging time for the profession?
I am deeply sorry to hear about that loss of life—the suicide of my hon. Friend’s constituent, Dr Jagdip Sidhu. All I can say is that we are doing everything we can to support NHS care for its staff, their wellbeing and their mental health. I urge anybody in the NHS who is aware of a colleague who is struggling with their mental health to come forward and seek help.
I think most fair-minded people would think that this Government have done everything they can to support people throughout this crisis. We are not only extending the furlough scheme but massively increasing help for the self-employed. We have already put £200 billion into supporting people across the country and we will continue to do so.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that keeping children in school is the right thing to do. However, across the country, children who have received a positive covid test are being sent home, yet there will be circumstances in which they return to school, only to be sent home again because another pupil in their class has contracted the virus. In those instances, will the Government consider allowing children who have returned after testing positive to stay in school, since they are most likely to have built up an immunity to the disease?
A local mum, Mel, texted me this morning. She is terrified because she works in a supermarket and has only recently returned to work after shielding because she has a serious medical condition. As lockdown returns, she is worried that if she shields again, she will lose her job, but if she does not, she will lose her life. What employment protection will the Prime Minister offer those who are clinically vulnerable in jobs that cannot be furloughed, so that people like Mel do not have to choose between their lives and their livelihoods?
I would like to study the case that the hon. Member mentions, because we are saying to those who are clinically vulnerable that they should not go to work but work from home. I would be grateful if the hon. Member sent me the details of her case so that we can establish exactly what help her constituent is entitled to, because she should be entitled to furlough.
My constituents in Keighley and Ilkley have had local restrictions since July and we are now in tier 2. Today, we were due to go into tier 3, with announcements on that last week, but that has been cancelled because we are now going into national restrictions. I cannot stress enough, on behalf of all my constituents and my local businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized businesses, which are the backbone of Keighley and Ilkley, the importance of clarity and clear and concise messaging, as well as financial support for all those who are impacted. Will my right hon. Friend explain why tier 3 is no longer appropriate to slow the impact on hospitals, and shine a light on the exit strategy from the national restrictions?
I understand why the people of Keighley feel frustrated after so long. Their efforts have not been in vain in tier 3—they have helped to get the R down and to depress the incidence of the disease—but we must now make a national effort to get it below 1 because it is taking off again. The way out, as I have already told the House, is to do that now, over November, open up again in December, and get going with all the technological improvements that I described, particularly the mass testing that I outlined. That, I believe, is the way forward, but it depends on our getting the R below 1 now.
Many of my constituents from all faiths have raised serious concerns about the restrictions that will effectively close religious institutions at a time when people need more than ever the comfort and security that their faith provides, putting a heavy burden on people’s mental health. Places of worship have gone to great lengths to put covid-secure measures in place and have demonstrated that congregational prayers can safely happen, with Bradford Council for Mosques in particular leading on that work. I urge the Prime Minister to look again at places of worship and more measured policies. Given that they have had no financial support since the beginning of the pandemic, will he ensure that they get the financial support they need?
I really appreciate what mosques around the country have done to make themselves covid secure, and what has been done in Bradford and elsewhere. I know how frustrating it is for places of worship that we have had to take these steps. All I can say is that we need to take them together as a country to get the R down and to get the virus down. We will continue to ensure that people get the support they need in the way that I outlined earlier.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement: 2020 has been desperately difficult for the whole country, and I know that he is committed to ending these new measures by 2 December. Many of my constituents are worried about what will happen afterwards, so can he commit to doing everything he can to ensure that we will have some sort of normal Christmas and at least have measures in place so that households will be able to mix by 25 December?
Yes, and I am conscious that we have Diwali, Hanukkah and many religious celebrations coming up in December. I do want people to have as normal a Christmas as possible, and that is why I think it is very important that the whole country comes together to follow these measures. I am sure that if we do, we can get the R down in the way that I have described, and people will have as normal a Christmas as possible.
The Prime Minister has rightly stated that this lockdown is to protect the English NHS. When it comes to support, he also keeps telling Scottish MPs that we have just to be happy that the extended furlough scheme is UK-wide. If we really are in a partnership of equals, will he confirm that businesses in Kilmarnock and Loudoun will get the same level of support if it is needed in the future to protect our local NHS, or will it only be available during this period of protecting south-east England?
The Prime Minister has an unenviable set of decisions that he has to make, but will he recognise the frustration that residents in East Sussex feel? We have one of the lowest covid rates of any county across England—admissions for covid in East Sussex Healthcare Trust are currently 20 and one place in a high-dependency unit—so the residents have clearly done the right thing, but they are faced with a national lockdown. Can the Prime Minister demonstrate to me that the damage that will be caused to East Sussex by locking down—to our economy, our liberty, our lives and our livelihoods—would be a lot worse were we to do absolutely nothing?
Well, it is a very difficult balance to strike, as he rightly says, but I think that the medical data is, alas, overwhelming. The virus is doubling everywhere, including in East Sussex, and eventually the NHS would be overwhelmed even in East Sussex with, I am afraid, catastrophic consequences. We can prevent that by taking the action that we are, and that is why I hope he will support it.
I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I am still not clear what has actually changed from two or three weeks ago, when the Prime Minister ridiculed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, apart from the Prime Minister yet again changing his strategy. As he himself has said, infection rate rises have slowed over that period and hospital admissions reflect the infection rate from two or three weeks ago. This was entirely predictable, and indeed it was predicted. Given that the Prime Minister cannot stick with a plan for more than a week, can he now give some real clarity about the criteria for the exit strategy from this national lockdown?
The hon. Lady asks what has changed in the past couple of weeks. I am afraid the facts have changed, and the number of people admitted to hospital, as I said, is up every day. We now have 2,000 more people in hospital this Sunday than last Sunday. We cannot escape these inescapable facts. She also asks about the exit strategy and, as I have told the House several times, the way forward is to get the R down below 1 with a package of measures that I believe carries support across the House, and to exploit the many technical advances that we are making.
I say to the Prime Minister that as a Conservative I do not believe that collapsing the economy is ever the right solution to any problem. That is why, I thought, we campaigned so hard to stop the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) becoming Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister therefore tell me how many collapsed businesses and how many job losses he and his Government believe are a price worth paying to continue pursuing this failed strategy of lockdowns and arbitrary restrictions?
I share my hon. Friend’s desire to protect the economy, and I believe fervently that we need to get as big and as fast a bounce-back as we possibly can, but I also think, alas, that the data is inescapable. If we are to avert the loss of many thousands of lives, this is the only option. If he looks at the statistics and the sheer number of fatalities that we could incur, I believe he will agree that it is the right way forward.
I have heard what the Prime Minister said about congregational worship for faith groups, and it strikes me sitting here that the measures taken at Ealing abbey—four to a pew with every other pew roped off, hand sanitiser and a one-way system—are exactly what we have in this place. Does this not therefore seem contradictory? Does he have any message of hope for the monks there? As someone who might be marching down the aisle himself, does he have any message for the weddings industry? I have an Asian wedding costumier. She thought she would be ruined by the restrictions, but now weddings are completely gone. Does he have any hope for any of these people?
Maternity leave does not just mean sleep deprivation; I have been in Stroud on the ground witnessing the superb local response from our NHS and from businesses working to get covid safe, Slimbridge Swans going up in their league and shops opening on our high streets, but now the Government are telling us to park that and hibernate. Can he speak directly to my tier 1 Stroud communities and convince them that their efforts have not been wasted and that all those covid-safe businesses and organisations will be out of lockdown in December or sooner if we can provide evidence to show that?
Yes, of course, because it is thanks to the efforts of her constituents in Stroud that the R is not very far above 1 right now. If we all follow the package of measures that I have outlined today and we all stay at home in the way that I have described, we will be able to open up again on 2 December.
Does the Prime Minister understand that extending the furlough scheme on the very day it was supposed to end, and doing so for just a month, means that in reality many of my constituents whose jobs were furloughed have already been made redundant by their employers in anticipation of its non-availability after 31 October? Can those people be re-employed and furloughed until the scheme’s new endpoint? Can he tell me whether people who have changed jobs since the original furlough scheme was closed to new applicants are eligible to be furloughed by their new employers, who might not have registered for the scheme by the time it closed to new applicants a few months ago?
I hope very much that people will not have been laid off in anticipation of the end of furlough, because there is the job retention scheme and the bonus as well at the end of the year. To discover exactly what entitlements people have under the extended furlough scheme, they should get on to the website. I think that most people appreciate that the Government have done a huge amount to support people throughout the crisis and are continuing to do so in the latest phase, as well as supporting the self-employed.
My constituents in North West Durham understand the very difficult decisions that the Prime Minister is having to take and the very difficult balances he is having to strike, but will he confirm to them and to the House that the tier 4 measures will end on 2 December? Also, will he confirm for the many local parents who have got in touch, concerned that schools could be closed, that schools will remain open throughout this period?
Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland taxpayers pool their tax resources to the Treasury, but when it comes to sharing it seems that only English taxpayers benefit from flexibility. In this crisis, we cannot have the English tail wagging the three nations dog, so I will ask this question again: will the Prime Minister give the Scottish Government and the devolved Administrations the powers to requisition the cash from the Treasury to support furlough schemes when that cash is required in each nation?
The furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme. It is of course available to Scotland and the people of Scotland. At the moment Scotland has slightly different arrangements, but £7.2 billion has already been given in Barnett consequentials to support the people of Scotland throughout the crisis, and more will be forthcoming.
I have been very supportive of the Prime Minister’s policy of having local and regional lockdowns, depending on the severity of the disease in a particular area, and there is some good news today: I understand that 5% fewer covid cases were reported today than seven days ago. Can the Prime Minister explain why the new lockdown measures will not be tier 4 and only apply to areas where there is significant infection, keeping the other areas in the lower tiers, allowing businesses to continue to trade and families to continue to mix?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, but the reality is that at the moment the virus is doubling across the country. We have to take the measures that we have outlined to get the increase down, and we will then be reopening in the way that he describes and recommends, going back into a tiered system, reflecting what is happening locally and regionally.
I do not mind saying that my constituents believe in the Prime Minister’s leadership and have felt reassured by the measures this Government have put in place to protect them. However, given that there is an economic impact from this lockdown and that will have an impact on livelihoods, what can the Prime Minister do to reassure my constituents, who have striven so hard since the relaxation of the lockdown on 4 July, that there is a brighter future and there will not be mission creep in terms of a lockdown beyond 2 December?
I cannot say often enough that this is a time-limited lockdown and it ends on 2 December unless this House decides to extend measures of one kind or another. Any further measures will be a matter for this House, and it is fully my intention that the lockdown should end on 2 December.
May I echo the frustration expressed by hon. Friends representing Welsh constituencies that the Prime Minister acted on furlough only when setting out England-wide action? As he has not explicitly said this, will he confirm that furlough support will be backdated in Wales? What funding will come to Wales as a result of the business grant support announced on Saturday?
I applaud very much the Prime Minister’s attempts to avoid a national lockdown. There are no simple answers—that is very clear—which is why data is so important. Oxford’s Carl Heneghan has said, sadly, that the Government’s advisers have made predictions, projections and illustrations that, when validated against what happened, were “abysmal”. Does the Prime Minister share my concerns that these are not isolated cases and that academics are showing concern about the data? Will he please publish in full the four studies that have gone into the work this weekend, as well as a fuller analysis of lockdowns versus shielding policies so that people can start to understand and trust the information being put out?
There are 79 care homes in Enfield looking after sick and vulnerable residents who are at a greatly increased risk of death if they catch coronavirus, so can the Prime Minister give me his assurance that Enfield Council and Enfield’s care homes will not be put under pressure to take covid-positive patients upon their discharge from hospital?
Yes, indeed. We are making sure that no patients are discharged from the NHS without being properly tested, and in so far as they may go into care homes for reasons that are absolutely unavoidable, those care homes must be Care Quality Commission-approved environments where they can be properly looked after and not at risk of infection.
As models of athleticism, the Prime Minister and I know of the benefits of regular gym-going—not only for physical health, but for mental wellbeing. Knowing that repetition is not a cardinal sin in this House, will he therefore reconsider the intention to close gyms, particularly given the great endeavours that they have made to make themselves covid secure?
I am really grateful to my hon. Friend, who is echoing a point that has been made by many hon. Members around the House. I would love to be able to exempt all sorts of activities, sporting or otherwise, but we must get the R down. This is the package that does it.
This pandemic has made the problems with our social care system clear. High staff vacancy rates and a reliance on agency staff contributed to the spread of the virus. Lack of funding meant a struggle to afford inflated prices for PPE. The weakness of our social care system ended up costing lives.
During the first wave, social care was an afterthought for the Government. To ensure that it is better supported in the second wave, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will consider investing the £3.9 billion in social care recommended by the Health and Social Care Committee, as a starting point for reform?
The Prime Minister is right: the furlough scheme is UK-wide for the next month. But the crucial answer that we need is whether it will be available to other nations of the United Kingdom if, in future, the science demands that further lockdowns are required anywhere in the country. If he cannot give that commitment, will he explain why it seems that an English job is more important than a Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish one?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I must repeat what I have said several times already this afternoon: the furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme. If other parts of the UK decide to go into measures that require the furlough scheme, then of course it is available to them. That has to be right. That applies not just now but of course in the future as well.
Arts organisations have responded with flair to the existential crisis of the loss of their audience, but just as they are about to recover by going for live streamings from closed venues—I am thinking of organisations such as the Cambridge Jazz Festival and the London Jazz Festival—they face a new threat. Will the Prime Minister confirm that those closed venues will be treated as a workplace and allow them to continue?
I think I just heard the Prime Minister confirm to the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) that if the Scottish Government require furlough funds beyond 2 December, those will be available to Scotland. Can he now get to his feet and confirm that that is what he said and that that is what he meant?
Sport and exercise are hugely important for the health and wellbeing of the nation. Youth and children’s outdoor sports are low risk in terms of both age groups and the activities, while people can take part in other sports such as golf without ever coming into contact with another soul. Such activities could help to mitigate some of the more negative impacts, both physical and mental, of lockdown, and in my view the benefits outweigh the risks. Will the Prime Minister consider very carefully allowing some of these outdoor low-risk activities to continue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I must repeat what I said earlier on: there is a wide range of activities that many people would like to pursue, but the risk is that they will have chains of human contact whether they like it or not, and increase the risk of transmission. That is why we have set out the measures that we have.
Did the Chancellor veto an earlier, shorter circuit breaker lockdown, or can the 40 days of dither and delay that are likely to cost thousands of extra lives lost and billions in damage to our economy all be laid at the door of the Prime Minister?
The answer to the hon. Lady’s first question is “absolutely not”, but as I have already explained, any Government will hesitate for an age before imposing lockdown measures that take such a toll on people’s mental health, their jobs and their livelihoods. If she looks at what we are doing, we are doing it earlier in the curve than some other European countries. I think it is the right thing at the right time, and I very much hope she will support this package of measures.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. My specific question is with regards to support for the independent small business sector. My constituent Rodney Chambers operates a small card and gift shop in Gillingham. Cards and gifts are considered non-essential, so he will now have to close his shop just before the Christmas period—the busiest period of the year for him. At the same time, he will see another shop down the road in Gillingham selling cards and gifts but also cleaning products, and that shop will be able to stay open. That, to me, seems unfair. Given the Government’s excellent support for businesses in the previous lockdown, can the Prime Minister please ensure that those small business that now have to close will be given the extra support they need in these difficult, challenging times?
I appreciate that there are many apparent inconsistencies in a package of measures that no one wants to impose on this country, and my hon. Friend is right to draw the distinction between the two shops he describes. What I can tell him is that, in common with all businesses throughout the country, they will continue to receive the support that they need.
Whether it is the self-employed, small business owners who pay themselves via dividends, or people who were timed out last time, there are still 3 million people excluded in the UK. Will the Prime Minister resist the temptation to simply roll over the current arrangements, and address those 3 million excluded? I have to say to the Prime Minister that these measures are unpopular but they are necessary, and people will buy into them if they feel supported, but they will not buy into them if they feel they are continuing to be excluded by this Government, nor will their friends and family.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. That is why we want to put our arms around the people of this country; it is why we are not only putting a huge amount of investment in jobs and livelihoods, but supporting the universal credit system by putting another £9 billion into welfare, plus making big investments in councils to help people who are falling on hard times. He is right to draw attention to those tough cases, and we will do everything we can to help them through this, but it is very important that everybody who has the disease and who is contacted does the right thing and self-isolates.
As No. 88 on the call list, I thank the Prime Minister for remaining on his feet and answering so many questions. I would like to point out two things: one is that golf is a really popular sport, and if people are not allowed to go into the golf club except to use the facilities—the toilets—rather than the bar, would it not be possible for them to be able to exercise, playing their golf, with maybe a maximum of two people, if not four? That would give them exercise and help their mental health.
The other point is that supermarkets can sell alcohol, but pubs cannot sell it at all if they are doing a takeaway service. Small breweries are really going to suffer because of this, because they have beer in their tanks ready to go that they will have to pour down the drain again. Could we not look at creating a level playing field for selling alcohol on a takeaway-only basis?
I thank my hon. Friend for the ingenious suggestions that she makes. We will take them away and study them both carefully—both points are valid—but I must repeat to her, regretfully, the point I have made many times this afternoon about the overall budget of risk that we carry, the need to get the R down and the need to stop the spread of the disease, which is now paramount. Golf and everything else will be able to resume, I devoutly hope, on 2 December.
That is an important point, but we will be deciding which tier regions need to go back into, if any, as we come towards 2 December—in the week before 2 December. We will be announcing that then, and we will also be announcing the financial package at that time.
Would my right hon. Friend be very kind and explain to my constituents, who contacted me in their hundreds over the weekend worried about their mental health, their jobs and businesses, why in Gloucestershire, which had only one hospitalised death last week, it makes any sense to lock down all those people?
That is exactly why we wanted to pursue the local approach for so long, and that is why I think it was always right to try to avoid a national lockdown for as long as we could. The difficulty is that the overall rate across the whole country is now speeding up and the virus is doubling across the entire country. I would be happy to publish all the data, as my hon. Friend knows.
Yesterday, Sir Jeremy Farrar made it quite clear that the scientific evidence and advice given to the Government had been crystal clear that they must go earlier and harder. Their delay, of course, is now impacting businesses, education and health across the country; according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the cost of the two-week delay is £20 billion. My question is very simple: it is an expensive mistake, so who is going to pick up the tab?
There is a wealth of scientific advice, and we have heard from other parts of the House this afternoon that there are scientists who do not believe that these measures are necessary. We have to look at the balance of the advice. We had to take a very difficult decision based on the welfare of the country, the health of the country, saving lives but also protecting the economy. That is why we came to the judgment that we did.
I have a particular concern with regard to those individuals with a health problem that is not covid-related. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) asked whether the Prime Minister had made an impact assessment. He responded with regard to the economy, but he did not confirm whether there had been an assessment of the non-covid health impact across primary, secondary and tertiary care—not just hospital beds—or, indeed, whether he would publish it. I should be grateful for his confirmation that there is one and that he will publish it.
Yes, indeed. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) if I did not understand his question, but we certainly can publish all the evidence that we have about the consequences for non-covid patients of failing to keep the autumn surge of covid under control. There is abundant evidence that overwhelming the NHS in the course of the next few weeks and months would do huge damage to people’s ability to access the services they need for cancer, for heart disease and for many other types of interventions that people need, in addition to covid. I would be very happy to share that with both my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West.
When SAGE advised a national firebreak lockdown, the Welsh First Minister introduced one, which my constituents are now undertaking here in Cardiff West. Given the Prime Minister’s statement today, does he agree that Mark Drakeford was right to act?
As I have said throughout this afternoon, I make no apology for doing my utmost to keep this economy going and to keep our kids in school, as indeed we are, and for avoiding the consequences of a national lockdown. The hon. Member will have heard the voices that have been raised across the House throughout this afternoon, both in favour of a lockdown and the many passionately against it. We have a very difficult balancing job to do—balancing lives, balancing livelihoods—and that is what we are doing.
These are challenging times, but I have some warm words for the Prime Minister for the work that he is doing. Oakberry Christmas tree farm, run by Richard and Gail in my South Leicestershire constituency, is one of Britain’s premier growers and sellers of festive trees. Thankfully, Oakberry Trees comes under the category of garden centres, and is therefore able to remain open over the next few weeks. Can my right hon. Friend give some words of encouragement—of cheer—to those businesses that are able to remain open in providing essential goods and services to our constituents as long as they remain covid-compliant in their working practices?
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend, and I am very glad that Oakberry Christmas trees is able to remain open. I am told that it provided No. 10 with a free Christmas tree five years ago; that is not meant to be any kind of hint, by the way. I know that it is one of the UK’s premier Christmas tree farms, and I thank them for what they are doing.
The Scottish Government have repeatedly called for months for an extension to the furlough scheme. However, such calls were completely ignored, with the uncertainty resulting in the loss of many jobs here in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. He may not wish to think it, but that is the reality of this Prime Minister’s governance. It is lost on absolutely nobody that the Prime Minister refused to extend furlough until the 11th hour, and only did so when the situation in the south of England ran out of control. At the risk of seeming disbelieving, I must ask him to confirm his U-turn: does the Prime Minister now fully commit to an extension of the furlough scheme available across all nations of the UK on a when-required basis to protect further against otherwise preventable job losses in Scotland and elsewhere?
Listening to the Scottish nationalists, one would have thought that furlough had not applied in Scotland over the last few months. It has been available throughout the UK throughout this period, and will continue to be a UK-wide solution.
The Prime Minister is doing his best, and I for one have great grace for him on the impossible decisions he has to take. I have to say to him that the weariness and, it must be said, anger of my constituents in Winchester that we are here again are palpable. There is also widespread scepticism about whether a second national lockdown is right or fair on Hampshire, but we have covered that issue many times, I know. To help us all, can the Prime Minister tell me what we did not do in June and July, when rates were right down after lockdown No. 1, that we should have done, and what therefore are the lessons for after 2 December as we try to make the most of lockdown 2.0?
I thank the people of Winchester for what they are doing. I know how frustrating it is, and believe me—I hope it is obvious from everything I have said this afternoon—I entirely share people’s frustrations, but NHS Test and Trace has achieved many things with, as I said, the 500,000 capacity now per day. Where I think we should have pushed harder was on actually insisting that, when people were contacted, they isolated. It does not look to me as though the numbers or the proportions have been good enough. We need to get those up in the next phase—but we can and we will, and we will get it done.
We all recognise that the Prime Minister has got a difficult job, but by God he is doing it badly. He said a few moments ago that he is having to balance lives and livelihoods, but does he not realise that his delay is costing lives and livelihoods? Businesses will fold, people will lose their jobs and the strain on our NHS will be greater because he failed to take the advice of SAGE and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). Will the Prime Minister at least now acknowledge the failure of his policy and start getting in front of this business, rather than always playing catch-up and costing lives and livelihoods?
I make no apology for continuing to resist going back into a national lockdown, with all the consequences for mental health and for people’s lives and livelihoods, in the way that I did. If we look at what has happened, we see that, alas, in this country, as across much of Europe—I pay tribute to people in areas where the incidence is low, who have kept it low—there has been an upsurge of the virus overall. Plenty of scientists and medical advisers were absolutely categorical that a local and regional approach was commonsensical and rational and right. Indeed, the Labour party supported it, if I remember correctly. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman even supported it. What they then decided to do is a matter for them. What I think the people of this country want to see at this very, very difficult moment is politicians coming together to take the country forward, to agree on the measures—[Interruption.] The Labour party supported what we were doing. The people want us to agree on the measures, and to get the country through these latest measures to tackle the autumn surge and out the other side on 2 December, because that is the best way forward for our country.
We are almost at the end of this statement now and the Prime Minister has answered the questions with his characteristic charm and skill, but, however strong, I am sure he will not resist the offer of more help and hope. So will he join me at daily mass in Westminster cathedral tomorrow? Would he like to witness the extreme social distancing, the constant cleansing after services and the mask wearing—all factors taken far more seriously there than almost anywhere else? Would he like to respond to Cardinal Vincent Nichols and give him the evidence as to why there is any possibility, after all these measures, of religious services spreading covid? Could the Prime Minister offer some hope to the faith communities? Could he perhaps reply to the letter I have sent to him, where we suggest further compromises, for instance, whereby we would have to apply by email before we attended services? Can he offer us any hope at all?
Of course I can. I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has just said and I am so sorry that the faith communities temporarily must go through this difficult period of not being able to observe services in the way that they want and I would like. This is only for 28 days and the hope I can offer—the candle in the darkness—is that we will, if we get this right, be able to go back to something much more like normal life before Christmas and people will be able to celebrate Christmas, in churches and elsewhere across this country.
Experts are clear that lockdowns merely defer, rather than solve, the problem and buy us time. They are united in the opinion that until we have a vaccine, a robust system to test, trace and isolate every case is the best way both to keep people safe and to protect our economy, yet we have heard nothing today that will address the woeful rates of contact tracing or how we improve support and incentives for self-isolation, which the Prime Minister has admitted is not working. What is he going to do to ensure that we avoid a boom and bust cycle of lockdowns and that he will not squander this lockdown like he did the last one, with us back here in January or February discussing the same issue again?
If I may so, the hon. Lady raises the most important point, the one we have been circling around all afternoon. In common with much of the rest of Europe, we are seeing an autumn surge now. I believe we have the right package of measures to address it. As for how we avoid endlessly going in and out of these types of measures in the way that she describes, I think the answer lies not just in getting people to self-isolate, but in mass testing—the lateral flow tests and the loop mediated isothermal amplification, or LAMP, tests of the kind I have described, which will not only help to drive down the R by isolating the positive cases, but liberate the negative cases to go about their lives much more normally. That is the game changer we can all look forward to.
I thank the Prime Minister for answering all 99 questions before mine. My constituents have pretty much been under local restrictions since the start of August, with the impact on local businesses, wellbeing and mental health. I ask the Prime Minister to continue to ask the Chancellor to support businesses in the supply chain for the hospitality industry, such as food and drink businesses and microbreweries, and to look again at whether we can have some covid-safe outdoor exercise such as golf, tennis and exercise classes to support wellbeing and mental health.
I will look carefully at my hon. Friend’s point about microbreweries, which he has raised with me before. We can have covid-secure golf, covid-secure tennis, covid-secure whatever he likes in 28 days’ time. We just have to get through this difficult period. I apologise for it; I am sorry that the nation has to do it, but it is by far the best way forward for the country.