All 10 Chris Stephens debates involving the Department of Health and Social Care

Covid-19 Update

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his championing of his businesses and his constituents. There is no shortage of the vaccine. I will happily work with him on the workforce and making sure that there is the resource to make it possible to continue to vaccinate at scale; and of course the industries that are delivering some of the essential products for the vaccination programme are incredibly important in that effort.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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In order to beat this virus, the Government must take care of not only their domestic responsibilities but their international ones. Will the Minister update us on what is being done to ensure vaccine supply to middle-income and lower-income countries, and update us on the international approach?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for his excellent question. It is incredibly important, because we pledged to deliver 100 million excess doses, beginning with 5 million immediately and 20 million by the end of the year, and then the balance next year, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being delivered around the world at no profit to AstraZeneca or Oxford. To update him, we have sent out our first deliveries of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as per the Prime Minister’s pledge, and speaking to the Serum Institute of India, they are now not producing 100 million doses a month of that vaccine but are up at 200 million doses a month. It really is an extraordinary achievement by Sarah Gilbert and her team and AstraZeneca in saving the world from this awful virus.

Covid-19: Government Handling and Preparedness

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 27th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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

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

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

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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I think what the constituents we serve are looking for is a Government who are focused four-square on delivering for them, getting us out of this pandemic and building back better. Observations on ironies I will leave to my hon. Friend.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) [V]
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Delaying a public inquiry until 2022 could lead to the rewriting of memories, the potential loss of key documents and a lack of full transparency on the decisions that were taken based on the evidence. Given the seriousness of the testimony of Mr Cummings, including that statement, the scale of the disaster is so big that people need to understand how the Government failed them and learn from it. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need a quicker start to a public inquiry than the Government currently plan?

Covid-19 Update

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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I have always loved Rugby, and the idea that Rugby is going to deliver on everyone in categories 1 to 4 having an offer of a jab a week early is music to my ears. I am delighted to hear about it. I can absolutely confirm that we have confidence in the supplies of vaccine to ensure that everybody can get a second jab of the vaccination they had the first time, unless there is a specific clinical reason not to; that would happen only in very rare circumstances. The plan is that you get the same jab second time around as you got the first.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) [V]
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According to the Global Institute, high-income countries representing 16% of the world’s population currently have about 60% of the vaccines purchased so far. So can the Secretary of State tell us what plans the Government have to start sharing supplies with low-income and middle-income countries? Can he share with us the Government’s plans on an international approach?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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This is a very important question. Although I am incredibly proud of the UK vaccine roll-out and very pleased that we bought early so that we have access to the supplies of 407 million doses, we are also deeply aware of our international obligations, with the provision of the Oxford vaccine to the world, but also the financial support essentially through COVAX and GAVI, to make sure that people across the world have access to this vaccine. It is not “either/or”; it is “and”. Although my first priority and responsibility as UK Health Secretary is to ensure that the UK has access to this vaccine, this disease has demonstrated that it does not respect international boundaries and it is important that everywhere gets access to the jab.

Covid-19 Update

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 17th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Yes. We are committed to setting out weekly updates on the vaccination programme—we released the first data yesterday, on the 137,000 number—and increasingly with the sorts of breakdowns that my right hon. Friend asks for, as more and more groups are reached. He asked for the calculus in terms of the proportion of the population that needs to be protected in order that we are able to bring down restrictions, and that is exactly how we are thinking about the next phase. We do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission, so we cannot yet have a concrete answer to his question, but it is precisely the question that we are asking. We should know much more within the next few weeks.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Recent studies have shown that vaccine hesitancy is highest among the black, Asian and minority ethnic community and low-income groups, and there is a real fear that these groups are being deliberately targeted with misinformation. Will the Secretary of State tell us how his Department is going to counter that so that people can make informed choices, and to avoid covid health disparities going forward?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. In fact, I was talking about the vaccination programme to the SNP Cabinet Secretary for Health only this morning, because making sure that we reach all those who need vaccinations, according to clinical need, is critical, but we also need then to persuade them to take the vaccine. There is a huge amount of work on tackling misinformation. The most important thing is to have the positive information out there. I thank all those who have gone public about their vaccine so far—we all saw the wonderful photograph of Sir Ian McKellen, and I thank Prue Leith, who went public with her vaccination. It is absolutely terrific to see people celebrating the fact that they are getting vaccinated and therefore encouraging other people to do the same.

Local Contact Tracing

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 14th October 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Thanks very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. You had signalled to me that you were not going to call me, so I am a bit surprised.

To allow time for the Front-Bench speeches, I will briefly continue the Serco theme. I am concerned to hear that Serco got a contract without any competitive tendering. My real concern is that last year both Serco and the Home Office argued in court—sadly, they were successful—that because Serco was a private contractor delivering a public service, it was exempt from the Human Rights Act. To give Serco a contract like test and tracing, with all that could happen with data, and for it to be exempt from the Human Rights Act, is very dangerous territory for the Government.

It has been said before that Serco has now subcontracted to 29 other companies, including those that have failed on HMRC contracts and in other places. That is of real concern. There is a lack of scrutiny here and I will be supporting the motion.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I apologise to Matt Western and Zarah Sultana for their not being able to get in even though they were present.

Covid-19

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 28th September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). He claims to have the most beautiful constituency in these islands. I, of course, represent the most sophisticated electorate in these islands, as I have argued many times. He used to serve alongside me on the Work and Pensions Committee, and I shall confine most of my remarks to that subject. I thank him for the tone he adopted, because it was a lot better than some of the madder contributions earlier. One Conservative said that they thought the Government had turned to the dark side. Many of us came to that conclusion many years ago.

I will confine my contribution to ensuring that the Government support the least fortunate in our society. I was very surprised when I tabled a parliamentary question asking how many advance repayments there had been in the latest available figures. The latest figures available are for May this year—the height of the lockdown—and 1.6 million universal credit claimants had a deduction from their payments due to advance repayments. In West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, 800 individuals had an average of £61 deducted from their payments. In Glasgow South West, it was an average of £56 taken from 3,800 claimants.

Those statistics show that claimants had money taken off them at the height of lockdown. I think that is something the Government need to reflect on. I find it deeply troubling that the Government were taking money off people who were claiming universal credit at the height of lockdown. We have to make sure that people do not have to choose to heat or to eat. The consequences of such policies, as we learned on a webinar I took part in by Feeding Britain, of which I am a trustee, have put enormous pressure on food banks and other charities.

Where I do agree with the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is that the local organisations in both our constituencies—the churches, food banks and charitable organisations—have stepped up magnificently during the crisis. However, they have stepped up to do some things that they would not have had to do if the Government had not taken deductions from individuals for advance repayments. That has put pressure on groups such as Drumoyne Community Council with its food project, the Govan Youth Information Project, Govan HELP and G53 Together, which brings together a large number of organisations in the Greater Pollok ward of Glasgow South West. They have done a magnificent job of looking after all the people who have needed help during the crisis.

I have heard the conspiracy theories. I am sure I am not the only one whose inbox is flooded with theories about covid—that somehow it is a conspiracy and all of that. It is not; it is a severe pandemic that attacks natural human behaviour. It is natural to shake someone’s hand when we see them. It is natural to hug them if we know them well enough. We cannot do that in these troubled times, due to this disease and this pandemic.

I want to place it on the record, as I have done a number of times over the past few months, that a major round of applause should go to our constituency office staff—not just those in Glasgow South West, but those across these islands. They really have stepped up. Whether Members have been in this House since December or for decades, I am sure they would all agree that our constituency office staff teams have never been busier. I claim, with some justification, that mine are the best, but I know that every single Member of this House is grateful to the constituency office staff of every Member of this House.

Covid-19 Update

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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My hon. Friend is exactly right—we are going as fast as we can. I recognise the importance of this. There was spare capacity earlier in the summer. We have maintained the turnaround times—they are very rapid—but there have been challenges in the last couple of weeks because of that increase in demand and some of the operational issues that we have discussed. He is right to raise this, and he has raised it with me privately before. There is no one more assiduous in putting forward the needs of their constituents than my hon. Friend, and I will keep him posted on how much we can expand testing in Buckinghamshire.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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On a similar point to the one raised by the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), can the Secretary of State tell us what advice and guidance his Department is issuing to employers that are trying to use covid-related absence to trigger points for absence management interviews and to remove occupational sick pay? We saw recent such attempts by IKEA, which then dismissed the trade union representative who had the temerity to tell trade union members what their employer was up to. Will he condemn those employers that are trying to use covid-related absences to remove occupational sick pay and the like?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The hon. Gentleman raises a point that I know the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at. Of course, returning to a covid-secure setting is safe and the right thing to do, and that is a matter between the employer and employee, but people must follow employment law. After all, as an employer, that is their statutory duty.

Covid-19: BAME Communities

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler
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I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, and I will come to that point later in my remarks. As constituency MPs, it is important for us to talk to doctors, and to understand and learn what is going on. I wish the Government would also take that on board.

Structural and systemic racism is also a health issue, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that the jobs that are most at risk are over-populated by African, Caribbean, Asian, and minority ethnic people. We must be honest with ourselves and ask why that is. The higher BAME death rate is apparent across all grades of the NHS, even in the highest socioeconomic groups. We must be honest with ourselves and ask why that is. If we shy away from the truth, nothing will change. The publication of the first report on this issue stated that 17 doctors died, 16 of whom were BAME. Eastern Eye then reported that, since 2 June, when that report was published, another 18 doctors died after saving lives, 17 of whom were BAME. We must be honest with ourselves and ask why that is.

The Public Health England report that the Government tried to hide states that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) said, there were numerous examples of doctors who were not able to access appropriate PPE to protect themselves adequately. It also stated that requests for risk assessments or additional PPE from BAME workers were more likely to be refused, and that requests were less likely to be made because of the fear of adverse treatment.

Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, a nurse, was still working at a hospital while heavily pregnant. She sadly died of covid-19. They managed to save her baby girl by emergency caesarean. That is so tragic, and we must ask ourselves why she was forced to work. Let me give a couple more examples. Two black employees in London, a taxi driver and one transport worker, Belly Mujinga, died after allegedly being spat at by somebody who claimed they had covid-19. Belly had an underlying health condition and should not have been put in danger. She requested to work in the ticket office, but that was refused. We must ask ourselves why such things are happening. The Government must urgently implore and ensure that all employers carry out risk assessments in all workplaces. As lockdown is eased, those most at risk are in greater danger unless the Government introduce structural requirements for employers.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said so far. She talks about employers carrying out risk assessments. It is important that that includes Government Departments and the Government’s outside contractors, because, as she will be aware, many of the workers in these outside contractors—cleaners, for example—are from the BAME community.

Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is not one rule for Government Departments or Parliament and one rule for the rest of the country: we have seen that play out way too often. He is absolutely right that that has to be taken into consideration.

More than two in 10 black African women are employed in health and social care roles, Indian men are 150% more likely to work in health or social care roles, and 14% of doctors in England and Wales are Indians. Covid-19 does not prefer one person’s lungs to those of other ethnicities. It is not the pandemic that discriminates—it is society. It is almost as though being black is a pre-existing condition that results in worse outcomes for health, employment and education. That does not for one moment mean that it cannot be overcome. It is not a victim mentality that has put us in this situation, any more than it was indolence that put British citizens on planes and deported them during the Windrush scandal or bad sportsmanship that subjects our players to abuse on the field. We must call it what it is, because if we do not call it what it is, how can we identify it, how can we cure it, how can we stop it? It is racism, and it has become more structural and systemic. It is not just about individuals. Structural and systemic racism can exist without individual acts of racism, but it is an unfair, unequal discriminatory system—and it is literally killing us.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I had to change my seating arrangements earlier as I was told that the microphone where I was originally sitting was not working—not that that has stopped me in the past.

First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for her brilliant speech. I thank her for allowing me to intervene so that I could mention some of the topics on which I now wish to start my own speech.

I was standing in this very spot last night when I started my Adjournment debate by condemning completely the far-right violence that we saw in George Square in Glasgow last night. The far right targeted a peaceful protest by asylum seekers who were protesting about the living conditions that they have been put in by the Home Office. Such violence and thuggery must be condemned, and is condemned, by many proud Glaswegians.

There are a number of issues that I have had to deal with on behalf of BAME constituents, which are just plain wrong and which show systematic racism. The first one I will touch on involves the Foreign Office, which was trying to bring back constituents who were stuck abroad. When we made the case that these were individuals who needed to be brought back home, who had health issues that needed to be addressed, those individuals were all of a sudden told by the British consulate that they were not British nationals. Why are they not British nationals? It is because they were given indefinite leave to remain. It was quite ridiculous. Even when the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office told the Foreign Affairs Committee that, yes, they would bring people back home on the basis of their address and where they were resident, consulates were saying that people were not British nationals. That is something that we really need to address. I have been working on the matter with the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi).

I will not revisit my 23-minute address that I made last night on how asylum seekers are treated, but to bundle them into vans and place them in hotels, under what is now known as hotel detention, with culturally inappropriate food and no social distancing is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

We also need to deal with the level of asylum support. A 26p increase in asylum support has been announced by the Government. That is the equivalent of being given a Freddo bar. That is what asylum seekers are being asked to live on in a week. It is an absolute disgrace. What they are being paid is 42% of what someone would expect on social security. I completely echo the comments of my friend the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), on the issue of no recourse to public funds. He has done a great job on that. He embarrassed the Prime Minister, who did not seem to have a clue about that.

I want to touch on how public services are dealing with risk assessments and with BAME employees in particular. We have seen industrial disputes fairly recently, including here in London, in the Foreign Office, with BAME workers going on strike for not being paid the London living wage. It is an absolute disgrace that a Government Department has allowed a contractor to deal with that, and we really need to deal with equality impact assessments properly. It is no use for Governments to say that they have carried out an equality impact assessment and have come to the conclusion that everybody is being hammered equally, so there is therefore equality in the system. That really is not good enough. Frankly, at times I think the Government ignore their duties on equality impact assessments and the public sector equality duty.

I hope that Members will sign early-day motion 596, on the “Dying for sick pay” campaign, led by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), which particularly relates to how BAME employees—predominantly female BAME employees—are being dealt with in the workforce. I also hope Members will sign early-day motion 599 on the Scottish Trades Union Congress’s “Break the race ceiling” campaign.

In closing, we need positive action in this country. As secretary of Show Racism the Red Card, I say that we need to use our education system to eliminate racism in this country. I was delighted to see the National Football League having to do a U-turn, forced by NFL players and NFL black players. That shows that action can work.

Covid-19

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 16th March 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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My hon. Friend is an expert in this area. So far, the social media companies have acted with great responsibility in this area and have responded to all the asks we have had of them.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The Government are trying to regulate behaviour, so to avoid some of the scenes we have seen at the weekend would he encourage supermarkets to allow the elderly to have one hour a day when only they can shop to get their essentials?

Coronavirus

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 11th March 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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Absolutely—in fact, there was a very big conference in London today on precisely this issue. We are working with dozens of companies on it. We will work with anybody and scour the world for a solution, as my right hon. Friend describes. I just add one thing: he talked about how I had described what people should do if they feel ill—they should call 111—but also, going to the 111 website is really, really important, because that takes pressure off the call centres and many people can get the answers they need without talking to someone.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I bring the Secretary of State back to his discussions and liaison with supermarkets. I am aware of at least one supermarket chain that has already said to local food banks that they are cutting their orders and limiting what they provide to food banks. Will he raise this with supermarket chains to make sure that those who need food aid provision in the country—the most vulnerable and needy—get what they need?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is leading the work with the supermarkets now, so I will ensure that it gets that message and takes that up.