Christopher Chope debates involving the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy during the 2019 Parliament

Climate Change Committee Progress Report 2021

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd
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That is another important point. I think the Minister will accept my saying: I have been a Minister; never trust a Minister—partly because one day they will not be, and it will be someone else in the seat. Government should set the standards, but the delivery of that sort of information must be seen to be independent and to have sound validity for those involved.

When we look at delivery, one thing that is often missing from the conversation is the fact that central Government cannot deliver on many of these things. Central Government has to work through other agencies. That can be the private sector, but we need the strategic planning to take place at local, and sometimes sub-local, level. If we are going to not simply change attitudes but introduce the necessary infrastructure—the infrastructure of skilled training for the capacity to make the changes that we need—we must deliver locally. That does mean a much stronger partnership. Again, that is a recommendation in the report between central Government and local government. I say to the Minister that if that partnership does not include the proper transfer of funding so that local government can do this job, then we will be gifting the ambition but not delivering the tools with which to achieve it.

This is a very important report. Once again I congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire. He is trying to deliver a balanced judgment. He is probably a little more optimistic than I, but he did emphasise that the crisis is not looming; it is with us. This is a call now to move beyond planning. Words can be good in setting ambition, but it has got to be now about serious delivery on the ground. We have had so many wake-up calls. This call says, “Now is the time for action.”

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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This is a very interesting debate. There is a parallel debate taking place in the main Chamber, where there is a three-minute time limit on speeches, I suspect. Before calling the last Back-Bench speaker in this debate, if anybody in the main Chamber is following what is going on in Westminster Hall, I am happy to accept additional Back-Bench speeches if Members show up, notwithstanding the fact that they were not here at the beginning for the initial remarks.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Sir Christopher. I think we may have another Back-Bench speaker whose name somehow did not make it on to the list. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) stole my gag about climate debates being like buses—two turn up at once but they are not electric buses.

I was one of the MPs who went outside yesterday to see the people who are pressing for more zero-emission buses. They had buses there from Ballymena, Falkirk, and Selby near Leeds to highlight the fact that, while the Government have pledged 4,000 zero-emission buses, only a small handful have appeared on the roads. Although the Transport Secretary responded to questions from one of my colleagues in the shadow Transport team to say that 900 were in production, we have pressed him on that since, asking where they are in production and when they are appearing, and he seems to have gone very quiet.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) on securing the debate, and I congratulate him on his optimism. We do need optimism when it comes to the fight against climate change. It can seem like a pessimistic environment. The zero-emission buses are an example of where the Government’s actions do not match their announcements. Unless we see an acceleration of action, not just warm words, we shall be nowhere near meeting the targets, which are good and ambitious. They set an example to the rest of the world, but if we cannot go to COP and demonstrate the real things that are happening on the ground, it all becomes greenwash, to put it mildly.

The Committee on Climate Change report is huge, but one recommendation goes to the heart of everything. There is a recommendation for No. 10 and the Cabinet Office that says:

“Ensure all departmental policy decisions…are consistent with the Net Zero goal and reflect the latest understanding of climate risks.”

That is where we need to be. Everything the Government do should be through the prism of trying to achieve net zero. We have the announcement of new fossil fuel projects—the Cambo oilfield and the Cumbrian coal mine. Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, has written to the Government to say that it is simply incompatible with our stated ambitions to allow those new fossil fuel projects to go ahead. Compare what is happening with airport expansion with the recommendations of the Committee that there should be no net airport expansion. The word “net” is important. Although it does not work in the current context, where Heathrow and everywhere else is pressing for expansion, there is an argument that, if capacity declined at Heathrow, regional airports such as Bristol would be able to expand, creating regional jobs and economic growth as part of that net calculation.

Take the Transport Secretary and the road-building programme, in which billions of pounds are going towards the construction of new roads. He was advised by his civil servants that that needed to be subject to an environmental impact assessment to see whether it was compatible with the Government meeting their climate change ambitions, and he refused to do so. I know that the Minister answering today is not from the Department for Transport, but that is another example of the actions of the Government just not squaring up with this recommendation in the Committee on Climate Change’s report.

The Australian trade agreement is another example. How can we claim to be serious about climate change and protecting the environment when we are more than willing to trade away environmental protections as part of a trade agreement? When the Minister was in his previous post, I asked him about potential trade agreements with Brazil and the relationship with that country in general. On one of his overseas jaunts, the Prime Minister congratulated President Bolsonaro on being an environmental champion. This guy is almost single-handedly destroying the Amazon by allowing huge numbers of people to be displaced from their land, and allowing swathes of forest to be burned and used for cattle ranching or the growing of various commodities—soya for livestock feed, palm oil, and so on.

It was sad how little attention was paid to that issue when we debated the Lords amendments to the Environment Bill yesterday. On the one hand, we have a Government who like to boast about how many more trees they are going to plant—at the last election, every party was trying to outbid the others as to how many millions of trees they would be able to plant—but that means absolutely nothing in terms of the net number of trees across the planet if we are allowing Bolsonaro to burn the Amazon to the ground.

One of the Minister’s colleagues in the Trade team once answered a question that I asked them about this issue by pointing to the UK Government’s giving money to Brazil for certain forest protection programmes, conserving parts of the rainforest or even planting new trees there, but if we look at how those numbers stack up against the proportion that is being destroyed, they are nowhere close. It is a token effort; it is well-meaning, but unless we do something through pressure in trade negotiations and at COP to stop Bolsonaro and others in their tracks, we will be destroying a huge carbon sink. We are now in a position where the Amazon is a net emitter of carbon: we used to talk about the Amazon as being the lungs of the world, but that is no longer the case, and that is something that the UK Government could do something about.

We now have the 1.5° target that we agreed at Paris, so COP should be about how we go about achieving that target, and we do need a lot of countries to set more ambitious nationally determined contributions. We are very concerned that China and now Russia will not be sending their leaders, so can the Minister advise us on what impact he thinks that will have on the negotiations? Will Brazil come to the table, and what pressure will it be put under at COP? Finance is incredibly important—trying to secure that $100 billion a year—but as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on small island developing states, I would make the point that whenever I talk to those states, they say that this is not just about how much money is committed, but how they can access it. These are tiny countries with very small levels of resources.

--- Later in debate ---
Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and clearly I agree with him. It is great that he has recognised the work that is going on to restore peat bogs in Scotland. As he said, the UK Government’s tree-planting target is welcome, but I am sceptical that they have a plan in place to meet that target. They have never met any target for tree planting to date, so the idea that they can scale up massively in a couple of years is beyond belief. I was going to mention tree planting in Scotland later on, but in 2019, 85% of trees planted in the UK were planted in Scotland via the Scottish Government’s scheme. The Scottish Government have aggressively pursued tree planting—they have led the way on it—while the UK Government have not yet put plans in place to meet their ambitions.

There are too many policy gaps to mention, even though we have a lot more time today than we expected. We need to see an impact from the net zero aviation strategy, for example. I am not convinced by the plans that are in place. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West said, there is a transport decarbonisation plan in place, but when it comes to hydrogen and conversion of HGVs, we have heard the hon. Member for Bristol East say that not enough zero-emission buses are being produced. We really need to move quickly on these matters.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire complimented the work that is being done on decarbonising the electricity system. That work is truly welcome, but there is still not a proper plan for ending unabated gas-fired electricity generation by 2035, nor a proper structured plan for the decarbonisation of the electricity grid to meet the 2035 target set by the Government. If they are going to meet the target of a net zero electricity grid by 2030, there are some things that I suggest the Minister needs to be cognisant of. The Government need to review the grid charging system, which will end the farce of Scotland having the highest grid charges in Europe. That system disincentivises the construction of renewable energy production in Scotland—puts it at a disadvantage compared with projects in England—but it does not help the UK to meet its net zero target, either. We need to make net zero a statutory consideration for Ofgem, and the Government need to review the capacity market to address its reliance on fossil fuels, and allow storage that is co-located with renewable energy to be able to bid into the capacity market. Bizarrely, that is blocked at the moment.

As I touched on earlier, the Government need to end their nuclear obsession. Instead of spending another £20 billion on a new station at Sizewell, not to mention the billions they want to invest in small modular reactors and the mythical advanced nuclear reactors, they should be investing that money in renewable energy—in green hydrogen production and storage. The UK has now fallen behind France, the Netherlands and Germany in terms of hydrogen production proposals, so an urgent rethink of policy development is required. The 5 GW hydrogen target is not ambitious enough. The Scottish Government have a 5 GW hydrogen production target, so surely the UK Government need to up their game.

The UK Government should be investing in pumped storage hydropower—a proven technology that allows dispatchable energy to be added to the grid when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. This is something that can progress quickly. SSE is ready to progress with the Coire Glas scheme, and Drax is advancing plans to double output from the existing Cruachan dam pumped storage hydro plant. What is needed is a pricing mechanism to be agreed with the Government, like a carbon floor mechanism. I raised this with the previous Minister. Will the current Minister look at a pricing mechanism to allow pumped storage hydro to progress? It is a good use of renewable energy.

Wave and tidal turbine power—technology Scotland literally leads the world in— needs help to get to the next phase of scaling up. The industry requested a ringfenced sum of money in part 2 of the contracts for difference—round 4 is coming up shortly. Ringfencing money in part 2 has been done for floating offshore wind; all that the wave and tidal industry are asking for is the same ringfencing to allow them to compete and get a slice of the pie. It is believed that the Treasury blocked this ringfencing, which is ridiculous, considering that it would not have cost the Government any money. There is a risk that this technology will lose out and move abroad, and as happened with onshore wind, we will lose the opportunity to have the manufacturing set up in the UK and lose the export opportunities and growth that comes with that. Hopefully the Minister will listen the arguments. I would be more than happy to meet and discuss it, and he would be very welcome to meet industry representatives. Small changes could be made that will not cost the Government money, but could generate fantastic growth opportunities.

In Scotland’s commitments to the Paris climate change targets and net zero, we are genuinely leading the way. We were the first Government to set a net zero target with a date of 2045, the first to declare a climate emergency, and we have set up the Just Transition commission. Admittedly, we also did not meet our emissions target of a 55% reduction by 2020, a 51.5% reduction is still fantastic progress. In Europe, Scotland is second only to Sweden in terms of the scale of reduction achieved. Interestingly, one of the reasons Scotland missed its latest target is that the process under way of rewetting peatlands necessitates the removal of some trees. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) pointed out, Scotland is doing fantastically with peat bog and wetland restoration, as well as having a fantastic tree-planting operation.

When it comes to energy production, Scotland has led the way in decarbonisation; last year, 97% of equivalent electricity demand was produced by renewable energy—this is absolutely tremendous. We have ambitious plans and we are making them happen; they cannot nor should not be blocked by decisions made in Westminster. I appreciate the UK Government does have ambitious targets, but as the report from the CCC shows, more policy and further intervention from Government are required—and they are required sooner rather than later.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Dr Alan Whitehead, I think you need to limit your remarks to 45 minutes.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
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Thank you, Sir Christopher. I am always guided by your wisdom. I will attempt to restrain my remarks as much as possible, although, I am not sure whether I can get them done in 45 minutes. I hope I will be much briefer than that, because quite a lot of what I wanted to say this afternoon has already been said. That is a reflection of the very high quality debate that we have had.

I do not want to go overboard about this and start saying things such as, “Better fewer, but better”—better being the watchword for these sorts of occasions—which is actually a quote from Lenin, but it reflects very well on the Members present. I could not have asked for a better group of parliamentarians to debate this issue. Between us, we have addressed in a sober manner both the pluses and the minuses of where we stand on emissions. For the second day running, I congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) not only on securing the debate, but on the quality and content of what he had to say. I know that is probably a career-limiting move on the part of an Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson, but I really think that the hon. Gentleman did ample justice to his brief, albeit perhaps he pulled some punches a little because of his party political position. Overall, his speech was a sound and good exposition of both the pluses and minuses of our progress on climate change.

[Mrs Sheryll Murray in the Chair]

I will come back to one or two things that the hon. Gentleman said, but I also want to say that valuable additional points were made by Members from my party and the Scottish National party. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) emphasised the importance of buildings, heat pumps and the seismic change in delivery that we have to get into over the next period. Those were well made points, which reflected how we talk about what we have achieved so far and what we have to do in the future. That is a central point in our discussions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made some important points about transport and the difference between what we think we have achieved by putting something down on a piece of paper, and, when we follow it through, where we think that has got to. That was exemplified in her comments on the 900 buses that have allegedly been procured. Indeed, I was present at the visit to the buses yesterday, along with her and other hon. Members. That exemplified that we have some things that are an obvious next step in the decarbonisation of the transport sector. If it is possible to embrace an entire bus, we should be running off with those examples and planting them everywhere in the country as quickly as possible, yet we appear to be falling down badly in terms of how we roll out that fine ambition over a period of time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) emphasised the role that local government and a cross-departmental approach can play in the fight to reduce emissions across the board. He made a number of very telling points about what local government can and cannot do, and how much needs to be entrusted to local government in order to bring about emissions reductions.

I return to one or two of the comments made by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire. He made the important point that if we are to have a balanced assessment of where we have come from and what we are trying to get to, we should neither condemn a Government—or, in this case, the two Governments we have had from the turn of the century to today, or three if we count the coalition—for doing nothing, nor praise them for doing everything. We have to have a clear line between those two positions to make a sober assessment of just how much we have to do, and to place our successes and failures so far in context.

As the hon. Member also said, it is only possible to decarbonise our power sector once, which is an important observation for our record so far. Some people, talking about where we have got to, might say that we have done better than a number of other countries in the world, that we have reduced emissions substantially while expanding our economy, and then stand back with folded arms and say, “There we are—it is pretty much done, isn’t it?” The Climate Change Committee’s report gives a telling antidote to that stance. It draws our attention to not just changes in UK emissions over the period 2000 to 2020, but changes by sector.

A useful chart appears on page 20 of the report—I see hon. Members flicking through their copies to find it—which shows that there has been a stupendous change in emissions from electricity supply. We have done a fantastic job of decarbonising our emissions from electricity supply, which have plummeted from annual emissions of about 160 megatonnes of CO2 in 2000 to less than 45 megatonnes of CO2. We see the wisdom of the point made by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire—we can only decarbonise these things once. Although we should go much further, and it is good that we have seen a proposal for the complete decarbonisation of the power sector by 2035, we will not be able to repeat that reduction in emissions in that sector, so we cannot set that achievement against what we need to do next in the areas we need to concentrate on for the future.

That same chart is alarming in a number of areas. We must enter a caveat about the deep reduction in emissions from aviation and surface transport during the pandemic, because all the evidence already suggests that they will pretty quickly return to their previous levels. In general, despite some reduction in emissions from manufacturing and construction over the period and a smaller reduction in buildings—albeit a flat line in recent years—emissions in most other sectors are flat or increasing. That means that, in effect, measures in those sectors either have not started or have been completely ineffective in reducing emissions. As we look at the overall picture, it is important to be able to say, “We have done well here and we have done badly there,” and, when we are judging the totals, we must carefully take that into account.

We must also carefully consider the proportion of emissions in those sectors. For example, electricity supply—power stations—currently accounts for 15% of emissions. Yes, we can achieve a reduction in emissions there, but those emissions as a percentage of total emissions are now about the same as those from agriculture and land use, yet emissions from that area have stayed static in the period. Therefore, among other things, if we continue to make progress in particular areas, as has been described, but others stay static, they will represent an increasing, and increasingly intractable, part of our emissions over the next period. To do nothing about aviation, shipping, surface transport and, certainly, agriculture and land use, or to ignore them or put them in the background, is nearing criminal. If we leave them out, they will be impossible to pull back later.

We need to look at the progress made under the plans in those areas and how well they are getting us towards the same emissions curve as we see in the power sector, and as soon as possible. In that context, the Climate Change Committee’s report to Parliament is telling. The committee is the most polite organisation that one could come across. Not only is it unfailingly courteous in personal dealings with Members but all its reports have “courteous” written through them, like a stick of rock. It does not jump up and down and scream, and it does not over-hype its statements; quite the opposite. Where necessary, it is careful to caveat them as far as possible. In those circumstances, it is sometimes accused of being a bit soft. I do not think it is, but it is rigorously careful and accurate in what it tries to do.

However, in reading between the lines, the progress report is a pretty coruscating condemnation of progress, particularly in the areas that I have represented to hon. Members. As hon. Members have mentioned, page 24 of the summary report shows the areas where progress falls far short of the Government’s stated ambition and commitments. In some areas the Government’s commitment meets what the Climate Change Committee said should be the pathway. However, in a number of other areas their commitment is failing very badly, and those areas represent a large chunk of the overall emissions coming down the road, while those where they are succeeding often account for relatively small amounts of emissions. We need to try to get that into proportion as well.

Looking at what the Climate Change Committee said, something that we ought to think carefully about, which we have not done particularly this afternoon, is that the progress report is about not only mitigation but adaptation. Although there is a separate adaptation report, it comes under the overall ambit of the general report to Parliament. On adaptation, the committee says:

“A robust plan is needed for adaptation. The UK does not yet have a vision for successful adaptation to climate change, nor measurable targets to assess progress. Not one of the 34 priority areas assessed in this year’s progress report on adaptation is yet demonstrating strong progress in adapting to climate risk. Policies are being developed without sufficient recognition of the need to adapt to the changing climate. This undermines their goals, locks in climate risks, and stores up costs for the future.”

That almost sounds not terribly polite. It is waving a red flag about the disgraceful complete lack of any plan for serious Government action in this country on adaptation, which will really turn around to bite us in the near future if we do not get our act together. If the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is minded to apply for a further debate in this Chamber, I would suggest a specific debate on adaptation. It is a very important area, which we have largely missed out on, and we do so at our peril.

The committee’s report also reflected on the fact that, at the time it was written, the Government were in the process of producing a number of reports that had been promised for quite a while but had not arisen, such as the net zero plan, the transport plan, the hydrogen plan, and the heat and buildings strategy, which the Climate Change Committee was unable to incorporate into its report to Parliament because they were still anticipated. Just this week, no fewer than 1,800 pages of material finally came tumbling out of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Treasury and so on, with 10 days to go to COP26, rectifying a number of those emissions. I am afraid that, try as I might, I have not been able to get through all 1,800 pages by any means. It is apparent from reading those just how far off we are from getting to grips with things that the Climate Change Committee mentioned in its report.

Let me take the “Heat and Buildings Strategy”, which has just come out, as an example. I do not particularly blame the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for this, and hon. Members will have to take it from me, but the “Heat and Buildings Strategy”, which is an interesting report, has been written, in what we might call Shakespearean authorship analysis, by several different hands—I do not include the Minister in that. Broadly, I can say that the right questions have been written by one series of hands, and the wrong answers have been written by another series of hands, so the report does not cohere.

The answers to the ambition that the Climate Change Committee was concerned to underpin in its report to Parliament are not very ambitious at all. There is a really lame response to the question of how we go about the insulation and energy efficiency uprating of our homes, which, as everybody knows by now, is a sine qua non of a load of actions in other areas, as we have mentioned already.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) unpacked some of the issues on heat pumps. We know that they will not work in badly insulated homes. We have an ambition for heat pumps, but there are all sorts of issues even within the report about the difference between the ambition of 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2030 and the practical issue of who will be trained up to install them, whether they will be manufactured in this country, and which sectors will have heat pumps in them. I note, for example, on the Government’s ambition for 300,000 homes a year, that it is suggested that heat pumps will go into only about 60% of them, so we have the prospect of new homes being built with gas boilers in them, which will have to be retrofitted pretty shortly afterwards, but we will perhaps let that pass us by.

On how the paper addresses our overall ambitions, the sector, as the strategy sets out, occupies 23% of emissions just on heat. So when we talk about the energy sector, we are talking about heat being much more important in terms of emissions than power, and it is heat that we have made virtually no progress on at all. The overwhelming majority of our homes are still heated by gas, and that figure has remained fairly static for a fairly long time. A strategy that proposes more heat pumps only works if we deal with other heat factors, particularly how much heat we lose from our buildings, how meaner we could be in our use of heat in buildings in future, and what sort of win-wins we might have in insulating our homes, and we must deal with fuel poverty and various other such things.

One would think that a strategy of energy efficiency should run alongside everything else that we do on heat generation. That one thing, with the exception of some short-term, fairly small amounts of funding for particular projects in the strategy, is sorely missing. I do not know, but I would speculate, bearing in mind the different authors of the report, that perhaps a much more ambitious strategy was in the minds of BEIS, and certain other people came along and crossed a nought off the end of each of the amounts of money in the strategy. It woefully misses the opportunity to really go forward on getting heat firmly in our sights as far as decarbonisation is concerned.

The hydrogen strategy that has come out is interesting, premised on the progress report to Parliament. It does not have any path by which we can develop green hydrogen, which of course is the element of hydrogen that will do the work of decarbonisation. Unless we have a decent path for developing green hydrogen over the period, we will not make the progress that we should on climate change and emission reductions.

As I said, I have yet to go through all of this, but I think we are simply not articulating our own ambition on carbon reduction and getting the details of how we do it right. Indeed, not only are we a long way from that in some instances, but in others we are not even addressing it. I am interested to reflect on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West about the nudge unit report that came out recently. It was nudged into public view and pretty immediately nudged out again, within I think a day of being published. One of the reasons for that is because the nudge unit drew our attention to some very difficult areas that we have to get to grips with, but we have hitherto walked on by on the other side of the street.

I know that to my cost. Recently, I think at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference, I ventured the opinion that we will have far fewer livestock farmers in our country in 20 years’ time. That is a straightforward statement of understanding of what we have to do in the agricultural and land use sector, what we have to do about our diets and how we deal with emissions in our food chain, and many such things. I got absolute grief. Indeed, I got a number of angry invitations in my in-tray to visit some farms and see what is really happening, and so on. I know it is a really difficult issue, and that we will have to do a lot of just transition-type work in getting it right, but it is an issue that we have to face. I am afraid that the Government are not doing that in a number of areas as far as emission reductions are concerned.

My conclusion, which I hope will be pretty widely shared across the Chamber, is that although we have done well so far in our emission reductions process, we need to unpack that to understand where we have done quite well and where we have done badly, so that we have better pointers for the future. As things stand, we appear to be nowhere near meeting the challenges ahead of us on climate change reduction. A lot more new policies and new thinking will be needed to get us anywhere near those targets. Regrettably, as the strategies come out they do not appear to rise to that challenge. I hope that this afternoon the Minister will be able to respond to the debate in that vein, because I hope that I have given a reasonably accurate picture of what the Climate Change Committee says and what hon. Members have said in this Chamber today.

I have not quite taken my 45 minutes, Sir Christopher—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mrs Murray; while I was talking, you snuck into the Chair.

Gas Prices and Energy Suppliers

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 23rd September 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I do not think that it is relevant, because there is no way that any storage in the world will mitigate the effect of a quadrupling of the gas price in four months, as we have seen. The answer is actually getting more diverse sources of supply and electricity through non-carbon sources—through nuclear, on which I am still very unclear as to the Opposition’s view, and through other sources of decarbonised energy.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Why do we not reduce VAT on fuel as a temporary measure? We did it for the hospitality industry, which was badly affected by covid-19. Why do we not abolish VAT for consumers on fuel now?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend is quite right: we did a whole range of interventions to alleviate the burden on consumers and on businesses. Those were fiscal interventions that the Chancellor pursued last year, and I am sure that he is looking at a range of things this year, but that is a matter for him to decide ahead of the Budget.

Covid-19 Vaccine: Take-up Rates in London

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Welcome to this version of Westminster Hall. May I thank all the people involved in facilitating this important development in our democracy? There have been some changes, which I will set out briefly. One is that we start five minutes earlier, so that we can finish this debate at five minutes to 11. I remind hon. Members participating, both physically and virtually, that they must arrive at the start of the debate and they are expected, under the instructions of the Deputy Speaker, to remain for the duration of the entire debate. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks’ email address. We ask that Members attending physically clean their spaces before using them and before leaving the room, so that those spaces can be used by others later. Without further ado, I call Andy Slaughter to move the motion.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered covid-19 vaccine take-up rates in London.

It is a great pleasure to be here in what I think is, from a Back-Bench point of view, the first of these virtual sessions in Westminster Hall, although it is also very good to be here physically, in the flesh, and to see the Minister and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), here in the flesh as well. On the screen I can see, I think, nine Labour colleagues and even one Conservative who will take part in this debate, so that is a very good start, and what better subject than this to start the process off with?

There is a reason, which the Minister will be familiar with, why this issue has aroused a lot of interest among my colleagues. I need to say first that the Minister has been making himself available on a regular basis—sometimes almost daily—to answer our questions, which are often the same questions. That is a rather barbed compliment, because it implies, perhaps, that he has not answered them the first time they were asked. One thing that I would like to do today is to try to pin him down on just a few very important issues. I do thank him for his candour, his availability and, of course, for being here today—as I have pointed out to him, he is the only Vaccines Minister, so it would be difficult for him to delegate this one.

The second thanks that I would like to express is to everybody who is making vaccination work in London, and indeed across the country. Obviously I especially appreciate the work done in my own area of Hammersmith and Fulham by NHS staff, council staff and volunteers. It has been an absolutely exemplary effort, and I can testify to that personally, because I had my first jab two weeks ago and I cannot imagine a smoother, more reassuring and more professional service than the one I experienced at the time. I am told by the many constituents with whom I have been in contact that that is the experience across the board, so I can express nothing other than praise for the way in which the system is being rolled out.

Indeed, the success of the programme nationally, whereby I think we are at 22 million first doses and about 1 million second doses, is, again, an achievement. Obviously—I do not wish to state this in any adverse way—we are going to talk about the problems today. We are going to take for granted the successes and talk about the problems, because that is our job.

About one third of the population has had a first dose, and a very small percentage—less than 2%—has had a second dose. That is a matter of political and scientific choice, which most people would agree with, although it is not how some other countries have dealt with it. Nevertheless, it shows the size of the achievement and also the task ahead. If we have done a third, which might include some young people who are not getting the vaccine in the near future, there are two thirds to go—even my maths tells me that—and then there is the second dose as well. There is still a mountain to climb, but what gives me confidence is the fact that the NHS’s data and operation are better placed than perhaps any health service could be to deal with the problem. However, let us not gloss over the fact that this is taking the individual effort of millions of people across the country.

I shall go through some problems, but on another positive note, I had a very uplifting conversation with my local director of covid-19 response and recovery last night. She told me that the expectation, which I hope the Minister will be able to confirm, is that, first, from next week there will be a substantial increase in the amount of vaccine available nationally and locally. I think we are going from some 2 million doses a week to 4 million. I do not know whether that is true, so perhaps the Minister will be able to confirm that.

Secondly, that will allow the centres that are dispensing the vaccine to expand. One problem so far has been a lack of vaccine at some of the GP-run primary care network centres, with major centres in many places not opening at all. I hope that the Minister, if his information is this granular, will be able to confirm that the Hammersmith mass vaccination centre based at the Novotel hotel in the centre of Hammersmith, which was due to open on 8 February, will open next week and that other centres will open this month in north-west London.

My third point, which relates to a local initiative, is on the issue of vaccine hesitancy. Next Monday we start a local programme to contact every person who we know has either declined or not been contacted and is in one of the priority groups. We will go through the process of contact, persuasion or whatever else is necessary to ensure that we catch up on what are not terribly good figures at the moment. I will come back to that at the end, because one thing we are looking for there is perhaps support from the Government in carrying out that programme, which is a really good programme. I have been told all about it, and I compliment the local council on setting that up and using the Hammersmith and Fulham community aid network—H&F CAN—which has been helping people shield and helping people in need over the past year.

We have been asking for data for many weeks. I can see the Minister’s dilemma, because if he gives us national data, we ask for regional; if he gives us regional, we ask for integrated care systems; if we get ICS, we ask for clinical commissioning group; if we get CCG, we ask for Medical Science Liaison Association; if he gives us medical support officer, we ask for postcode—so he might think it is a slippery slope. In a darker moment, he might have concluded that it is better to give us nothing at all. I will contradict that view by saying that it is better to say, “There is a story to tell here.” I do not think that anybody will take a view other than one that will help the process go ahead. It is important to have more granular data, at least down to ward level, so that we can see what is happening in our constituencies and we can take action to deal with it.

On the issue of supply, it appears that—I say “appears” because I spend a lot of time on this and it is difficult to do the sleuthing work—in the initial roll-out at the beginning of the year, London was being left behind, and then there was a correction and more vaccines came into London, and in the past few weeks we have had something of a dearth—a drought—of vaccines nationally. If one looks at the daily figures, one sees that by the end of last year they were at around 600,000 doses a day. For the past week or so they have been between 200,000 to 400,000 a day, which is a significant change. I hope that we will see the figures go up again.

In a way, there is a bit of “bald men arguing over a comb” here, because colleagues in other regions will say, “Hang on, you are not taking our vaccines to London, are you?” I do not know whether they are saying that in your part of the world, Sir Christopher, but I have heard it said. The reality is that we all need to vaccinate all our populations. The question is one of overall supply. It would have helped had we known the situation more clearly at an earlier stage.

There is also the push and pull factor. Some privileged institutions, such as the hospital hubs, are able to order from what supplies there are and obtain those. There may be some logic to that, in the sense that they are principally—not exclusively—vaccinating NHS staff, who clearly are a priority, but it does mean that the local GP-run PCN hubs are reliant simply on what is delivered to them; they have very little control over that. They may have very little notice of what is being delivered. It got to the state last week where, between Monday and Friday, not one of the five dispensing outlets in my constituency had any vaccine delivered. Unless there was some left over still within its shelf life, no vaccination was going on.

That was an extreme example, but if I look at those GP hubs, during the course of this year, the best of them—where I had my jab—has operated for about 25 days, so less than half the time. When I say “operated”, I mean at a significant level of, say, more than 400 vaccinations a day, and that was for only 25 days. But for the other two hubs in the borough, including the one at White City, which is the most deprived area in my constituency and the one where vaccination rates are giving us most concern, the number of days has been in single figures since the beginning of the year. In that area, significant vaccination has been going on for fewer than 10 days. That is of great concern.

That may be corrected by the sheer volume that is coming through. It is essential that we get enough vaccine for the PCNs, the major centres, and for the pharmacy and hospital centres if they are to continue to operate. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm what I think is the strategy now, which is that the major centres—in my case, say, 1,500 doses a day, which is very significant—will be dealing with the new cohorts, so the younger people coming into the system now and also possibly some second doses. That is what we think is going to happen.

There is a certain sense in that, because the process of going to a major centre involves getting a letter and making an appointment, and it may involve some travel. It is more suitable for people who are more mobile and may have a car or something of that nature to get them where they are going.

The PCNs are going to give some of the second doses, but I suspect they are going to scale down a little, because GPs obviously have other work to do—I am going to ask the Minister about this. The problem is that we are neglecting an important group of people in groups 1 to 4 who missed out on the vaccine and who now need to be the target for ensuring that we get our vaccination rates up. It is pretty clear that the PCNs are the best vehicle for delivering that.

I do not want to go on for too long as I know many colleagues want to get in, but the last and most important point for us at the moment is how we deal with the issue that is variously called vaccine resistance or vaccine hesitancy, but is simply a problem for the NHS, the Government and all of us working to resolve it. We need local solutions as well as national resources. There has been a lack of data in relation to these matters. The evidence for that is the reliance that so many colleagues have placed on Sky News’s analysis of the data on the NHS website. I am not sure that is where we should be going as our first port of call, although they did a good job, because for the first time, over a week ago, we were able to see figures by ward. Knowing the different characteristics of our wards, we were able to see how things were going within the constituency.

In my constituency—I feel the pattern is true across the rest of London—the more prosperous areas, the less ethnically diverse areas and the less deprived areas were already at 100% for the older cohort of the population. Poorer areas, such as those in Shepherd’s Bush, White City and West Kensington, were below 75%. That is a very significant difference. It is replicated across London, and north-west London is one of the most difficult areas. As of last Friday, it was the only integrated care system area in England that was below 80% for those over the age of 65. All the London ICSs are down at the bottom, but north-west London is slightly further down.

We talk about 80% and 75% as worrying and significant, but when one adds in deprivation, by looking at the most deprived 10% of the population, and ethnicity, because certain ethnic groups are being vaccinated at a much lower rate, often below 50%, then that should be ringing alarm bells in Whitehall. It is certainly ringing them locally. We have not cracked this nut. I seek a response from the Minister on that point.

We know what is needed: time, money and personnel to ensure that those contacts are made. The problem is that phone calls are made that are not answered once, twice or three times, or someone may express a reservation about the question, and either there is not time to deal with it, as that is not the way the system is set up, or the caller is not expert enough to deal with it. A lot of it is about trusted people—that is very important— and places, and places that are accessible.

All of those are important, but so is having people who can answer the questions that are asked. If they cannot answer questions such as, “How do you know that the vaccine will be safe in 5 years’ time?” or, “How will it protect someone with my medical condition?”, or dispel fears and rumours such as, “I have heard this about the vaccine from somebody I trust,” it is almost worse than not having made the approach at all, because they end up reinforcing the problem.

We think we have cracked that. I have been looking at the hesitancy programme that Hammersmith has set up, and I think it is good. I pay tribute to the staff doing it. It will be labour intensive and will cost money. The Minister knows my beef on that. When the £23 million of so-called community champions money was made available at the end of January, quite rightly, and handed out to some 60 local authority areas across the country, those that had the lowest take-up rates at that time essentially did not get any money—Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith, and Newham. Some did, but it seemed to be a bit of a lottery. I think seven London boroughs got sums ranging between £40,000 and £750,000. I do not think we need help in knowing what to do, but we do need some resource of that kind. I understand that there is a little resource coming in through the NHS: £100,000 per ICS. However, that really only goes down to £10,000 per CCG. Looking at areas we have the most data on, where there are particular problems, it would be useful to add to that resource now.

I think I have gone on long enough—you are probably not the man to ask, Sir Christopher—but I think I have had enough questions for the Minister to be able to remember and answer them all. This is special pleading for London, in a way, because London has suffered. We can conjecture the reasons for that. They are complicated. We have talked about deprivation, we have talked about ethnicity, but there are other factors in London we all know about. We know about them through canvassing and elections; we know about them through electoral registration; we will know about them this month through trying to fill in census forms.

London has a disproportionate number of people who are isolated, for all sorts of reasons. They may not have financial resources, or they may not have a mobile phone, or have credit on their mobile phone. They may live in a room in a multi-occupancy house which has no doorbell or other means of reaching them. They may have mental health problems. They may simply live alone and have become isolated from the community around them.

We are actually very good at contacting those people if we have the time and the money to do so; we do it through electoral registration, and we are also doing it with the census. However, we do need that prioritisation and I hope that the Minister will understand that, and will be able to respond in kind.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab) [V]
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on introducing this very welcome and extremely timely debate. He has set out the arguments very comprehensively and I shall endeavour not to repeat too many of the key points.

I will repeat, and I am sure that everyone speaking this morning will also repeat, our grateful thanks to NHS and public health staff who are working so hard to deliver this vaccine. It has been a national success story; there is no doubt of that whatever. It is an extraordinary logistical achievement, of which the NHS can be extremely proud. I had my vaccine on Saturday at St Charles’ Hospital and it was an extraordinary, professional operation; swift and effective. I think everyone should be very proud of what they have done.

Of course, that does not mean that that we should not be able to focus on some of the outstanding questions that arise regarding the delivery of the vaccine in London. As has been stated, London as a city, as a region, is not achieving the same figures as other parts of the country, which should be a cause for concern. My particular concern is my own borough, my own constituency area, Westminster North. It is apparently the second-worst performing borough in the country with just 69% coverage of 65-plus. City of London and Westminster South are also performing very poorly.

This does matter very greatly, for reasons we all understand. It matters in terms of individuals and in terms of the public health of the borough, but I would also suggest to the Minister that it is a particular concern because the central London economy is so critical to our national economic revival. Therefore, being confident that we have good coverage in central London seems, to me, to have a significance even over and above the pure public health considerations.

I want to focus on two particular themes, the first of which I am afraid is going back to the question of data. For the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith has outlined, inner London generally has a highly complex set of population characteristics. We need to understand the particularity of those circumstances to be effective in delivering to those populations. While it is useful, indeed, to have the national and regional—north-west London, in my instance—and some of the borough data, we need to be able to look at local data, understand it and know that it is accurate.

I have yet to see the information that is provided to the directors of public health. As of this point, the middle of March, nearly three months into the vaccination programme, it has not yet been shared with me. The fact that it has not been shared with me by my local authority reflects its concerns that the data is not accurate. The Minister will have heard, no doubt, from many other people, that there is a concern that building up from the basis of the local data to a larger picture and then expanding it out to a national picture will give different results, and people will start looking at variations in that data and asking questions about it. I understand that point and can see that it is indeed difficult to get those statistics all squared off. On the other hand, I am absolutely clear that unless we understand the difference between what is in happening in, for example, the Mozart estate area in the Queens Park ward, and in Belgravia and Knightsbridge, we will not get a proper understanding of where the priorities should be.

My local authority has told me that part of its anxiety is that there is a variance between the use of the Office for National Statistics data and the national immunisation management system data, which has led to a significant national population variant of, I believe, as high as 5 million. As my hon. Friend outlined, there is good reason to believe that the percentage variance will be greater in central London than anywhere else in the country. We have seen that in terms of the census and the population figures. I had a debate on the 2001 census because of my concerns about accurate recording of population. However, it is unclear to me, from discussions with people working in the local health service, what population denominators are being used locally. It is unclear who is using what data, and as a consequence it is unclear whether such local data as exists is even remotely accurate.

The question is: does that matter? I would say that it does, because if we are spending time trying to find people who are simply not present, to raise the vaccination rate, for good reasons, we are wasting time and effort on them, whereas at the same time—both phenomena are, I think, true simultaneously—there are wards, estates and communities in my constituency, as there will be in others, where we are failing to make contact with people who need to be contacted, because they are extremely hard-to-reach populations. My hon. Friend outlined some of the reasons for that. There is a high relative proportion of single people who will not necessarily have ties to communities, and links so that we can use the normal channels of communication. There is a high proportion of people with mental health problems, again, often living singly. There is the largest private rented sector in the country, with a high degree of population churn, which means that when talking to someone it is often unclear whether they are the same person who was living there six months before. Unless and until we can be sure of the granular data and understand the baseline population statistics on which it is based, we have a problem.

A secondary data problem concerns ethnicity and understanding some of the issues around both the take-up of the vaccine and vaccine reluctance, which are different components. The issue is that, in central London, we have the largest Arabic-speaking populations, a very diverse set of communities, but these are being recorded under “ethnic—other”, and therefore it is difficult for us to be able to focus in on those communities, which are important, in terms of delivery.

I have written to the Minister with some of these questions, but even since I wrote to him there has been new information from the local authority and from the clinical commissioning groups that raise questions for me about the data. We need to know whether the population that we are chasing is there, whether we are chasing hard-to-reach people or whether we need to focus in on people who have vaccine reluctance. I was told last week—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Order. I am sorry, but if the hon. Lady were participating physically, I would by now have been staring her down, because a lot more people wish to participate in the debate. I hope that she will bring her remarks to a swift close so that I can call the next speaker.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Buck
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Many apologies. I will conclude on that. I have concerns about the data and the investment in support for reaching hard-to-reach populations, and I hope the Minister will address those. My sincere apologies.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Christopher, albeit for the first time virtually. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing the debate, which is important for all Londoners. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck).

In the London Borough of Harrow, we have had an outstanding performance on vaccination rates. We received congratulations from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on that performance, and I put on the record my appreciation and thanks to the fantastic team—both from the NHS and the volunteers—who made this possible. To set it in context, more than 70,000 people in Harrow have had their first vaccination, out of an adult population of just under 200,000, which is a remarkable performance, at the Hive centre, which opened in December, and at Byron Hall and Tithe Farm, which opened in January. To get to this stage so quickly has been remarkably good.

That has to be set against the fact that Harrow is the most ethnically diverse borough in London. Others have a higher number of different sections of population, but we literally have someone from every country on the planet and various different communities, so it is a direct challenge to reach all those different communities and to encourage them to come forward to get their vaccinations. This fantastic effort also has to be set against the position that, at the beginning of the pandemic, Northwick Park Hospital came very close to being overwhelmed by the number of covid cases. Sadly, we have had a very high death rate, and at one stage Harrow had the highest covid transmission rate in London, so achieving this vaccination rate has been vital.

More than 35,000 people have had their first vaccination at the Hive since the middle of December, and the Prime Minister visited the site to see at first hand the excellent work that is being done. However, we are experiencing problems, and I will relay some of those for the Minister. There is reluctance among the Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, who are hard to reach. There have been real difficulties in getting them to come forward; there is a reluctance to have the vaccine. Among the white British, Irish and Indian population, there have been no such problems—they have come forward in their droves to receive their vaccinations, which is good news.

The supply problems are really serious. To give the Minister an example—I hope he will be able to answer this—the capacity at each of our vaccination centres is roughly 860 doses a day, yet this week, our centres will only receive 400 doses. That is less than half a day’s work, so the lack of supply is holding us back from achieving even faster vaccination rates.

The real problem that emanates from that is that we are having particular difficulties in contacting younger people who have underlying health conditions. They are among the most reluctant to come forward, because of the myths and legends about what the vaccine does to people’s bodies. I am pleased that we now have a myth-buster to combat this unfortunate propaganda, which is spreading very widely among different communities. An excellent video has also been put together by different community leaders, coming together irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed to say why it is important that people have the vaccination, to encourage people to do so, and to try to combat some of this insidious propaganda.

Also on the issue of vaccine supply, my centres complain that they get notified only a day in advance of the vaccine arriving, which of course means that it is very difficult to schedule people in to get their vaccinations. Can we have a better plan for supply of vaccine, which is vitally important? Equally, allowing flexibility to GPs undertaking vaccinations at GP surgeries would help considerably. It would reach those harder-to-reach groups, because people trust their GPs in the way that they do not necessarily trust going to a large vaccination centre.

I will end my remarks by saying that in Harrow, certainly, we have achieved remarkably well, but we can do better provided that we get the supply, that we have better notice, and that the facilities continue to arrive. At the end of April, two of our mass vaccination centres will close, and there will be the potential for complete chaos when we come to the second doses, because everyone will be invited to attend one centre in Harrow to get their second dose. I predict that is going to be quite chaotic, so I would ask that we look at potentially keeping those centres open for a further period to ensure that every adult gets their opportunity for at least the first dose by the end of July, as per the plan that the Minister has.

Thank you, Sir Christopher, and I look forward to listening to what other colleagues have to say.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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As there are still eight more speakers and we start the wind-ups at 10.33, I am afraid that I now have to impose a four-minute maximum time limit.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab) [V]
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We are now in the second year of coronavirus, and we have all experienced highs and lows throughout this period. At the beginning, we were told that this is a great leveller, given that Prince Charles and the Prime Minister had it. Rather than the “we are all in it together” narrative, it is maybe more fair to say that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Nowhere have we seen that differential impact more clearly than in the vaccine roll-out in London.

We all remember the pictures of the memorably named William Shakespeare having his jab early in December, but it took a good 10 days for the vaccine to reach the magnificent gothic splendour of Ealing town hall, and sadly the supply in London has lagged behind other parts of the country. It has been a magnificent effort. We have all seen the brilliant statistic that a third of the population have been done, but again, there is room for improvement here. We remember the highs and lows—the 50,000 fatalities figure came just before the miracle of the vaccine at Christmas that has given everyone hope—but that maxim of differential impact is one we have to look at.

There are two things that will take us to the other side of this: vaccine uptake among the population and the hesitancy that people talk about, and supply. London has nudging 10 million people—some 12% of the population. My own borough has 360,000 people. Initially, we had the town hall, then we had a second venue in Southall— in the west of the borough. Both those were closed last week. The latter did a record 1,200, I think, before shutting its doors until further notice. There has been a magnificent effort from volunteers and NHS staff, and everyone was poised. I have heard nothing but praise about the efficiency of the operation, but then they were all stood down.

There are old divides between the inner city and the leafy suburbs, but my seat has both: Ealing is known as “queen of the suburbs”, but there are wards of deprivation in Acton, where there has been no vaccination centre; it is a bit of a vaccination black spot. I hope the Minister will help me to address that issue. Acton is big enough to have a tube or rail station with every compass point on several different lines—Central, District, and Piccadilly—but there is no vaccination centre. Given the characteristics of its population, the Acton-shaped hole makes the issue even more urgent.

As a whole, London—our nation’s capital—sometimes seems to have experienced this over-promising, and this moonshot rhetoric. Not that long ago, we were promised 24-hour vaccinations in the capital. That was being said in January. The experience of our centres last week was far from that.

We are waiting for the second dose and hopefully there will be a big surge, but it concerns me that there seems to be a bit of anti-London rhetoric from the Government at times. That stretches to the fact that we have a towns fund with new bungs bringing in prosperity and opportunity—but not in London, which has been completely excluded in favour of red wall locations. I would caution the Government not to let that apply to vaccination supply. London is not immune from deprivation, poor housing and overcrowding: I have those in my wards in Acton. Localised need should drive allocation, not centralised supply.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but you have gone beyond your time limit. I do not know whether it is because you cannot see the clock. My job is to try to ensure that everybody is able to speak. I call Feryal Clark.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Huq
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Apologies; I did not see a clock.

--- Later in debate ---
Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to join this very important debate, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing it.

The speed of the roll-out of the vaccination programme is a great source of hope for all of us. Those of us who have lost loved ones are particularly grateful to the NHS, to the scientists and to so many people who have come together to produce this vaccine, because we all know how important it is to protect our constituents, and our friends and family.

Locally, I pay tribute to my local authority, which has set up a helpline that is proactively contacting people who have not been vaccinated, and addressing and answering their questions. Government resources will make a big difference to other local authorities to help support that effort, and we need that back-up from Ministers.

I also thank the Royal London Hospital, Queen Mary University, GPs’ surgeries, the London Muslim Centre and other partners who have been helping with the vaccination effort in my constituency. Many people will be aware that in the first wave Tower Hamlets had the fourth-highest age-standardised death rate in the country. Although we are a young population, relatively speaking, there are huge health inequalities and huge issues with deprivation, severe overcrowding, intergenerational households and many other factors that, as other colleagues have said, make inner London extremely vulnerable to this pandemic.

In the second wave, we saw that the spread of the virus caused more deaths, which is why it is vital that we get to those who have not yet been vaccinated and those who have underlying health conditions by increasing the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that we get to those who did not take up the vaccine when they were offered it, for a number of complicated reasons, as other colleagues have mentioned. In some cases, it is about reticence, but it is also about practicalities and about deprivation. It is not just ethnic minority communities who are affected, although we have seen big differentials; it is also those from white disadvantaged backgrounds and from working-class backgrounds who have been disproportionately affected, both in terms of death rates and in lower take-up of vaccines.

What we need to do now is make sure that the vaccines are in the right places. The centralised hubs are, of course, useful and important, but it is also vital that we get vaccines to local GP surgeries. As I have said to the Minister time and again, it is vital that we get more vaccines to pharmacies and that pop-up clinics get up and running. The ones that we have are very good and very helpful, but the unpredictability of supply, the inability to plan and the lack of local flexibility are all leading to sub-optimal outcomes, when we could have better outcomes.

So today I call on the Minister, once again, to get the vaccines to the local providers and to provide local authorities with additional support, so that they can do the chasing, as is the case in my local authority. What we have seen is that when GPs are responsible for getting vulnerable patients, including homebound patients, vaccinated in my borough, 95% of those patients have been vaccinated. So this is not rocket science; we can address the gaps.

I am grateful to the Minister for the work that he has done so far and I appreciate that in him we have a listening ear. I hope that he listens to the arguments that have been made—not just by Members in my party, but by Members in his own: we have to get the supplies in. Going forward, as other colleagues have pointed out, we also need to address some of the deeper underlying conditions and to make sure that people’s vulnerabilities are addressed.

There is one final issue. Ramadan is coming, so we are in a race against time to vaccinate vulnerable constituents from the Muslim community in our city, because if we do not vaccinate them there will be even greater risks. So I hope the Minister will address that point, as well as the importance of getting more supplies into London—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Order. I call Fleur Anderson.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this very important debate, to enable us, as London MPs, to speak about the situation now, which can be rectified. I add my thanks to all the scientists, NHS managers and fixers, vaccinators and volunteers who have made the roll-out of the vaccine programme so far so swift and such a success.

To defeat this pandemic in the UK, we have to defeat it in London—there is no getting away from that—but the vaccination rate is lower here, as colleagues have said. In my area of south-west London, the CCG has provided the first dose to 389,000 people, which is 26% of the population, but some local authorities around England have a rate of over 50%. Areas such as Rother, West Devon and North Norfolk have much higher vaccination rates, so it is not just an issue of supply, although supply is an issue in my area. We have two vaccination centres and they are not open today. We do hope to see that surge.

In January, a promise was made to open a vaccination centre in Queen Mary’s hospital in Roehampton. It will not surprise the Minister that I am going to talk about Roehampton today, as I have raised the subject many times. The vaccination centre there has been built but not opened. There is no vaccination centre in Roehampton, but there have been spikes of covid infection there. It is an area of high deprivation; as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said, this is a tale of two cities.

There are not good transport links from Roehampton. The primary care network is keen to support vaccination but there is no vaccination centre. The rates at the moment are because a huge amount of transport has been organised, relying on voluntary organisations, to make minibus trips to Putney. That cannot go on for the long term; we need a long-term solution for Roehampton, which is an area of highest need.

The Minister knows Roehampton well because he was a Putney councillor for many years. I know that last week he met Dr Hasan from the Alton Practice, who is a shining example of someone passionate about the health inequalities in Roehampton and the need to address them. She is very concerned about vaccine hesitancy in young people. As the vaccine roll-out goes on, the vaccine hesitancy we see will only increase.

In Roehampton there are higher levels of black and ethnic minority populations, isolation and overcrowding. All those mean that having a trusted vaccination centre nearby that can be attended around shifts—for a care worker, for example—is so important. Otherwise, we risk baking in those existing health inequalities for the long term, which will go alongside all the other inequalities felt by the population in Roehampton. They are throwing up their arms and saying, “We don’t get other things, so we are not getting a vaccination centre.” That is not acceptable.

We are not arguing for more in London; we are arguing for our fair share. We are not arguing for more in particular areas; we are just arguing for every area to have its fair share. We must anticipate, see the problems that are already developing and nip them in the bud right now and address them. I hope I will hear from the Minister that we will have a vaccination centre in Roehampton and that those areas being left behind will be identified and addressed.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I begin by making it clear that I am not here to raise criticism for criticism’s sake? I am here because I understand how imperative it is that the vaccine programme is successful. Although I welcome the scale of the programme and the number of vaccinations delivered, I am extremely concerned about the vaccination take-up in my constituency, and the inconceivable decision to open the two new vaccination centres miles away from the NHS declared low take-up wards of concern.

Let me briefly explain the geography. The borough of Merton is split in two: Mitcham and Morden, and Wimbledon. Merton’s inequalities in health are stark, with an eight-year difference in life expectancy between parts of Mitcham and parts of Wimbledon. The Minister will be aware of Tudor Hart’s inverse care law—that the areas in the greatest health are then statistically more likely to receive better health services.

Look no further than Merton. When the state-of-the-art Nelson health centre was opened in one of the wealthiest, richest wards of Wimbledon, Mitcham received the “Wilson portacabin”. When lateral flow testing was introduced at community pharmacies, they were opened everywhere but Mitcham. When a decision was made to relocate acute hospital services—guess what? The proposals moved them miles further away from the most deprived areas, with the statistically worst health. While many of these decisions are baked into decades of inequality, the location of a vaccination centre is a decision for here and now.

Here is the state of play: there are two centres in Merton; one in Wimbledon and one in Mitcham. However, take-up of the vaccine across the borough has varied significantly and, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Merton has 25 middle and lower layer super output areas. Of the 12 with the highest vaccination take-up rates, 11 are in Wimbledon. In all 12 Wimbledon areas, over 93% of over-70s have received their first dose. Compare that with Mitcham and Morden, where seven of the 13 areas are still below 90%, and Mitcham West, where the vaccination take-up was just 81%. That means that one in five residents have been offered, but not accepted, the vaccine.

I recognise the breadth of factors as to why this could be, and that accessibility of the vaccination centre is only one. However, it is a significant one, particularly given that, of the two new large-scale vaccination centres that are set to open in Merton, both are in Wimbledon—two centres, miles away from the wards with the lowest take-up areas, which also have statistically lower levels of car ownership. Are we not supposed to be breaking down barriers, rather than throwing up even more?

I am not calling for Wimbledon to lose their services, but the Minister must surely see the absurdity of this decision.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I will have to limit the last two speakers to three minutes each. If they have not seen it, there should be a countdown clock at the top of their screens to help them keep to the time limit.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this important debate.

I put on record my thanks to everyone who is working to deliver the vaccination roll-out in Dulwich and West Norwood, from the scientists who have worked to deliver safe and effective vaccines at such a rapid speed, the nurses, doctors and public health teams who have organised the delivery to the volunteers who have made vaccination centres such welcoming, joyful places.

The vaccination programme is our great hope at the end of this difficult year of coronavirus, but it is as true locally as it is globally that none of us is safe until all of us are safe. Coronavirus has already shown itself to be a disease of inequality, thriving on pre-existing ill health, low paid occupations and overcrowded housing, and affecting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities much more severely.

Previous studies of flu vaccination uptakes have identified ethnicity and deprivation as factors correlating negatively with take-up. It was entirely predictable that the inequalities of covid-19 could be further exacerbated by vaccine hesitancy within communities and occupations that were already at a high risk of serious illness and death. That is what we now see. Last week, more than a quarter of over-80s in Lambeth and Southwark had still not received their first jab, and while 80% of white residents over 65 have now been vaccinated, the rate among African and Caribbean residents was below 45%.

The reasons for hesitancy are complex, but they are not mysterious: well-documented examples of appalling, unethical medical experimentation have led to understandable fear and mistrust in some communities; mild side effects of a jab, which might require a day off work, are a deterrent if there is no guaranteed sick pay; the structural racism that some communities have encountered has eroded their trust in institutions, including the NHS, and peer-to-peer communication of anti-vax misinformation on WhatsApp and Facebook is very potent. All those factors and more may lead people to be hesitant to come forward to take the vaccine.

Addressing people’s deep-seated fears and concerns requires time and resources. I pay tribute to some of the very effective work being done at a local level in Lambeth and Southwark to address vaccine hesitancy, including the leadership being shown by black and Asian councillors. Those efforts are driving up vaccination rates week by week, but our councils urgently need more resources to deliver that work. When the Government recently invited a select list of councils to bid for additional funding to address vaccine hesitancy, Lambeth and Southwark were not on the list. This is, frankly, inexplicable.

The vaccination programme is rightly being celebrated across the country, but it will not have been a complete success as long as disparities remain in the vaccination rate between different communities according to race, income or occupation. If that is allowed to persist, covid-19 will become a disease of inequality to an even greater extent, with some communities enjoying protection, while those in others still fall ill and die. That is not a reality that we can possibly accept, so I urge the Government to take this issue much more seriously and fund our councils properly to combat vaccine hesitancy.

--- Later in debate ---
Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Sir Christopher, for your stewardship of our proceedings this morning. I am grateful to colleagues from north, south, east and west London for speaking on behalf of their unique constituencies but also identifying some common problems; to the shadow Minister, who has shown, as always, the support and solidarity that London MPs can expect from northern colleagues; and to the Minister himself. The Minister will be able to judge whether he has satisfied us on every point raised today by how many people turn up to his Friday briefing this week.

If there is one takeaway for the Minister from this debate, it is the need, in the laudable rush to hit overall targets, not to forget those left behind. That could be people of certain ethnicities. I draw his attention to the Royal College of Nursing’s work on this issue, which shows that even among nursing staff there is a disparity between different ethnicities. There are also those who fall through the net. I have a 68-year-old constituent who, because of her good health for 20 years, lost her NHS number and now is told that she has to wait eight weeks before she can get the vaccine. There are people who simply fall through the net, and it is partly our job to ensure that that does not happen.

On the hesitancy issue, I ask the Minister to look at the work that we are doing in Hammersmith and in north-west London. It is really good stuff. It is good practice that perhaps can be reflected elsewhere. He might even, after having seen it, want to go away and fund it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered covid-19 vaccine take-up rates in London.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

The sitting will be suspended until 11 o’clock. May I ask those who have participated in this excellent debate to leave as quickly as possible?

Covid-19: Employment Rights

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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17 Nov 2020, 9:54 a.m.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) on securing this important debate.

We live in extraordinary times under coronavirus. It has had a huge impact on all of us, and on our businesses and communities. Although we are talking about employment rights, I recognise that it has had a huge impact on businesses, and I have been working with them, doing what I can to support them through this time. However, some have been less than scrupulous.

Too many working people have seen the very real impact that the pandemic and the measures taken to combat the spread of the virus have had on their work, in many different ways. Like so many other hon. Members, my caseload has increased hugely as workers and their family members contact me to seek advice and guidance on the Government’s measures, their employment situation and the effect on their family income.

The furlough scheme has helped, and I was glad to see the most recent announcements. However, for those on the lowest wages, the national minimum wage—who will get 80% of what we already consider to be the barest minimum that they should be paid and can live on—losing 20% of their income is no mean challenge. There is no reduction in their bills, housing costs and other expenses, so this is a real problem for them. Sometimes we underestimate the way in which so many people are living on the edge. They need all the money that they have to survive and do not have easy access to credit or to help from other sources.

I also want to mention those who do not even qualify for furlough or other payments—those who have fallen through the many cracks in the system, some of which we have already heard about. They may have changed jobs recently, may not have made it on to the HMRC records in time, or they may be self-employed. Speaking to these people in my constituency, I know of the devastation that they have felt—the excluded and the forgotten—as their income disappears and they discover the harsh reality of the universal credit system, although many do not even qualify for that.

Looking specifically at the issue of employment rights and the impact that the pandemic has had on working people, I will highlight some specific issues that I have come across in my constituency, as hon. Members will have in their own.

First, I want to talk about the fire and rehire situation, which many Members have already mentioned, and about joining Unite members at Newcastle business park to protest against British Airways’ plans to reduce staff and to dramatically reduce terms and conditions of employment. Those people felt the fear of redundancy, the fear of less well paid jobs—the fear for their future.

This is not a new issue. As a trade union officer in a previous life, I have certainly come across this before, but we have seen it done in a way which cynically uses Government support and then treats staff so very badly. I support those many BA staff who work in the call centre in Newcastle, just across the river from my constituency, and at Newcastle airport and as cabin crew. I was amazed at how many BA employees contacted me. They appreciate the support, and their employer’s approach makes them feel very hard done by.

BA is not the only employer that has treated its staff badly in this way. There is also the present issue with Centrica, or British Gas, where, hopefully, negotiations are now taking place. There must be better way than saying to staff, “If you don’t like it, leave—take it or leave it”. It is a crude form of industrial strategy—I was going to say industrial relations, but I do not think “relations” is a good word for that—and we need to ensure that we end its use, as it has a devastating impact on people facing that situation.

On redundancies, in my constituency there is heavy reliance on the retail sector, which has been massively hit. Early in the pandemic I met workers employed by Debenhams at the Metrocentre, who had lost their jobs. More than 200 people had lost their jobs, and I believe that Debenhams was in administration so there was not the normal consultation. The shop was shut, and that was it. Many of the people who lost their jobs were women. Other redundancies have gone on in the background as well. Sometimes I hear about them and sometimes I do not, but there has been a real impact.

I want to talk a bit about pregnant workers. A number of women have contacted me because they are concerned about their position—their safety and welfare, and that of their unborn child. The Government have issued guidance, which has been supplemented by the TUC and the trade unions—which is welcome—to safeguard individuals. Not surprisingly, my constituents do not want to be named in the debate. They want to keep a low profile, but they want to see that they are protected. Guidance says that at 28 weeks teachers, for example, should be found alternative work rather than being in the classroom, or otherwise should be home on full pay. It sounds great, but on the ground, for that person in a school where there are other pressures, it is much more difficult to see that that is enforced.

Then there are problems with parents whose children are isolated because they have been sent home from school. That means that in many cases one parent must take the decision to take unpaid leave, if they are unlucky. Many of those people are on minimum wage. I am thinking of a constituent who is on minimum wage and cannot really afford that drop in income, but is not entitled to any isolation payments or anything of that kind. Someone in that position must stop work. Some may be entitled to statutory sick pay, but the existing measures just do not cut it for those people. They do not have enough support for their income. It is a real problem, and there is also the concern, “What happens if my child has to be off again in a few weeks?” There are difficult issues for people, and we need to make sure we can help them through what may be repeated bouts of isolation, to meet their bills and, indeed, hold down their jobs.

Last weekend I made the mistake of looking at my emails on a Saturday, as I suppose many people do. I had a flurry of emails on exactly those employment rights issues. Some were about furlough and how the constituent would be affected, where employers might have a Government grant. One was from some care workers who had come into contact with covid-19 and had to isolate. They are minimum-wage workers. They are not entitled to the isolation payments—they have checked that out—and they fear that it may happen again. We need to find a way for those people to be looked after, not just for their sakes but for all our sakes, because it will help to stop the spread of covid-19 if people can safely take time off without feeling that they will go under.

I want to talk about health and safety. Many workers are in difficult situations at work, because of things they are asked to do. [Interruption.] Yes, I shall be winding up now. I will mention specifically the retail sector campaign by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, Respect for Shopworkers Week. Shop workers have had to carry on working and have borne the brunt. In responses to USDAW’s survey, 70% said abuse was worse than normal, 85% had faced verbal abuse, and 57% had been threatened by customers, with 9% even being assaulted. That is an impossible situation for people who are trying to keep things going for the rest of us. I hope that the Government will take steps to address all those issues.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Before I call the next speaker, can I say that we will have the winding-up speeches at half-past 10? If each speaker takes four minutes, there will not be time for the last one.

Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind)
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17 Nov 2020, 12:06 a.m.

Thank you, Sir Christopher, for that warning. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) on securing this important debate.

The unprecedented economic impact of the coronavirus has laid bare the weaknesses of UK labour protections. During the crisis, workers’ rights and public health must be prioritised above all else. Yet the Government have allowed corporate giants, including those in receipt of taxpayer bailout funds, to use the pandemic as a cover for further exploiting their workforce.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Leicester. The severe exploitation in sections of our garment industry in Leicester have been laid bare and highlighted by a huge increase in casework received by me, a resurgence of reports, and the coronavirus. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs reported that, over a six-year period, one quarter of all UK textile factories caught failing to pay the minimum wage were based in Leicester. With some textile factories offering less than £3.50 an hour, workers are forced to endure horrific and unsafe conditions. That is particularly shocking, but Leicester’s garment industry is indicative of the abrupt decline in workers’ rights and living standards since the neoliberal deindustrialisation revolution of the 1980s. The result has been the biggest squeeze on wages since the early 1800s, with pay for the average worker still lower in real terms than a decade ago. In the fifth richest economy in the world, 14 million people are living in poverty, 9 million of whom live in households with at least one person in work. Our workers need a radically fairer offer, which means raising the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour, and investing in our communities and infrastructure to aid the necessary transition to a green economy.

Trade unions are the best line of defence against workplace exploitation. I pay tribute to all trade unions, including my own, Unite, and others, including PCS, GMB and Unison, to name but a few. Yet the collective ability of workers to organise has been systematically eroded by decades of anti-trade union legislation. The latest Global Rights Index from the International Trade Union Confederation placed the UK among the worst violators of trade union rights in Europe. Forty years ago, eight in 10 workers enjoyed terms and conditions negotiated by a trade union. Today, fewer than one in four workers have that benefit. The Trade Union Act 2016 must be repealed. Trade union autonomy and sectorial collective bargaining must be restored, and the right to take industrial action, in accordance with international law, must be re-established.

One of the most nefarious downward trends in labour protections has been employers’ exploitation of the legal status of workers. We must, therefore, crack down on toxic casualisation. Research by the Trade Union Congress found that 3.7 million people—one in nine UK workers—are in insecure work, including those on zero-hours or short-term contracts, agency workers and temporary casuals, as well as those in low-paid, often bogus, self-employment. Every job should be a good job, one that provides security, dignity and a fair wage. Zero-hours contracts must be eradicated, and hours should be regulated so that each worker gets guaranteed pay for a working week. Rights are meaningless if they are not properly enforced.

The Government must urgently reverse the funding cuts to regulatory bodies, including the Health and Safety Executive and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to ensure that workers are safe and fairly paid. The Government and sections of big business argue that the mistreatment of workers is inevitable and that rights, fair play and dignity in the workplace are unacceptable costs to the bottom line, yet this free-market race to the bottom has normalised poverty, hopelessness and exploitation in our communities.

I will end by saying that the coronavirus has demonstrated the need for us to build a society built around the principles of solidarity, and in which all of us, regardless of our job, can live in dignity.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Because I am keen that everybody on the list should be called, I will now impose a three-minute limit. I am afraid that the self-discipline I had hoped for has not materialised so far.

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

17 Nov 2020, midnight

Thank you, Sir Christopher. As Liberal Democrat spokesperson for equalities, I want to limit my remarks to disability employment and covid.

This debate is very timely. Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That landmark piece of legislation established for the first time the civil rights of disabled people in the UK, including in employment. We have made some progress since then. The disability employment gap has decreased steadily over the years, falling from 33% in 2013 to 28% in 2020 but that, of course, is not good enough, and the pandemic puts us at risk of going backwards on that trend.

New research shows that disabled people are now facing profound harms to their financial security and job prospects: 71% of disabled people who were working in March have been furloughed or had their work hours reduced. There are clear signs that this pandemic has had had a disproportionate impact on the lives of disabled people. Many of them are clinically more vulnerable to the virus itself. Recent research from the charity Leonard Cheshire suggests that covid-19 has also exacerbated employers’ negative attitude towards disabled people. That is a worrying trend. Just 33% of employers recorded that they employed a disabled person on their staff in 2020, compared with 49% in 2018; 42% of employers reported that they were discouraged from hiring disabled people because they were concerned about needing to support them, especially during the pandemic. One fifth of employers admitted that they were less likely to employ someone with a disability.

Without Government action, there is a real risk that the pandemic will throw away the UK’s progress towards equality in the workplace. A national strategy for disabled people is needed, and I hope that that will be a top priority. It is vital that such a strategy provides a clear plan for addressing the inequalities that have widened as a result of the pandemic, not least in employment.

There are opportunities for the Government to promote inclusive workplace practices. Mandatory reporting on the gender pay gap has been a game changer. It brought much-needed transparency to the inequalities faced by women in the workplace. The same principle can apply to improving equality for those with disabilities. I know that HMRC is already doing that voluntarily.

I ask the Government to consider introducing mandatory reporting for large companies on the number of disabled people they employ, as well as their disability pay gap. Covid-19 has demonstrated that flexible working and working from home are doable. Many offices are already thinking about whether to ask employees to return to the office full-time after the pandemic is over. That is a positive step and it could set a precedent that makes work culture more inclusive for those with disabilities. Flexible working is the future for many offices and workplaces. Embracing it as the culture would create real opportunities for those with a disability and would make our country the inclusive nation we want it to be.

Company Transparency (Carbon in Supply Chains) Bill

(2nd reading)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This takes me back to my days of being a Whip on the Treasury Bench. It is a great honour to speak to this Bill, which I introduced back in March. It was the very last thing that I was able to speak on before we went into a new normal, which we are still continuing to get used to, with covid. At the time of the debate, I recall the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth saying to me that we need to have more debates about such matters—Westminster Hall debates, Adjournment debates and so on. I had genuinely hoped that before I got to the point of speaking on Second Reading, we might have had more opportunities to speak about the Bill, but sadly events precluded that. I believe that the Bill is a simple measure that would provide transparency to the public about what companies are doing to tackle carbon in supply chains. It very much mirrors a measure that I introduced as the Minister responsible for tackling modern slavery and organised crime in the Modern Slavery Bill—now the Modern Slavery Act 2015—supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who was then Home Secretary, to make sure that companies took seriously the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery in supply chains.

We did that, because it is far too easy for people to hide behind the regulatory requirements to report on the measures that they are taking within their own businesses. Supply chains are different. What goes on in a long, complex supply chain can amount to abuse and include things that keep the costs low for the business in the UK and, ultimately, UK consumers but would not be tolerated if they were happening in the UK. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act was incredibly important, and my right hon. Friend will know that we went to considerable effort as Ministers to secure Government sign-off.

The Government are not keen on new regulation. I am not in any way naive about that, but this is a unique type of regulation, because it does not say to business, “This is what you must do. This is how you must behave.” Instead, it says, “Tell us what you have done.” If the business has not done anything, it should say so. If, as a business, it does not want to find out whether there is human trafficking and modern slavery in its supply chain, it should tell us, by putting up a statement on its website, signed off at board level, saying that it has not taken any action. Consumers will be able to read that. People who might want to work in the business will be able to read it too, and can make an informed decision about whether they want to be involved or associated with it, or whether they want to be employed by it. If a business has not taken any steps whatsoever or any action, why would anyone want to have anything to do with that business?

This is about giving power to the consumer and the employee. It is about giving power to people who would not normally have that power to make a decision about whether they want to transact with that company. As I have said, the measure is important; it has to be signed off at board level. We all know from dealing with business that if decisions are made below board level, often the board does not know about them. The board needs to know about this, and it needs to take the right steps.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House the effect of the measure on dealing with people trafficking and modern slavery registration? Has it resulted in less of that illegal activity or has it not made any difference at all?

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think it has begun to make a difference, but the measure was only introduced in 2015. It applies only to large companies with a turnover of over £36 million, and we have only just begun to see it being used. I know from friends I used to work with when I was employed as a chartered accountant that they are taking this matter seriously. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and I were on a panel only yesterday—this Sunday is Anti-slavery Day—discussing exactly that point and the measures that businesses are taking to identify slavery in their supply chains. It is making a difference. More can be done, and I am pleased that the Home Office has taken more steps in that direction, but it is making a difference.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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The default procedures of the House, as the right hon. Member knows, are designed such that these measures are not debated on the Floor of the House. Of course, any Committee stages upstairs could have been attended. If any of these measures do not quite fit with his understanding as to what is acceptable, he is able to shout “Object”. I will take that objection, and he will have the opportunity to have his name recorded in a deferred Division tomorrow.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the inconsistency between quite a few of these remaining orders. Because of the delay in introducing these orders, some of them amend orders that are earlier on the Order Paper. We know that members of the public find it increasingly difficult to comprehend the changing scene of regulation on criminality and restriction of liberty. Surely if a regulation is amended by a subsequent statutory instrument, there should not be a need for the original statutory instrument to be approved by the House. For example, there are two separate statutory instruments relating to the north of England, one dated 25 August and one dated 2 September, and they are inconsistent with each other. Can you explain the reason for this confusion? Would it not be much better if—as I thought the Government had already promised—every regulation brought forward was debated at the earliest opportunity, before the Government had a chance to change their mind?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir Christopher, you have made your point very well, and my advice is the same as I gave to Sir Desmond: if there are any of these orders that you are opposed to, please feel free to shout “Object”, and I will take the objection and there will be a deferred Division tomorrow. I have absolutely no doubt whatever that in this very fast moving situation that we find ourselves in—we had a statement today—there will be other statements made in this House over the coming days, weeks and months that will give opportunities for Members to question Ministers, Secretaries of State and, indeed, the Prime Minister, as they had the opportunity to do today. I have no hesitation about that happening whatever. I will put the motions on public health now, and then, as I say, I will take any deferred Divisions and objections.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you help Back Benchers, please? A number of Back Benchers who wanted to come into the Chamber for this part of tonight’s business were prevented from coming in, and we now have a scenario in which almost the only people in the Chamber are members of the Government and Whips. As I understand it, their plan is to try to distort the votes that may take place on some of the remaining orders, which were originally going to be the subject of deferred Divisions. It seems that, as the business has finished early, the Government are intent on preventing our having a physical Division on some of the remaining orders.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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15 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Perhaps I have a better view of the Chamber than he has because I have the advantage of being in the Chair, but it would appear to me that there are several spaces in which Members could sit on the Government Benches and a great many in which Members could sit on the Opposition Benches. I point out to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that if there were too many members of the Government party on the Government Benches, I would not stop Government Members sitting on the Opposition Benches, given the unusual circumstances under which we are now operating.

I have to say that I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. No one can be prevented from coming into this Chamber and—I will say this quite loudly—if there is anyone who feels prevented from coming into the Chamber right now, they should come and see me. People can come into the Chamber right now.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that there can be anything further to that point of order, but out of courtesy and given the hon. Gentleman’s seniority in the House, I will take his point of order.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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15 Sep 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

First, there was an attempt physically to stop me coming into the Chamber. When I said that I wished to come into the Chamber to shout “Object”, I was allowed in.

You just said, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there are spaces in the Chamber, and so there are, but that was not my point. My point is that while Back Benchers were discouraged or have been kept out of the Chamber, I can count the Government Whips—there are one, two, three on this Bench and four, five, six, seven, eight—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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There are about a dozen Government Whips here—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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15 Sep 2020, 12:06 a.m.

Order. How many people with particular duties in the House there are sitting in the Chamber is not a point of order. Any Member can sit in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman’s presence in the Chamber is itself evidence of the impracticality and impossibility of any Member—be they a Whip, a Minister or anything else—trying to prevent any Member, but especially a Member with the hon. Gentleman’s seniority, from entering the Chamber. I have just said it and will say it again: if there is any Member out there who feels prevented from coming into the Chamber and wishes to come in, let him or her come in now and I will protect them.

Let us proceed.

Regulatory Impact Assessments (Legislative Scrutiny)

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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2 Sep 2020, 12:06 a.m.

I shall start with some quotes from my constituents about the Government:

“The most inept and incompetent administration in my lifetime.”

“Incoherent and indecisive.” “Authoritarian and arrogant.” “Inconsistent and incomprehensible.” “Socialist in all but name.” As these criticisms become increasingly difficult to rebut, it is indeed essential that the Prime Minister gets a grip. The constructive purpose of this debate is to remind the Government that one key tool to enable them to get a grip is to use regulatory impact assessments as part of the policy-making process.

A regulatory impact assessment is a well-established, internationally acclaimed toolkit for good policy making. It facilitates transparency and public accountability, promotes democratic discussion by enabling potential possible policy options to be evaluated and compared. It prevents the inconsistency that arises from knee-jerk reactions and policies being developed on the hoof.

It helps to ensure that sudden changes are the exception and are made in response to changes in hard evidence rather than in response to the chorus of a single-issue pressure group—and I think it is probably fair to say that the covid alarmists are the most successful pressure group in British history. If, for the past six months, the Government had been using this toolkit, it would not have been possible for commentators to observe, as one did on Sunday:

“Britain has become a paradise for those who like to answer questions with ‘rules is rules’; even when they’re clearly made up on the spot or nonsensical.”

Allowing beard and eyebrow trimming for men but not eyebrow treatments for women was but one ridiculous example.

Most fair-minded observers supported the Government’s initial response to the covid-19 pandemic. The Government had no option but to make their priority ensuring that our hospitals were able to treat all those seriously ill as a result of covid-19. Our NHS was not as well-prepared as it would have been if the recommendations of Exercise Cygnus had been implemented. Cygnus was a brilliant initiative to war-game a serious epidemic of respiratory illness in order to identify where investment was needed to fill the gaps and thereby ensure an effective response. Tragically, Public Health England did not learn the lessons identified and failed to put the recommended preparatory work in place. We, the public, have been denied access to the full results. It remains a mystery to me as to why the Government are so defensive about the whole matter—and have indeed been dodging parliamentary questions that I have put down on the subject.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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2 Sep 2020, 6:01 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman often brings things to the House that are very important, and this is certainly one of them. Does he agree that impact assessments, if produced reliably, can form a critical element of the better regulation agenda? Regulatory impact assessments need to be the right foundation and the right basis to ensure that legislative scrutiny is not just a checklist but is instead an effective mechanism. I think that that is what he was referring to.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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2 Sep 2020, 6:02 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman has given a brilliant summary of my Adjournment thesis. He is saying that this should not be a tick-box exercise but that clear evidence should be presented that can then lead to proper debate and facilitate scrutiny, and that is what this is all about. I hope the Government are still wedded to that, because their better regulation unit has had consultations and is, I think, still taking the line that we need to have proper regulatory impact assessments. The purpose of this debate is to try to get some more assurance from the Government that they are going to apply these principles not just to covid-19 but to other regulatory measures that are, at the moment, being brought in with far too insufficient scrutiny.

Tomorrow it will be six months since the Department of Health and Social Care policy paper on coronavirus was published. This action plan, as it became, on which the Coronavirus Act 2020 was based, envisaged four phases: contain, delay, research and mitigate. The delay phase was to

“slow the spread in this country, if it does take hold, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season”.

Because of the emergency timetable, the legislation had the sketchiest of regulatory impact assessments, without any cost-benefit analysis. But who would have thought that none of the regulations being made under that primary legislation would be properly evaluated before implementation? I certainly hoped that that would happen, but it has not.

The basic steps in the RIA process should involve consultation and an assessment of the nature and extent of the problems to be addressed. There should be a clear statement of the policy objectives and goals of the regulatory proposal, which should include the enforcement regime and strategy for ensuring compliance. Alternative courses of action should be identified, including any non-regulatory approaches considered as potential solutions to the identified problem. There should also be a clear outline of the benefits and costs expected from the proposal and identified alternatives. The conclusion should not only identify the preferred solution but explain how it is superior to the other alternatives considered. Finally, there should be a monitoring and evaluation framework set out describing how performance will be measured.

Although the processes I have set out could not be embarked on in the immediate emergency of introducing lockdown, they should surely form an inherent part of the process of easing lockdown, and ensuring consistent and timely relaxations of the regulations. It is the failure to do this that has resulted in sudden and contradictory changes to the regulations.

This has also led to unacceptable mission creep, which increasingly embodies a gradual shift in objectives. Hon. and right hon. Members will remember that the original objective was to enable the NHS to provide the best care to all the victims of covid-19 who needed it. That clear mission has now widened into a mission to suppress the spread of covid-19 as an end in itself, regardless of the cost. The irony is that, in allowing the original objective to be blurred, the important subsidiary objective of preventing the virus peaking again in the winter is being put in jeopardy.

The easing of lockdown has, sadly, become a veritable shambles. While the number of deaths from covid-19 has mercifully plummeted from its April peak, there has not been a corresponding relaxation of the emergency regulations. I shall refer later to the OECD principles of best practice for regulatory policy, but one of the key principles is:

“Proposed solutions should be appropriate to the risk posed, and costs identified and minimised.”

In the statement he made yesterday to the House, the Secretary of State for Health said that there are now

“60 patients in mechanical ventilator beds with coronavirus”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 23.]

This compares with 3,300 at the peak of the epidemic, and he then said that the latest quoted number for reported deaths is two in one day. Today, The Sun newspaper has calculated from these figures that the odds of catching covid-19 in England are about 44 in 1 million per day. Economist Tim Harford, who presents what I think is one, if not the only, good programme on the BBC—the statistics programme, “More or Less”—has said:

“Covid-19 currently presents a background risk of a one in a million chance of death or lasting harm, every day.”

While age, gender, geography, behaviour and other aspects affect the risk, it is now far lower than the risk of death or serious injury in a motor accident. On average, five people continue to be killed each day on our roads, yet I have not yet heard from the Government any proposals to ban people from driving because of the risks associated with so doing.

One sure way of ensuring consistency would be to impose the discipline of a regulatory impact assessment on each and every continuing restriction, so that the justification for loss of personal liberty could be evaluated against the alleged benefits. It is not too late for this to start, and I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate, will provide an assurance that the forthcoming six-month review of the legislation will include a full regulatory impact assessment and an evaluation of the performance of the emergency regulations introduced.

The public would then be able to see the evidence about whether the decisions taken were correct. For example, was closing schools and setting back the education of the covid regeneration a proportionate and necessary measure? Was the postponement of 107,000 weddings across the United Kingdom justified? Could any of the 4,452 weddings which should have taken place last Saturday have been permitted? Why can people sit safely side by side with strangers on an aircraft, but not at a wedding breakfast or in a church, a theatre or a concert hall—or even in this Chamber?

Why was the World Health Organisation advice, which was originally that there should be 1 metre social distancing, not applied from the outset? We introduced a 2-metre or 6-foot rule, but that has now been modified with the 1 metre-plus rule, but at the same time the additional safeguards required for the 1 metre-plus situation are being applied to the 2-metre situation, which is creating all sorts of problems, conflicts and uncertainties for our constituents.

Is it protecting the NHS to create a situation where, as was revealed in The Times on 27 August, 15.3 million people are now on the hidden waiting list for treatment? Is it reasonable that we should try to prevent two deaths a day and keep 15.3 million people on waiting lists for treatment, with all the dire consequences that flow from that? Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not know whether you were listening to the Secretary of State for Health when he made his statement yesterday, but in my view his responses on the issue of NHS waiting lists were the weakest and least convincing parts of what he had to say.

Is the continuing economic cost of lockdown now disproportionate to the benefits? Well, let us have an exercise and see. Let us see the data presented, so that we can have a proper debate about it. I raised the importance of regulatory impact assessments in public policy making with the Leader of the House at business questions on 2 July. It was his response on that occasion which caused me to apply for this Adjournment debate, which I am delighted that we are having this evening. I said that we would be able to achieve much more consistency in Government advice with regulatory impact assessments. The Leader of the House, however, argued that

“if we spend too long doing all this, by the time we have done it we have moved on to the next stage of the lockdown.”

He accused me of “calling for bureaucratic folderol”, which would inhibit moving

“at a pace to ensure that things happen in a timely manner”.—[Official Report, 2 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 534.]

Would that they were. But I must correct the Leader of the House, because, far from being the worthless trifles described in the expression “folderol”, regulatory impact assessments are fundamental to ensuring that we make the right decisions as legislators.

It is incredible that, instead of lockdown continuing to be relaxed, new restrictions on freedom, such as mandatory face coverings, have been introduced. The consequence is that I detect a growing atmosphere of gloom and foreboding as we see winter approaching: no vaccine availability for many months; the economy in a worse state than most of our competitors; and the prospect of the resurgence of the pandemic coinciding with the flu season. I do not like the expression “waves” because it makes it seem as though we are talking about something equivalent to the Atlantic rollers so much enjoyed by our former Prime Minister and colleague, David Cameron. We are not talking about waves. We are talking about the potential resurgence of the pandemic—not everywhere, but in particular hotspots.

This scenario demands a rational evaluation of conflicting risks to the economy and public health, together with a cost-benefit analysis, and now is the time for the Government to reinstate the intellectual rigour of the regulatory impact assessment process. Sooner or later, the incredible economic cost of the Government’s failure to remove lockdown restrictions in a timely and effective manner will become apparent. If that coincides with the Government asking their natural supporters to pay the price for their failure through higher taxes, the political consequences will indeed be dire. It is for that reason that I commend to the Government what the OECD says about regulatory impact analysis. It describes it as an

“important element of an evidence-based approach to policy-making…that…can underpin the capacity of governments to ensure that regulations are efficient and effective in a changing and complex world.”

I will not read from the whole OECD regulatory impact assessment report on best practice principles for regulatory policy, but it extends to about 40 or 50 pages and is extremely well researched and documented. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—these principles are supported by the Government; the trouble is that they do not seem to be being implemented by the Government and by Government Departments. I hope that in his response the Minister will tell us what he is doing to try and put that right.

The Government should revert to following their own “better regulation framework” established under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, which requires that

“A RIA should be prepared for all significant regulatory provisions as a standard of good policy making and where an appropriate RIA is expected by parliament and other stakeholders.”

The interim guidance issued in March this year sets out a general threshold for independent scrutiny of regulatory impact assessments and post-implementation reviews, where the annual net direct cost to business is greater than £5 million. It calls on Government Departments to undertake proportionate cost-benefit analysis to inform decision making.

The trouble is that this is not being done, and I will give just one topical example, to which I referred in my brief comments in the previous debate. Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, there was specific primary legislation saying that residential tenancies should be protected from eviction until 20 September this year. On Friday last week—27 August—regulations were made extending that period from 20 September for another six months. The regulations came into force on 28 August, which was last Saturday, the very same day that they were laid before Parliament. Regulation 1(2) says:

“These Regulations come into force on the day after the day on which they are laid”.

Those regulations have caused a storm of protest from residential landlords in my constituency; they are apoplectic about the fact that they are not going to be able to recover possession of their premises. Notwithstanding the contractual agreements they have entered into with their tenants, they are not going to be able to recover their premises until 31 March 2021.

It says in the explanatory notes to the regulations that they amend schedule 29 of the 2020 Act. This is primary legislation being amended by subordinate legislation subject only to the negative resolution procedure, and so one might have expected that there would be a regulatory impact assessment or something which would indicate to us, on behalf of our constituents, that the Government have thought this whole process through, but that is not there, and instead there is a little note which says:

“A full impact assessment has not been produced for this instrument due to the temporary nature of the provision.”

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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I thank my good friend for allowing me to intervene. In my constituency I have a huge backlash from residential landlords about this extension. I find it almost impossible to believe that the Department has not done an assessment of this, and I make the assumption—perhaps my hon. Friend or the Minister will correct me—that an assessment was done. I cannot believe that civil servants and decent Ministers would have made such a decision without actually looking at it, as this is a really bad thing for people who are trying to provide accommodation, because they see no good in this whatsoever; in fact it is extremely bad.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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2 Sep 2020, midnight

I agree with my hon. Friend. One would have expected that an assessment was carried out—we will hear from the Minister in a minute whether there was—but what was so extraordinary is that it was only a week or two before the U-turn of last week that we were being assured by Ministers that there was no proposal to extend the application time for these regulations. I imagine that when Ministers were briefing that, they had not done any work suggesting that they wanted to extend the regulations, and then, at the last minute—perhaps as a result of the pressure group behaviours to which I referred—the Government just changed their mind. They had imposed this regulation at enormous cost, but we do not know what cost, because there is no estimate of that.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart
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2 Sep 2020, 12:01 a.m.

It makes us look like clowns.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I hope that that is on the record—it makes us look like clowns. That is why I hope that we can persuade the Government to reform their ways. It is also extraordinary that the excuse should be put forward that this is a temporary arrangement and that is why there is no need for a regulatory impact assessment. That is not set out anywhere in any of the books on this, and it is a novel interpretation of what should be happening.

Switching away from the regulations directly related to coronavirus, I have received support for raising this issue from the Internet Association, which is the only trade association that exclusively represents leading global internet companies on matters of public policy. The organisation responded to the Government’s invitation when they went out to consultation in June inquiring about the reforming regulation initiative. It said, “Regulation in the digital sector has a wide range of potential impacts which extend beyond traditional economic impact analysis. As a matter of course, the Internet Association recommends that Government Departments and regulators undertake a wider impact assessment of their proposals covering not only the economic impact, but also issues such as technological feasibility and impacts on freedom of expression and privacy.” It goes on to say that “there have been a number of recent policy and regulatory initiatives in the digital sector where it has not been clear whether an impact assessment has been conducted and/or the impact assessment has not been published for external scrutiny.” It gives an example of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport/Home Office online harms White Paper. The Internet Association believes that wider regulatory impact assessments, as specified, should be required for major digital policy and regulatory initiatives. Therefore, this extends into that field also, as it does to all legislative and Government policy making—or it should do—and I hope that we will be able to get ourselves back on track.

The interim guidance to which I refer, which was published in March this year, referred to the Government considering how best the better regulation framework can be delivered

“more effectively over the course of this Parliament”.

Now is the time, surely, to take some action. As their first step, the Government should promise that the six-monthly review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 will be accompanied by a full post-implementation review and that a full cost-benefit analysis of those emergency regulations that it recommends should be kept in place. I hope that the Minister will announce that he is going to do that tonight and thereby help to restore public confidence in the Government’s decision making and the ability of Parliament to scrutinise it, because that is fundamental. I am grateful for the opportunity to put this point to the House.

Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for bringing this important issue to the House. Parliamentary debate and the exchange of views reflect the importance of parliamentary scrutiny.

When a policy decision is made, it is informed by an assessment of the potential impacts of a range of different policy options. The evidence and analysis informing these decisions will inform consultation and engagement with stakeholders, and for legislative proposals, it is usually presented to Parliament in a regulatory impact assessment alongside the legislation. In the UK, regulatory impact assessments present the outcomes of evidence-based processes and procedures that assess the economic, social and environmental effects of public policy on businesses and wider society. Their use has contributed to better policy making and reduced the cost to business, which is so important.

Our commitment to conducting such impact assessments remains strong. The analysis that goes into impact assessments ensures that Government consider the need for and likely impact of new regulations to support legislative change. They ensure that we consider how regulation will affect the operation of markets and best enable businesses to innovate, and, in line with the subject of this debate, they inform parliamentary decision making.

Where Government intervention requires a legislative or policy change to be made, Departments are expected to analyse and assess the impact of the change on the different groups affected. That is generally published in the form of a regulatory impact assessment. However, attempts to conduct regulatory impact assessments for public policy making, particularly in the current climate of the coronavirus pandemic, could be problematic. That is because responding to emergencies requires legislation to be introduced at a much greater pace than during normal times.

The Coronavirus Bill, introduced in March this year, provided powers needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The powers enabled the Government to introduce temporary emergency legislation to respond to the pandemic. To allow the Government to deliver at the required pace, formal regulatory impact assessments are not required for better regulation purposes for the temporary measures put in place in response to the pandemic. Further flexibility in the approach to impact assessments is appropriate where permanent measures need to be enforced urgently.

My hon. Friend mentioned some specific examples where we have assessed the impact in a different way. He is right to talk about the importance of regulatory impact assessments. Some of the guidelines that he mentioned fall within my area. The specific residential landlord and tenant issue that he mentioned falls to my colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but in terms of the commercial Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 changes, we found from listening and speaking to businesses over a period that some companies that were struggling to pay their rent were being wound up by some landlords, so we acted.

This is on the basis of detailed, long-standing conversation and engagement with businesses on both sides of the debate. In my short time as a Minister, I have had around 500 meetings with, I estimate, 3,000 to 4,000 businesses, so I think I have a reasonable handle on retail, hospitality, weddings and the beauticians who do eyebrows and beard trimming that my hon. Friend mentioned. It is a source of great regret that we are unable to allow wedding celebrations of more than 30 people to occur at the moment. I have seen at first hand and heard from people in the wedding sector, which is an enormous contributor to the UK economy, how badly they are suffering as a result.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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2 Sep 2020, 12:05 a.m.

As I say, weddings have been a big source of concern for me and others and, understandably, that argument has been put to me. The huge difference between weddings and, say, restaurants—an example that has often been cited—is that the wedding parties tend to know each other, whereas in a restaurant people have little interest in speaking to those at the table next door. Clearly, if someone’s grandmother or extended family are sitting at the next table, as the wedding and the evening develops, social distance suddenly starts to fall by the wayside.

I totally get the fact that wedding organisers know everybody who is there, so they can register and have test and trace working effectively, but it is a concern to the scientists. We are trying to balance the economy from the economic point of view, the human behaviour point of view and the science point of view, which is a difficult mix to deal with. Because we are working at pace, the regulatory impact assessments, which are the source of this debate, are not always easy to compile. For the reasons that the Leader of the House gave—I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about the way that was worded—when compiling a formal regulatory impact assessment while working at pace, it is not always possible to go through that procedure.

We are reminding Departments of the importance of ensuring that appropriate resources are invested in gathering and analysing evidence about the regulatory impacts of the affected policies, and to publish it, where appropriate, throughout the period, if not at that particular time.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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2 Sep 2020, 12:05 a.m.

May I present a challenge to the Minister? Will he publish for our benefit a regulatory impact assessment on the issue of not allowing larger weddings? That would bring into the open all the issues with which he is familiar but which have not yet been exposed to public debate and scrutiny. Is that not what it is all about? This has now been going on for six months, and people want to know where the future lies for the small organisations involved in weddings. Will he offer to do that for us, notwithstanding the fact that his Department is very busy? That would be really helpful.

While I have the Floor, let me also say that I am concerned that the Minister seemed to distance himself from what is happening to individual landlords. Although they may not be incorporated, they are small businesses.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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To answer my hon. Friend’s last point, I am not distancing myself; I literally was not involved in that decision. I do not want to offer a line of thought on something that I was not involved in, but I understand his point.

On weddings and the public debate, my hon. Friend has clearly not been following my Twitter feed—totally understandably—which is full of such debates about the wedding sector. We are trying to work with the sector to make sure it can open. My primary concern is about ensuring we get our economy open again with a warm but safe welcome to people. The Government’s first priority has always been to save and protect lives, but restoring livelihoods, protecting jobs and protecting businesses are right up there, for the reasons that my hon. Friend set out. If we do not get this kick-started now, the effect on the economy will be huge, so it is important that we work together to give people not just confidence but joy, so that when they come out to use services in their local high streets and city centres they enjoy the experience and come back time and time again.

A one-off hit to our economy is not good enough. We know it is not going to go back to how it was in February, and there are some permanent behaviour changes that seem to be kicking in. None the less, we need to work with the new normal, which means working with the virus, because we will be living with it. My hon. Friend talked about a second wave, or spike or whatever he wants to call it. If we learn to live with it, there may be a third and a fourth until we get a vaccine, but live with it we must. There will be a new reality of the permanent behaviour change.

Well-designed and effective regulation, which my hon. Friend wants to see in our legislation, and which we are championing, enables markets and business to flourish, grow and innovate. It can provide certainty for investors and protection for individuals and society. The use of impact assessments in informing regulatory design can help us to achieve those outcomes. Excessive or poorly designed regulation can impede innovation and create unnecessary barriers to trade, investment and economic efficiency. We have sought to limit that by ensuring that regulation changes in response to the pandemic are targeted and time-limited.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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2 Sep 2020, midnight

There has been a long debate about the use of face masks, both on transport and in retail. There are arguments either side—whether it gives a false sense of security or whether people touch their face when they put on or take off their mask. None the less, we have a better understanding of the transmission of the virus and the aerosol nature of its transmission. That is why the World Health Organisation has changed its advice from the beginning, when it said people do not need to have masks or face coverings, to, “Yes, you do.” Actually, we can learn from history. In the 19th century, cholera was assumed to be transmitted by air, but by greater understanding and by working through it—they did not need a regulatory impact assessment to figure it out— eventually people found that it was the water supply that was causing cholera, so they were able better to tackle that particular issue at that given time.

The Regulatory Policy Committee undertakes the verification role that provides independent oversight of the quality of the regulatory impact assessments, as well as providing the Government with external independent scrutiny of evidence and analysis supporting regulatory impact assessments of the proposals. The RPC also has a role in scrutinising the quality of post-implementation evaluations of legislation to help the Government develop the evidence base on how regulation has worked in practice.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Is this body to which the Minister is referring going to look at the issue of face masks, or face coverings? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) he has said that there are arguments on both sides of this. In those circumstances, why are the Government taking one side and criminalising behaviour instead of trusting people to reach their own decisions on the information provided by the Government?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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2 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I am sure the necessary people will have heard my hon. Friend’s call for that to be examined, but on the use of face masks, it is the same as self-isolation as a result of the test and trace system: the number of people who are having to self-isolate at any one time means that millions of us can go about our relatively normal lives by going to retail, hospitality or our places of work, which we were not able to do for so many months.

Those changes are evolving. I, like my hon. Friend, do not take any infringement of our civil liberties lightly, but this is a situation—I am not going to use the word “unprecedented” even though I just have; it has been used an unprecedented number of times—that we have never had to face before. No Government have ever had to face such a situation, so we are learning as we go along. We will not always get it right, but we have to make sure we are using the best engagement, listening to both sides of the argument, and working through as the science evolves and as we see what is in front of us in terms of human behaviour.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch talked about the OECD, whose latest report acknowledged that better regulation is an area of strength in the UK. It notes that the UK has been a leader in regulatory policy in general, with the early adoption of the better regulation agenda. Our ambitious agenda is reflected in the results of the OECD’s monitoring of regulatory management tools, as displayed in the “OECD Regulatory Policy Outlook 2018”, with the UK displaying the highest composite indicator score for stakeholder engagement for primary laws. Our score for secondary legislation is also significantly above the OECD average. We also had the highest composite indicator score for regulatory impact assessments across the OECD. That includes strong formal regulatory impact assessment requirements in areas such as establishing a process to identify how the achievement of the regulation’s goals will be evaluated; assessing a broad range of environmental and social impacts; and undertaking risk assessments as part of regulatory proposals. So we should be justifiably proud of our world-leading reputation in this area.

These assessments are valuable documents, and the Government should be applauded for encouraging their production and the transparent scrutiny of them, but, as with some individual impact assessments themselves, there is always room for improvement. As with the principles underpinning better regulation, we are always looking for ways to learn and improve our approach.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Obviously, we are fortunate in having a bit of extra time this evening, which is great. Will the OECD be asked to opine on the effectiveness of the Government’s regulatory response to the coronavirus epidemic? For example, will the OECD be able to comment on the distinction, which my hon. Friend has made, between rules on face coverings, for which there are lots of exemptions, and rules about isolation and quarantine, for which there are no exemptions. I am afraid that there is an anomaly there.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid I do not have the OECD on speed dial, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to ask it to look into all these things. I am glad that we have extra time, because there is nothing I like more than to discuss regulatory impact assessments—I am afraid that Hansard does not detect sarcasm. Although I make light, it is good that we have parliamentary scrutiny of an important topic to cover.

As I say, there is a further cultural shift in Whitehall to make on such impact assessments across the board. We do have a responsibility to monitor the extent to which the laws we have passed are implemented as intended and have the expected impact. My hon. Friend is justified in raising this important issue, so that we can consider, learn and move forward together. The planning for monitoring and evaluating regulatory changes could be more effective. There is a risk that laws are passed that result in unexpected consequences or inappropriately stifle innovation. I have seen that at first hand as we have been changing and tweaking various support measures for businesses; we have had to change them so that they are supporting businesses as intended, rather than with an unintended consequence. Better planning for monitoring and evaluating will help to ensure that there is sufficient information to assess the actual state of a law’s implementation and its effects.

In conclusion, regulatory impact assessments, in themselves, have evolved into an important and valuable component of the UK’s better regulation system. The transparent publication of impact assessments has added accountability to the analytical dimensions to policy development, which has increased the amount of evidence presented alongside policy proposals, and the existence of the independent scrutiny has increased both the transparency of the process and the accountability of government. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue.

Question put and agreed to.