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Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 17th March 2020.

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Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 12:38 pm, 17th March 2020

Now is a time in which we should be seen to work together and, indeed, work together. I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. Now is the time for us to eschew party political point scoring.

We on these Benches support the changes, and we support the statement. I should also like to record our appreciation of and solidarity with the hard-working FCO staff worldwide, who are doing a very tough job in very tough times. They themselves have families and, indeed, some of them have respiratory conditions. We give them our support.

We support the statement as far as it goes, but I urge the Foreign Secretary—perhaps this is a discussion that he needs to have with the Chancellor, and I am conscious that there is a statement later about that—to go further. His statement did not deal with the point about insurance at all. For Scots and Brits abroad who are stuck and want to get back, and are looking to find a way to do so, the biggest practical help that we can offer right now is to speak to insurance companies, because their insurance is uppermost in their mind. Colleagues will be aware of the statement this morning from Sir Charles Bean of the Office for Budget Responsibility:

“You need the state to be there as the insurer of last resort against what is effectively an act of God. The state surely has a role. Big early action is surely better than half-hearted action that is late.”

We could not agree more. The Chancellor is making a statement later, but insurance is the biggest priority for our nationals who are overseas and want to get back. I urge the Secretary of State to have a full discussion with the Chancellor on that point. The state needs to step in to get our people home.