26 7. The Secretary of State must make provision, by statement of changes to the immigration rules, to allow for leave to remain for individuals whose previous leave expires during the period in which this Act is in force, or whose leave expired in the 14 days prior to the date on which this Act is passed.
This new schedule contains temporary changes to immigration and asylum laws and procedures for the purposes of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination.
I rise merely to refer to the issue of the timing and the length of the Bill. As Members will know, the Minister said in the previous debate that the Government were tabling a new clause that would allow the Bill to be on the statute book for two years but with an opportunity after six months to vote on whether the temporary measures in it should remain. I urge the Minister to look carefully at that new clause, because I think it is defective. New clause 19 states clearly:
“‘relevant temporary provision’” means any provision of this Act—
(a) which is not listed in section (2) (provisions not subject to expiry)”
I cannot find that section anywhere, so I do not think that the new clause works in law. I may be completely wrong—I may have missed something—and if so, I hope the Minister can enlighten me. I do not think there is any conspiracy here; it may just be that something has been missed.
Like Mr Davis, my anxiety from the start has been that two years is a long time to have such draconian measures on the statute book and that to have them on the statute book without a moment when the House, rather than Ministers, can decide to switch individual measures on or off is quite problematic. The Government have already used the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to table statutory instruments to close pubs, restaurants, casino, spas, gyms and so on. That secondary legislation still has to go through the House under the 1984 Act, and the Commons and the Lords have to vote in favour of it within 28 days of it being tabled.
Likewise, if the Government had gone down the route of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, they would have needed to come back to Parliament every 30 days for each of the individual powers that they presented under that Act, and if the House chose not to allow those powers to remain, the Government would not be able to continue using them. In addition, the 2004 Act makes it clear that if Parliament is adjourned for more than four days, or even if it is prorogued, the Speaker and the monarch have to summon Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman may be coming to this, but there is one other element: putting this in primary legislation rather than secondary takes it out of the purview of the courts., so here we have one of the heaviest-duty Acts we have seen post war prevented from undergoing judicial review in the interests of citizens.
I agree, and I do not understand why the Government have gone in this direction. I have been told in several private meetings that it is because they believe that the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 can only be used when they do not know that something is coming down the line, but I think the definition of an “emergency” in section 19 of the 2004 Act would allow for every single thing that we are considering.
I tabled an amendment, and I must apologise to Mark Pritchard, because it is entirely my fault that, by accident, his name ended up on my amendment. I am terribly sorry. If the Government Whips want to beat anybody up, they should beat me up. There is a serious point here, which is that if the Government are going to take draconian powers and give themselves the power to switch them on and off, that should come back to Parliament more frequently even than is allowed for in the Government’s amendment.
The hon. Gentleman may well be right about the Civil Contingencies Act, because the drafter of that legislation has confirmed that that is his understanding—at least, I believe that to be the case. I agree that two years is too long. I would have preferred the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr Davis to be adopted. I do not think there is any sense in the Committee that we want to vote on this. We want to put the Government on notice that the length of time is a matter of concern and we must have a chance to review the legislation; the Government appear to be moving towards agreeing to six-monthly reviews. Although I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the matters that he has sought to enshrine in his amendment, I think that that would encapsulate the will of the Committee.
I have absolutely no intention of dividing the House. The nation does not need dividing and I do not think the Committee needs dividing on these matters either. I am grateful to the Government, who have tried to be in as listening a mood as they possibly can. My anxiety, however, is that the Government’s amendment, as tabled, is defective and simply does not work. My anxiety is that in six months’ time the Government will present us with a take it or leave it argument—you’ve either got the whole Act and all the provisions carrying on for another six months or you’ve got to leave it—and retain those powers for another 18 months.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been very gracious in his apology and I thank him very much indeed for that. He says he does not want a Division tonight, which is welcome, and he says that the Government’s amendment is, in his view, defective. However, in principle, does he accept the Government conceding a six-month break?
Personally, I would prefer the time period to be shorter. I would prefer Government Ministers not to be switching powers on and off, because that will lead to them being more queried by the nation at large. I prefer something more like a three-month period when they have these powers, with regular review by the House, but I am not going to die in a ditch. There are no ditches here. I laud the Government for the movement that they have made, but they may still need to move some way further. It may be that they need to amend their own amendment when it goes to the House of Lords.
I rise to speak specifically to amendment 6, in my name and those of others, and to the Government amendment.
The Secretary of State himself said that the Bill has an astonishing range of powers: from forced quarantine to cancelling elections; and from allowing single doctors to section people to reducing parliamentary oversight of intelligence gathering. That is just a taster, but there is much, much more. The Opposition Health spokesman described it as having a draconian impact on many basic freedoms. As Chris Bryant has just said, many, if not all, of those powers are actually to be found in two pre-existing Acts. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984—the year 1984 is ironic—was designed for exactly the position we are in now: dealing with pandemics and epidemics. It was amended later, I think in 2008, to make it even more specific. The 1984 Act contains the vast majority of measures the Government need. As the hon. Gentleman said, it has been used already for the closure of pubs, restaurants and so on through secondary legislation.
The other Act is the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Government could have used that. The Government have argued, most recently last week at business questions, that this is the wrong sort of emergency—sort of like the wrong kind of snow—to fall under the remit of the Civil Contingencies Act. I have to tell the Government that they are plain wrong. I was here for the debates on the Civil Contingencies Act. I remember the arguments about what it would and would not apply to, and this is specifically the case. It is not just me. I am not a lawyer, but a number of public lawyers of my acquaintance think the Government are wrong. Most importantly—my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell alluded to this—we can call on an even greater authority. After business questions last week, I made a point of order to ask Mr Speaker if we could get the opinion of his counsel, Mr Daniel Greenberg. I will read the relevant paragraph to the House—it is only a couple of lines. He said:
“The 2004 Act (which I wrote), including the powers to make emergency provision under Part 2, is clearly capable of being applied to take measures in relation to coronavirus.”
The man who wrote the Act, the most authoritative source in this House, Mr Speaker’s Counsel, who is completely impartial, says that the Government are wrong, they could have used the Civil Contingencies Act.
Further to my right hon. Friend’s point, when the pandemic influenza Bill was drafted—I spoke about it on Second Reading—it was agreed that if specific circumstances at the time meant the freestanding Bill, on which the Coronavirus Bill is based, was not able to be brought forward to the House, clauses could very easily be converted into regulations under part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act. I remember those discussions very clearly from being in office at the time. My right hon. Friend has a point.
I am glad to get my hon. Friend’s support. He has always been assiduous in these matters and he is right on that point. A reasonable person might say, “Well, the logical argument surely is that if all the powers are identical to ones that exist already, what am I complaining about?” That is a reasonable question. The reason is that the Bill loses many of the checks and balances in the preceding emergency legislation.
I was not quite here for the 1984 legislation, but I was for the later ones, and those of us who put these things through the House fought hard and long to get the proper restrictions on Government power and the proper requirements to bring the legislation back to the House so that the House could approve it. The requirements are all in there, including it having to be cleared in seven days, us having to be recalled in five days if we are in recess and it having to be done through secondary legislation, which makes it capable of judicial review. I know that the Government do not like judicial review, but nowhere is it more important than when the Government exercise powers at the expense of citizens and the courts have to step in.
As Chris Bryant said, the six-monthly review that the Government have conceded is an important concession, but only if the House can amend or strike out. Anything else puts the House in the position of having to vote for a Bill that might be horrific in one part because the other three parts are essential—not likeable, not pleasant, not beneficial, but essential—for fighting this real threat.
Do not get me wrong: coronavirus is a real threat. I have made these arguments over the years when the House has considered similar legislation relating to terrorism. We are facing 10 to 100 times the death rate in one year than the death rate from terrorism in 10 years. Of course there is a real threat, but we will be put in a position of saying either we take the whole Bill—three-quarters vital and one quarter horrible—or we strike down something that is vital for protecting the public. That is the position that this House has been in over the 30 years—I am looking straight at the Leader of the Opposition now, because he and I were in the same Lobby time and again—when counter-terrorism regulations were put through on a rubber stamp precisely to protect the public. That is why Labour Members—if they will forgive me for giving them advice—should be pressing for an amendable approval at six months.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I confirm that I said in the Second Reading wind-up—I confirm it again—that with the six-monthly votes at six, 12 and 18 months, which are already in the Government amendment, it would be helpful if the Government confirmed that those votable motions are also amendable. If they are amendable, it covers the point being made by the right hon. Gentleman that part of the legislation could then be switched off, but not all of it.
I am now glad that I teased the hon. Gentleman, because it got something very useful on the record. If I may pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend Mr Baker, it is why I tabled amendment 6, which recognises that the Government need these new powers and that parliamentary counsel have created a 320-page Bill in what sounds like a matter of days—in truth, they did it in an astonishingly short amount of time. They have done it at a time, however, when scientific evidence is, to put it mildly, fragile and likely to change. It has changed already in the past two weeks and is likely to change again as different tests, different vaccines and so on become available. Scientific evidence will change. Economic analysis of future outcomes is unbelievably uncertain and the societal effects are completely unknown. The Bill is guaranteed to have flaws, even with the best draftsmen in the world.
Amendment 6 therefore proposes that instead of the sunset being two years, which anyway is too long, it would be one year. We invite the Government to write a new Bill in nine months. If they think the Bill is perfect in nine months, put it back again and we will put it through again, but this time, with three months for the House to consider it. Remember, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 took a whole year to go through both Houses, so with three months we would have proper democratic approval of the process.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. There will, of course, be many things that we learn, not just things we need to take out of the Bill but critical measures that we need to put in, so flexible legislation will be essential as we go through the emergency and learn things.
I agree. I think the Government have done a pretty good job so far in the face of unbelievably difficult judgments and decisions. The Americans talk about drinking from a fire hose, which is how every Minister in this Government must feel because of the information and problems arriving on their desk every day.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that there will be changes in the science and in the economics. We will also know, frankly, what worked and what did not work in the previous nine months. If we then allow Parliament three months to scrutinise it, we will get good, solid law that is well supported on both sides of the House. We will have the sort of debate we have had today, which has been one of the better debates I have heard in years because both sides are committed to the same cause.
Finally, I recommend that colleagues read the report on this Bill published at lunchtime today by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of the House of Lords. That expert Committee considers our legislation and makes recommendations to the other House, and it is led by Lord Blencathra—those who have been here a long time may remember him as David Maclean, a tough, no-nonsense Security Minister at the Home Office. The Committee’s analysis is very clear and very straightforward, and it is not a libertarian fantasy. This is the conclusion, the last five lines of a five-page report:
“We anticipate that the House may well wish to press the Minister for an explanation about why the expiry date was not set at one year, thereby enabling the Government to exercise the powers needed in the immediate future while allowing a further bill to be introduced and subject to parliamentary scrutiny in slower time.”
I rise to speak, ostensibly, to amendments 2 to 4 and new clause 4, in my name and in the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends.
This is certainly no criticism of the Public Bill Office, which has worked extraordinarily well under huge pressure, nor of Ministers or, indeed, of officials working under tremendous pressure, but in the past hour and a half, as the Opposition spokesperson, I have been presented with 60 pages covering 61 Government amendments, and there are also 27 Opposition amendments. It is clear that I will not be able to cover every single item in my remarks, but I will try to refer—[Interruption.] Not this early in the evening, but who knows? I will try to cover the amendments thematically, referring to them when it would be helpful to the House.
Amendments 2 to 4 relate to the Bill’s emergency powers, which I will deal with first because Mr Davis mentioned them and I want to make our position absolutely clear. New clause 4 would place a duty on the Government to support the basic means of living—food, water, clothing, income and housing—by employing all available statutory and prerogative powers.
Those two themes may be separate on the amendment paper, but they go hand in hand. The public health emergency and the restrictions on freedom must be accompanied by the strongest possible financial measures to ensure people still have the means to get by. I make it clear that I do not intend to divide the House on any of these amendments this evening, but I hope the Government will listen to my points.
The second world war emergency legislation required renewal every year, and the emergency coronavirus legislation in Ireland is subject to six-monthly renewal. We need safeguards. Often, the issue with this type of legislation, which is understandably done in haste, is not so much the intended consequences as the unintended consequences. That is important because there are vulnerable people across our society whose lives are going to change and who will need protection.
The Bill is subject to the European convention on human rights and does not exclude judicial review; there is no ouster clause in it. These are very important safeguards, and we need more. I welcome the Government’s concession on six-monthly review. I have listened carefully to a number of speeches, and I, like many others, would like it to have been even more frequent, but I accept that that is a reasonable compromise. There are some issues on which I would like reassurance from the Minister, though. First, it is clear that that is subject to a vote in both Houses, but the point made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is crucial: if it is simply an unamendable motion, the House is left with the choice of take it or leave it on everything. It could be that we think four fifths of the Bill is achieving its intended purpose and one fifth is not, but we would have to keep everything operational. If the Minister can confirm that the motion will be amendable, so we can make clear which bits we want to switch off, that would make a significant difference. Even if she gave that as a verbal assurance, it would be a step forward that might increase the degree of consensus across the House. I am not saying that everyone would be satisfied, but it would help us to move forward on the basis of consensus.
As I read the Government amendment, there is a carve-out in relation to devolved matters. Will the Minister make the position clear? If this House switched off powers, would they be automatically switched off for the devolved institutions; or if a power was switched on by the devolved institutions, would they then have the power to switch it off when they saw fit? In those parts of England without formal regional devolution, would it be it switched off automatically for those areas?
More widely, we have to ensure that the measures are temporary and that hard-won rights are not lost forever. In that respect, I want to focus on a number of groups in our society. First, amendments 68 to 71 deal with children with special educational needs and disabilities. I would like more reassurance from the Government. The Bill clearly removes disabled people’s rights to social care and support, and the duty to meet children’s educational requirements is changed to a reasonable endeavours duty. Many hon. and right hon. Members will have received expressions of concern about that. I thank the all-party group on this for raising it over the weekend.
Of course there is a need for flexibility. There will be a need to redeploy staff, and we all understand that, but reassurance is necessary. If we are removing the rights in the Children and Families Act 2014, for example, could consideration be given to the proposal in the amendments to change “reasonable endeavours” to “all practical steps” to ensure that our duty to some of our most vulnerable and youngest people is met?
There is also deep concern in the care sector, to which amendments 57 to 63 and new clause 29 apply. Most statutory duties relating to social care are being suspended under schedule 11. Local authorities will only have to provide services deemed necessary to prevent breaches of people’s human rights. That is clearly not the vision of social care that anyone in this House had in mind when the Care Act 2014 was passed. Of course, the Bill does not prevent local authorities from providing higher levels of care, but there is no longer any duty to carry out assessments or involve user input in care delivery, and local authorities will no longer have to assess the needs of carers. Those are sweeping changes that may reduce the level of support. Will the Government make it clear that they still expect care to be provided to the highest level possible in the circumstances, and that some sort of green light to cut back to the minimum is not provided for in the Bill? There are wider impacts. There are doctors, nurses, NHS staff and key workers who rely on social care for their family members. That new legal minimum level of support cannot become a default. We cannot have care packages automatically cut back to the minimum, and care levels should never be reduced too far or too fast.
I have referred to a series of amendments, and I would push the Government on this. Can we look at things such as reasonable practicability? Can we look at disrupting existing care in the most minimal way and try at least to ensure, while recognising the pressures on staff, that reductions in care packages are a last resort? There are many unmet care needs, and people are being looked after in their own home by family members, who visit every day. For a start, that unpaid army of carers deserves deep gratitude from all of us, but what if one of those unpaid carers needs to self-isolate? What will the Government look at to protect people in their own home who will still be in need of care? The Government have to make absolutely clear the value of the measures for those who are older, and for disabled and young people who are in need of support. Many people—not just my constituents but people across the country—including disabled rights groups and, indeed, disabled people have contacted me to say that they are very, very concerned about what they regard as the scaling back of their rights under the Bill. We must protect them as best we can for the duration of the emergency powers, but also make it clear that this temporary hiatus does not represent a rolling back of progress over decades.
Turning to mental health and amendments 64 and 65, there are changes in the Bill to the detention regime and a restriction whereby someone can be detained on the say-so of a single doctor, which is a significant change for committal. That is set out in schedule 7. In the first instance, can that be the case only where it is absolutely necessary? Secondly, can we have no single recommendation from a doctor at a private hospital when the patient is detained at that hospital? Can we at least seek to adhere to timetables that are already in place? There are powers in the Bill on extension and removal of time limits, which clearly no Parliament in ordinary circumstances would wish to introduce. Can the Minister at least give some sort of guarantee that timetables will be respected as far as possible?
So that I am certain that I have understood the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, is he saying that once the immediate crisis is over anyone who has been sectioned under that regime should immediately be subject to the existing regime?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, that should apply not just in the mental health sphere. If these are truly temporary measures, that has to apply across a range of measures.
I accept that there is going to be a lot of pressure on doctors. I understand why the provision has been introduced, so that one doctor can sign documents to commit someone under the Mental Health Act 1983. Would not a better way of doing it be to get one doctor to sign the documents then, within a period of days, have someone else review the case while countersigning the documents?
My right hon. Friend makes a useful and constructive suggestion. I am in favour of doing all that is reasonably practicable to comply with the existing duty—that is the simple position that the Government should adopt. I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend. He makes a useful suggestion, which is why I also suggest that a single doctor should sign only when absolutely necessary. Even in that case, the point that my right hon. Friend makes is useful. I am sure that the Government understand concern about the proposals, and I hope that the Minister will be able to provide us with reassurance.
Turning to the issue of law and order, I would be grateful if the Minister passed on my gratitude to the Security Minister, who has spoken to me mostly from home, where he is self-isolating, on a number of provisions in clauses 21 and 22 on the appointment of temporary judicial commissioners, changes to urgent warrants under investigative powers, and an additional measure on data retention. I understand that the biometrics commissioner supports that measure, but I hope that he can comment on and deal with those provisions in the next few days.
I also understand that action will be taken to ensure that the temporary judicial commissioners receive the appropriate training, but clearly that will have to be done on a remote basis. It is important that we maintain existing standards as far as possible.
I know that the measure on data retention is an emergency power—of course, we do not want data on people who may wish to do us harm simply to disappear because somebody was not available to carry out the national security determination—but we must say, as Mr Mitchell did in relation to the last point, that this can only be a temporary measure. We must return to the existing deadlines as soon as we can.
Courts and tribunals are covered in clauses 51 to 55. Clearly we must look to live links and audio technology, but we must try to secure justice in each and every case. We cannot allow any court user to be in danger of being transmitted the coronavirus. The Lord Chief Justice has said today that there will be no new jury trials, but clearly some jury trials—including some very long-term ones—are still ongoing. Every step must be taken to ensure that social distancing is imposed by the judges in those courts.
Although all Members agree on following advice about self-isolation, in cases of domestic violence self-isolation can create a situation that is favourable to abusers. Therefore, where our courts are functioning, dealing with domestic violence must remain a priority.
It is interesting to note that in Spain, where this issue has been considered, the Government are running a scheme where if an individual goes into a pharmacy and asks for a “mask 19”—that is the code Spain has used—they are then referred to a domestic violence unit for assistance. I was wondering whether our Government had thought of a similar idea.
This debate has been carried out in a constructive spirit and I hope that the Government listen to all suggestions, but this issue is a real concern. If this emergency lasts—which I am afraid it is going to—and people are put in situations where they are close to their abusers, we must still have some sort of safeguards in place, particularly in our courts system.
The issue of burial has clearly caused great controversy. I know that the Paymaster General is one of the people who have come up with the final version on this matter, and I thank her for the efforts that she has made. This issue is clearly vital for Muslims and those of the Jewish faith. Clearly, they need to be in a position where we respect their rights about burial as far as we possibly can. The wording of Government amendment 52 is now much stronger, and I welcome that, but the Government could also communicate with local authorities as to how they want that measure to be interpreted in the days and weeks ahead.
Members have said that a 100% guarantee that nobody will be cremated against their wishes would be very welcome. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Yes, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has been doing on this matter in recent days; it has been most welcome. I am pleased that the Minister has listened to that campaigning work, and I hope that we will be able to get reassurance on that point.
On restricting freedoms—and there are, quite frankly, draconian restrictions of freedom in this Bill including in relation to mass gatherings, the closure of ports and borders, and detention powers over potentially infectious people, which I read as applying to children and adults—the Government must do only what is necessary and proportionate. We must also be wary of restricting the right to protest.
I was trying to avoid doing this, but while the hon. Gentleman has been on his feet, it seems that the Prime Minister has heard the call of the Opposition Front Bench earlier. It is widely reported online that the Prime Minister has announced that people can now only go out to shop for basic necessities; to exercise once a day; for any medical need; to provide care; and to travel to and from, and do, essential work. I think that we are now substantially constrained, and that may help the hon. Gentleman as he makes his speech.
I am always grateful for updates on the rolling news, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This must be a rare example of a shadow Minister having called for something at the start of a debate and its having appeared before we have finished the debate. The Prime Minister is responsive on that if nothing else.
Even in this situation, proportionality and necessity still apply. It is clear that powers to detain potentially infectious people, including children in isolation facilities, will have to be implemented in a sensitive way. It is necessary to postpone elections, as set out in clause 57, but we still have to do all we can to maintain our democracy. I welcomed the Speaker’s statement setting out any moves we can make to vote in a different way and to operate in a far more digital and remote way than has been the case in the past.
Let me turn to new clause 4 and the issues it raises. Quite simply, if we are to ask people to sacrifice their freedom by staying at home and subjecting themselves to the measures set out by Mr Baker, their basic means of living must be catered for as well. There are some specific measures in the Bill, but I commend to the Minister amendments 74 to 78, on lowering the threshold for eligibility for statutory sick pay, and new clauses 32 to 34, on the extension of statutory sick pay to the self-employed and its uprating.
Before I move on to some of the other economic measures, particularly in the Government’s new amendment, let me refer to new clause 35. A number of right hon. and hon. Members from all parties have raised the issue of access to personal protective equipment. New clause 35 sets out the importance of that to the Opposition by defining it as part of the Minister’s role to make sure that that equipment is provided to everybody who needs it. That is the imperative that the Opposition put on that, and I hope the Government will do all they can to ensure that not one person in this country does not have the personal protective equipment that they need to keep us all safe.
To carry on in the context of rolling news referred to by my hon. Friend Mr Baker, one thing that we need to provide is good healthcare. The new NICE guidelines have just been published. The new guideline on critical care states that all patients with confirmed covid-19 must be assessed on the basis of “frailty” when healthcare professionals are making decisions about whether to admit a patient in need to critical care. That is being interpreted by a large number of mental health organisations as potentially excluding people with learning disability and so on. Will the hon. Gentleman make the point, on behalf of the Opposition, that we need equality of access to healthcare, as well as equality of access to all the things he has talked about?
I certainly would not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on equality of access to healthcare—he is absolutely right about that. I am getting worried about how many points I have agreed with him on in this debate, but I certainly agree with him on that.
The point that has just been made is critical. I give my right hon. Friend Mr Davis an absolute reassurance: the Government have an advisory committee and ethics committees, but these judgments are made by healthcare professionals, and they make these types of judgments in the course of their work. The period that we are entering is obviously going to be extremely intense, but someone having a learning disability would not be a criterion that they would look at. I know that from the pandemic exercise that my hon. Friend Steve Brine mentioned earlier. I have had experience of that and can absolutely assure my right hon. Friend of that point.
On that point, I should emphasise that equality of access to healthcare must surely apply to our excellent healthcare workers. Some concerns have been raised with me that healthcare workers are receiving advice from their national health service trusts that is different from that given to ordinary working people, particularly when it comes to isolation when there are symptoms at home. As one person put it to me, the applause and support for healthcare workers is all very well, but they also want to know that their health and wellbeing is considered to be just as important as everybody else’s, if not more so.
It is just as important, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.
Government new clause 16 increases the top threshold for the level of assistance that can be given to industry for the purpose of the economic crisis, and I welcome the proposed change. The Government must do what they can to prevent an economic disaster. However, I would also ask that the Government structure financial assistance to ensure that the Government bail-out supports the workforce, the sustainability of the company and the wider national interest. Perhaps the Minister can confirm, now or subsequently, that the Government will attach restrictions in areas such as staff retention, dividend buy-outs, share buy-backs and executive remuneration for any company receiving financial assistance, and whether the Government will seek equity stakes in those companies that receive significant assistance.
There is also the issue of renters, in respect of which the Government have tabled a new clause, and there is real concern about this. It was raised by my hon. Friend Sarah Jones on Second Reading. There is a concern about the Prime Minister and his promises to the country’s 20 million renters to protect them from evictions, because this does not seem to be an evictions ban, which is what the Opposition have argued for, and we understood was promised by the Prime Minister. The legislation does not seem to stop people losing their home as a result of coronavirus; it would just give them some extra time to pack their bags. In a sense, that makes us wonder why the Government are not willing to make a very simple change. I understand that my right hon. Friend John Healey wrote to Ministers to give them the legislation that would provide the protections, banning evictions and suspending rental payments beyond the crisis. There is already welcome help for homeowners, and I hope the Government will look again at their promises to renters. We do not need this public health emergency to become a crisis of housing and homelessness as well.
As the Government disturb people’s way of life, they must also sustain everyday existence, and people are anxious about sustaining themselves through this difficult time. There are millions of self-employed people not covered in the way they should be by the measures set out by the Chancellor, as a number of colleagues on both sides of the House have raised.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the challenges faced by the 4.7 million self-employed people, as quoted by the Federation of Small Businesses. I was sent a screenshot of a claim being made by somebody self-employed this afternoon, and it said that there were 33,383 people ahead of them in the queue to use the claim section of the website. I am sure he will agree that that is a very worrying sign of the ability of the system to cope—
Order. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman is making a very important point, and every Member of Parliament has received similar emails from their constituents to the one that he has just described. I am very concerned that we have only an hour and a bit to go—[Interruption.] No, I make no criticism of the hon. Gentleman: it is very important in emergency legislation that the official Opposition have a full say in what happens at this point of the Bill, but I implore Members to move a little bit faster. If everybody makes short points, we will get all those points in, which we must do.
I say to my hon. Friend that he is right. One of the issues about making announcements is that people actually have to be able to access what they are being offered.
I have already set out that statutory sick pay is too low at £94.25 a week. Amendments regarding that have been tabled, as well as on people who do not qualify for it, and I urge the Government to look at that again. We must also speak of the businesses laying off workers and not applying for the 80% coverage of wages, which is what they should be doing. There are people who have lost their jobs, and who need help fast. It is a concern that the 80% wages support applies in the April payroll, not the March payroll, and what that will mean is that money will not be available until the end of next month. I appreciate the scale of this and I appreciate that Treasury officials have done a lot of work on it, but as the days pass more and more people are losing their jobs. Every day matters in bringing that help forward.
I have already spoken about renters and mentioned help for homeowners. On businesses, I say to the Government that grants are better than loans. We do not want to build up a stack of debt, and where the Government are relying upon the universal credit system, they must look at the fundamental structural problems in the system and at the five-week waits. Surely we cannot continue with face-to-face assessments in the next few months, with the scale of this crisis.
I hear what the hon. Member for Wycombe says, but this has to operate on the ground, and we are all hearing various stories of what is happening in the universal credit system. It may well be what the Government intend, but that has to be implemented right across the country.
The Government must stand beside each and every person to get through this. We of course support the principle of doing whatever it takes, but that has to mean whatever it takes for each and every person. Let me say a word about the food supply—this is in clauses 23 to 27—and the power to require information. The Government require a strategic approach to the profiteering and unnecessary stockpiling—all of it. We have to ask people to think of others in what they are doing, but I also say to the Minister that the Government may well need a more strategic approach on that.
I will be brief. In all emergencies, there is profiteering, and in countries such as the United States, where it has been prevalent for a long time, two thirds of states have legislation in place to stop profiteering. We need it here now because it is hitting the poorest communities hardest now.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that profiteering is affecting people now. We have heard some examples from across the House and, clearly, that issue needs to be seriously considered.
I turn now to what all this means taken together—I will draw my remarks to a close, Dame Eleanor, because I know that you wish other people to come in. This is an unprecedented change in the relationship between Government and Parliament, and Government and people. First, I say to the Minister that the imperative is to protect everyone and support them in this time of peril. We ask people to make sacrifices and we must support them, too. Secondly, the need for safeguards in this legislation is paramount. I hope that the Minister will look in particular at the suggestion that I made on the six-month review and that being amendable.
We are not seeking to divide the House, but we hope very much that the Government will heed what has been said, and we, of course, reserve the right to pursue these matters further in the other place.
I will not detain the House long. I rise to speak to new clause 1, which I understand has been agreed in advance with the Government, and I will move it at the end of this evening’s proceedings.
New clause 1 is very straightforward. It enables the elections to the General Synod of the Church of England to be postponed. Quite recently, we postponed all the elections that we in the House are involved in—the mayoral, local government and police and crime commissioner elections—but the General Synod is the National Assembly of the Church of England, and it is a Church that is episcopally led and synodically governed. The General Synod is a devolved body of this Parliament. It is the first devolved body of the Westminster Parliament and has been since 1919. Synods last five years, just as Westminster Parliaments do. The last one was elected in summer 2015 and therefore would expire this summer. There is no legal power to extend the current General Synod. New clause 1 provides that power by allowing the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York to ask Her Majesty to postpone the date of dissolution by an Order in Council. That order postpones the date of the dissolution of the current Synod for as long as would be necessary by dissolving the convocations of Canterbury and of York. The dissolution of those convocations triggers the dissolution of Synod.
Hon. Members may not know what I mean by convocations, but they are the historical assemblies of bishops and clergy. They go back to the time of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, who was enthroned in 668, so convocations give this Parliament a run for its money in terms of historical precedent. That may sound a bit dry, but it is important. This will enable the Synod to deal with important matters, such as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. The Church takes that very seriously, and it will need to react to that body’s findings. This will also enable the Synod to move forward with the important work on cathedral finances and governance, which also need to be addressed urgently.
The Church is fulfilling an important role today. It is caring for the vulnerable, and it is reaching out in helping with the delivery of food, such as working with food banks and with night shelters. I commend new clause 1 to the Government and to the House.
I rise to speak to new clause 7 together with the new schedule it introduces, which is new schedule 1. May I start by thanking the Clerks and other staff for their extraordinary work in processing so many amendments in such a short time?
The changes that we propose are designed to ensure that the Government’s response is truly for all of society, as the World Health Organisation has urged, and we will do that by seeking to ensure that nobody is excluded from getting the support they need simply by virtue of their immigration status. Our immigration and asylum laws and processes, touching as they do on millions of people right across our country, must be made to help, not hinder, the public health response to coronavirus. If we let down those people who are subject to immigration control, we are letting down the whole country, and if we fail to protect those people, we fail to protect the population as a whole.
The new schedule is in four parts. The first relates to Home Office rules that prevent many people from accessing public funds. Many of this group will already be hugely marginalised, including a very significant proportion of the street homeless and destitute. As matters stand, many more will become destitute because their earnings will stop or sofa-surfing will no longer be possible, and there will be no social security to fall back on. Meanwhile, across the country many shelters providing the only source of refuge are having to close down, either because dormitory conditions are no longer fit for purpose, or because the brilliant volunteers who staff such centres can no longer undertake the necessary work amid this very serious crisis. Suspending the no recourse to public funds rules would be a first but significant step towards allowing everyone to access the financial support and accommodation they need to protect themselves.
The second part of the schedule deals with those who are in immigration detention. At the end of last year, there were about 1,600 people in immigration detention, most of them in immigration detention centres, with a small number in prisons. We know from recently published expert advice that detention centres provide ideal conditions for the spread of the coronavirus, and that 60% of those in such facilities could rapidly be infected if the virus got hold there. In fact, one woman tested positive for covid-19 in Yarl’s Wood at the weekend. Of course, the detainee population will include a significant number with underlying health conditions.
We know now that there is no realistic prospect of immigration removals taking place imminently, and imminent removal is of course the legal threshold for justifying detention in the first place. The clear consequences of these two facts, when we bring them together, is that continued detention is not only morally wrong, but it undermines the public health response to the coronavirus outbreak and is almost certainly illegal. We welcome the fact that the Home Office has started by releasing about 300 of the current estimate of 1,200 people in immigration detention. We ask it to move faster and urgently in getting the other 900 out of there as well.
Thirdly, we turn to the issue of the asylum process. Those working on behalf of asylum seekers are concerned at the lack of communication with them about what changes are being made to these processes. There was a welcome announcement made ending the requirement to access or re-access the asylum procedure by attending at either Croydon or Liverpool, yet this very afternoon I am reliably informed that a new arrival in Glasgow was told by Home Office staff to get a bus to Croydon, essentially, to make an asylum claim. Without support from the Scottish Refugee Council, that individual would be street homeless tonight. That is clearly undermining, rather than helping, the public health approach.
We need the Home Office to look at all asylum processes and procedures, and reporting requirements, interviews and other appointments must all be suspended. We need to look at the state of the asylum accommodation, and at the rules about why asylum seekers who have medical skills are being prevented from working at this particular time. We need to look at asylum support and at support for providing accommodation to the destitute and the homeless.
Fourthly, the proposed new schedule would make provision for those whose visas are about to run out or whose visas have already run out but are prevented from travelling home. Many Members will have been contacted by constituents with concerns about people in that situation. There were reports today about an 80-year-old Ukrainian woman whose visit visa has just expired. Her solicitor phoned the Home Office and was told that she should consider driving home. Clearly, asking an 80-year-old woman to return to Ukraine by car is simply ludicrous. It is time, as our proposed new schedule suggests, for the Government to put in place an automatic extension of leave to remain, at least until September or later, depending on the advice the Government get from medical officers.
I pay tribute to all those who have pushed the Government to accept a more limited time period for the extraordinary powers provided for by this Bill, including my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry, while at the same time ensuring that there can be an extension, with appropriate scrutiny and approval by this House. We support the principles behind new clause 2. The provisions that impinge most on civil liberties deserve the greatest of scrutiny. I also pay tribute to Naz Shah for tabling amendment 66, and we are grateful to the Government for listening to her concerns.
Finally, every Member who has tabled amendments to prompt the Government to go further with their provisions to support workers and the self-employed has our solidarity. The measures announced on Friday by the Chancellor were, of course, hugely significant and very welcome, but we are all being contacted by self-employed people whose costs are not going to disappear in the same way as their incomes in the weeks ahead. We await urgently to hear the Chancellor announce what further support will be provided. Even if the Government cannot accept our amendments, I hope that Ministers will listen carefully to all the constructive advice that has been offered and act on it urgently.
I will attempt to answer the points that I did not answer during Second Reading.
The Bill has been introduced to support public bodies and wider society in responding to a serious emergency. The Bill is required as part of a concerted effort across the whole of the UK to tackle the outbreak. The intention is to get to a position whereby the right people—public agencies in all four countries—take the right action, as set out in the UK coronavirus action plan, at the right time, as a result of decisions taken by the four UK Governments, usually under the auspices of Cobra, using the same powers, at the same time, in the same way.
The action plan sets out the options that can be taken as part of that response. This Bill ensures that the agencies and services involved—schools, hospitals and the police—have the tools and powers they need. They are our front line in our fight against this disease, and they have the right to expect our support for the action they need to take. The Bill provides the possibility for that for the duration of the emergency.
Turning to a point made by my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie, we cannot use the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to do this. If we have time to bring forward legislation, it is proper that we do that, and anything we did under the powers of the 2004 Act would apply for only 30 days. He should have the reassurances he asked for earlier on other rules that we follow, such as on the military aid to civil authorities protocol.
It seems to me that the whole purpose of the 30-day provision in the Civil Contingencies Act was for the Executive to be accountable to Parliament. For example, those checks and balances would be needed in a scenario where—I am not suggesting this in any way, shape or form—the Government say that nobody can travel, and Parliament is therefore unable to reconvene. I simply point that out, but I do not intend to divide the Committee.
My hon. Friend has made my point for me. That is why we need this particular course of action, as opposed to relying on the Civil Contingencies Act.
I turn to the six-month review. I want to reiterate how these decisions will be made in an incredibly dynamic situation. Apart from a few parts of the Bill, these powers are not live at Royal Assent. They will be called upon or drawn down by the appropriate Government in the four nations—it is obviously appropriate that some of these decisions should be for the devolved nations—and they could be applied to very local areas, depending on what is happening in that particular situation.
We are therefore ensuring that the support that people need is there, with regular reports and debates in Parliament, to ensure proportionate accountability that does not itself make the management of this outbreak harder than it already is. These mechanisms currently include Ministers reporting to Parliament every two months on how we have used these powers. There will also be a debate after 12 months and a meaningful vote on renewal after 24.
We have also listened to people’s concerns about the need for periodic reviews of these powers. The Government have therefore tabled an amendment to the Bill that will enable the House of Commons to take a view every six months on whether the provisions of the Act need to be reviewed. That will be done within seven days of each six-month period if Parliament is sitting. If the House declines to renew these temporary provisions, the Government will ensure that they expire.
I will make a little progress, because there is quite a lot that I have not managed to say at the Dispatch Box yet.
We will therefore be able to carry out the will of Parliament quickly and efficiently, and this mechanism gives the House of Commons the final say on how the powers in this Act are to be used. I note the pragmatic suggestions of my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, but I do not think that anything he says about future legislation or measures that we wish to bring in, or indeed the House being able to express a view, is negated by the way we have set this out. Each of the four countries of the UK has its own set of laws, and these tools and powers differ to varying degrees in each area.
I will make a little progress; sorry, but I have not had much time.
Consistency of outcome will be achieved by making a range of tools and powers consistent across the UK. That is just one part of the overall solution but a vital part nevertheless. A two-year overall lifespan for this Act has been chosen to ensure that its powers remain available for a reasonable length of time, with the option of provisions in the Act being extended by the relevant national authority. A reasonable worst-case scenario for this outbreak is that it could last for over a year, and therefore some of the provisions in the Bill will need to be in place for up to two years. Equally, the Bill provides a mechanism for early sunsetting, but we cannot guarantee that one year will be enough nor predict which powers will be required for how long.
Can the Minister confirm that the votes in Parliament on a six-monthly basis that are already in the Act will be on an amendable motion?
The hon. Gentleman might wish to say that some of the provisions cannot be applied. We do not wish to do that. The whole purpose of the Bill is that the bulk of the powers—apart from ones that are live at Royal Assent—are at the direction of either the devolved nations or the UK Government, to respond to a very dynamic situation. We do not wish to call on these powers. We only wish to use them in extreme cases. There are several that we think we will never use, particularly on food supply and so forth, but we need to allow that flexibility in what will be an incredibly unpredictable situation. The safeguards we have put in place will allow us to have that flexibility.
Let me give the Minister a straightforward, practical example. One element of the Bill allows the delay of the oversight of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. That is the case because we have 15 commissioners, only one of whom is younger than 70—that is the reasoning behind it. Were the Government to do something sensible, such as appoint 15 deputy commissioners, all under 70, this would no longer be required. But we have seen the Government before resisting attempts to improve accountability, and we know that that they may want to keep it in, whereas we may want to take it out. This is a precise example, so why can we not do that?
In his earlier remarks, my right hon. Friend was talking about things that we might wish to do in a year’s time and so forth. I do not think any of those things are being ruled out, but we think that extensive work has been done on this Bill, which is looking only at powers we know need to be enshrined in primary legislation, not at other issues, many of which have been raised by colleagues. I do not think those very practical options are removed from us by supporting this Bill today.
I also wish to emphasise another point, because in this Bill the Government are legislating for areas of devolved competence. I should highlight that the devolved Administrations could have legislated to create their own powers through their own primary legislation. However, they have agreed, given the urgency of the situation, that the UK Government should do it on their behalf. This Bill consequently engages the legislative consent motion process for all the devolved legislatures. The amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care requires the continued operation of certain key powers contained in the Bill to be reviewed every six months. Unless the UK Parliament consents to their continued operation, UK Ministers would be under an obligation to switch off the relevant powers by way of regulation.
May I just finish this point? The scrutiny process created by the amendment does not have an equivalent effect in relation to the devolved powers. This is consistent with the devolution settlements. Once these powers have been legislated for in this Bill and are exercisable by the devolved Administrations, the UK Parliament has no further role in relation to them. It is, rather, for the devolved Administrations to scrutinise the activities of their Ministers. For instance, on Thursday
If the House will allow me, I should like to turn to the amendments and set out the Government’s reasoning. I sympathise with the intentions of the amendment tabled by Ms Harman. Although we agree with them in principle, there are a number of technical reasons why I believe the amendment we have brought forward is to be preferred.
I will, but I am just going briefly to go through the amendments—[Interruption.] I know, but hon. Members have tabled amendments and I wish to tell them why we have not accepted them. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Dame Eleanor. The first such reason is that in the event that Parliament is not sitting, we think that the made affirmative procedure would impede our ability to manage efficiently the use of these powers. It may be difficult to make an Order in Council during a pandemic. It may be difficult safely to convene the necessary Privy Council meeting. A made affirmative instrument can be made more, and ensures that there is a vote on the extension of the Act when Parliament returns. Secondly, it is not clear from the proposed amendment whether the Act can be extended more than once. It is the unfortunate situation that with this pandemic possibly lasting longer than a year it is essential that we have the flexibility to keep the important measures in this Bill in force for longer than a year where they are needed.
I am aware of the real policy concerns behind the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden. I should also point out that without clause 76 we would have no mechanism for extending the life of the Bill, should that be needed, other than by making further primary legislation, so we could be left without vital measures for protecting public health and supporting essential public services while in the middle of the outbreak. Similarly, without clause 76 we would have no simple means of sunsetting the legislation at an earlier date if it proves to be no longer necessary.
Finally, colleagues will wish to note that the amendment would impact on the devolved Administrations without their consent.
I have to say to the Minister that she is worrying me more and more with every sentence, because it sounds as if the Government are intending to drive this through for two years, come hell or high water, and to keep all the powers in place for that time. I thought that what they had announced earlier this afternoon was a concession, which was that in six months’ time the House would be able to strike down some of the individual measures if it wished to do so. She no longer seems to be saying that.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understood what I set out at the start. This is how these powers will be activated. Some of them will be for the UK Government with regard to England, but it is absolutely right that it is the devolved nations that will switch the powers on, and it could be in very localised areas. Those decisions will be taken in response to a very dynamic situation, probably in COBRA. Having sat around that table, and knowing some of the decisions that may be coming down the line, I think that is appropriate.
Let me turn to some of the issues raised by Nick Thomas-Symonds. I touched on social care in my earlier remarks. He is absolutely right that we must have those measures in place, and I hope that what I said about my hon. Friend the Minister for Care has gone some way towards addressing that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about domestic violence, and we must be alert to the potential for an increase in demand for those services.
I thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, for tabling new clause 1, and Chris Bryant for supporting it. As my hon. Friend set out, the purpose of the new clause is to make provision for the postponement of the dissolution of the General Synod of the Church of England. The dissolution is to take place in July and will be followed by an election of the new General Synod over the summer. We support the new clause, which is consistent with the approach that the Government have taken to other elections.
Let me turn to other Government amendments, particularly on cremation, which many hon. Members have raised. For their engagement, I want to thank in particular the hon. Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), and my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Wycombe (Mr Baker), for Wealden (Ms Ghani) and for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti).
The policy that has been developed on dealing with excess deaths has involved all faith groups from the start. The purpose of the provisions is to ensure that people’s choices can be adhered to, that the dignity of the deceased is respected and that support services for families are in place, even in times of great stress. There should be no public health reason or capacity reason why someone who wished to be buried would be cremated. I hope that is very clear. I can give the House that reassurance. We have included further measures in the Bill. Local authority leaders will also want to reassure their communities in the coming days—clearly, it is local authority chief executives who will use these powers, if they are ever used. I also want to put on the record my thanks to Councillor Sharon Thompson of Birmingham City Council.
The provision states that it is desirable for a local authority or public authority to seek the wishes of the deceased person’s family or a place of worship if there is no next of kin. Saying that it is desirable to take their views into consideration does not mean that those views will apply if a local authority or public authority decides that a cremation is going to take place, under the legislation as it stands. The Government could make an amendment to clearly specify that if somebody does not wish to be cremated, they will not be cremated. That is missing from the Bill at the moment.
We have brought forward an amendment that gives those guarantees with regard to someone’s beliefs, religion or wishes. In addition, I stress that it has never been the case—there has never been any doubt about this—that somebody who wished to be buried would have to be cremated. There is no public health reason or capacity reason why that should be the case. We have worked from the off with all faiths to produce the guidelines, and the amendment was produced through consultation. I see no circumstance—and it certainly would not relate to these powers—in which somebody would be cremated against their wishes. I do not think I can give any more guarantees than that. That is absolutely not the intent of the policy and it is certainly not anything to do with the practice.
I am going to make progress, but I thank all Members who have spoken to me over the past few days, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden, who has also been very helpful to me and Public Health England with regard to additional things we may need to do with funeral services.
The Government have tabled a number of other new clauses and amendments. New clause 16 relates to the industrial development cap. New clause 20 removes existing requirements for local authorities and councils to hold annual meetings. New clause 24 touches on issues that Sarah Jones raised earlier in respect of suspending new evictions from social or private rented accommodation. What I said in my previous remarks about that applies. Amendment 27 will indemnify returning officers for the cancellation of polls. Amendments 79 to 82 relate to the use of video in extradition hearings. Amendments 55 and 56, on trading standards enforcement, relate to the enforcement of provisions on gatherings, events and premises. They widen the scope of those who can be given powers and bring proceedings for offences.
New clause 23 is concerned with biometrics, which are a critical tool used daily in support of our national security. The new clause establishes a time-limited power to enable the Home Secretary to make regulations, after consulting the independent Biometrics Commissioner, to extend the statutory retention deadlines for biometrics already held by the police and for national security reasons by up to six months.
On the issue of data, I understand that the Biometrics Commissioner will publish his assessment of the Government’s proposal very soon. Does that remain the case?
I will certainly let the hon. Gentleman know. As he will appreciate, I am covering several Departments. I would not want to mislead him, but I will find out the timetable for the commissioner to publish the report.
New schedule 2, on medical practitioners in Wales, will enable any practitioners who are registered by the GMC on a temporary basis to start providing health services immediately to a local health board. This is another example of levelling the law up, in this case to the position in England and Northern Ireland, where that is already in place. There are also amendments regarding the mental health review tribunal arrangements for Wales, again bringing them in line with the situation in England and Scotland, and emergency registration fees for doctors, to enable any professionals to be registered under the emergency powers, with the understanding that once the emergency period has passed, their temporary registration status will come to an end.
I am happy to answer any questions that hon. Members have as the debate goes on. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has outlined, the Bill contains vital measures to support citizens, protect our workforce and achieve our goals in beating this dreadful disease. I thank hon. Members for their constructive comments and their attendance today.
Clearly, the Prime Minister made his announcement in the course of my speech, but just before the Minister winds up, I have a specific query about whether separated and divorced parents who co-parent can still transport their children between homes. Is that essential travel? I appreciate that the Minister might not know that off the top of the head now, but will she undertake to at least provide clarity on that point from the Prime Minister’s announcement?
The hon. Gentleman’s comments will have been heard, and I am sure that point will be clarified, but in all this, whether it is about key workers or new policy of this ilk that has been announced, the objective is to keep as many people at home as possible, including children. That principle would underlie any policy on what is actually essential. The bottom line, as the shadow Secretary of State outlined in his remarks, is that if we stay at home, we will be helping to save lives, protecting the NHS and fighting the virus. I commend this Bill to the House.
I would like first on this occasion to pay my respects and put on record my thanks to our brave NHS staff, our key workers and everyone in our nation playing their part in combating the covid-19 outbreak, and also my advance thanks to the police, who have been given extra responsibilities by the Prime Minister this evening to police people’s social distance when they go out.
I will not be moving my amendment, but instead thank the Government for their amendment, which actually strengthened my proposal. However, it is still important to say a few words about that. I have been truly heartened by the cross-party support that I have received in this process from every part of this House. It really does demonstrate how, at times of crisis, democracy can work and can respond positively to the concerns out there in the community. I would like to say thank you for that spirit of unity.
This truly is a difficult time for everyone in our nation. They are not normal times with today’s emergency Bill. We know how life as we know it will have to change, and the origins of this Bill have caused huge distress to religious communities, especially those of Muslim and Jewish background. Death is a sensitive time for everyone, and losing a loved one is difficult for us all. We all want dignity in death for our loved ones, and the idea that, in extreme circumstances, when capacity issues arise, the deceased would have to be cremated was something hard to bear, especially for those from the Muslim and Jewish faiths, which strongly oppose cremation. I further thank the Minister for clarifying in the assurance and the guarantees that she has just given that nobody will be cremated against their wishes.
The aim of my amendment was to give, in such difficult circumstances where capacity issues arise for local authorities, further legal protection and to ensure that the next of kin and the relevant faith institutions were consulted, in order to provide added support and protect the deceased from being cremated. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr Baker), for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for co-sponsoring my amendment, and the more than 110 cross-party MPs who formally showed their support. I also thank the all-party group on British Muslims for its tireless work behind the scenes, as well as community organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Wifaqul Ulama, the British Board of Scholars and Imams, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
I thank individuals such as my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood, who could not be here tonight; Qari Asim MBE, the adviser to the Government; Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, Vakas Hussain, and all those individuals and organisations who played a huge role silently in the background, influencing and putting in tremendous effort to work through this process. I have never done a campaign like it in 24 hours. I must also put on the record my thanks to Joseph Hayat of British Muslim TV for doing the one-minute video, which was absolutely amazing.
I also thank the Government and many in the Conservative party for their contributions. Lord Tariq Ahmad made efforts to ensure that concerns were seriously recognised, and my Muslim sister in the House of Lords, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, ensured that community nerves were calmed while conversations and negotiations with the Government took place. I am grateful to the Paymaster General and to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith, for recognising the concerns of all religious communities and taking them on board through the amendment the Government tabled on this issue. Finally, I would like formally to thank all those from faith communities across the country who lobbied their local MP to support my amendment. I hear from some of my colleagues that their inboxes are rather full, so perhaps we lobbied a bit too much.
This campaign shows that, in times of crisis, we in politics, in Parliament and as a nation can work together to ensure that we support all citizens. From Scotland to Bradford West and right across the nation, faith communities play a vital role as the fourth emergency service, providing food, medicine and other necessities to those most in need. The Bradford foundation trust in my constituency has developed a coalition of more than 50 local businesses and 30 voluntary and community sector organisations, with support from Bradford4Better, to support our local authority during this difficult time. While faith communities are playing such a vital role, we must not neglect the rights of their deceased. That would have been a grave injustice.
Government amendment 52 recognises those rights and provides legal protection for the deceased of Muslim and Jewish communities, requiring their wishes and faith to be shown due regard, to prevent cremation. In some ways, it is clearer and goes further than my amendment. It provides protection to those from faiths where people choose to be buried and to those who choose to be cremated. I therefore do not press my amendment 66 and will support Government amendment 52 to provide this much-needed addition to the Bill.
I shall speak to new clause 6, which I tabled to enable quicker action to support Island and isolated communities. I intend to talk briefly about the new clause and to ask some questions of those on the Front Bench.
The Isle of Wight is dependent on three private ferry firms. If staff from one or more of those firms go ill with covid-19 and we have an outbreak, there will be serious consequences for the Island. Competition law currently prevents the firms from talking. That is still the case, despite eight days of efforts to get it moved. In basic terms, the new clause would allow the relevant Secretary of State or devolved Administration to issue directions to allow ferry firms to talk to one other, potentially to plan and implement joint services for the purpose of resilience—for the provision of food, medicine and other essential goods, and of passenger transportation.
Although we are an island, we need to stay open because we need food going out and coming in, we need key workers to go backwards and forwards, and we need people to continue to receive life-saving medical treatment in Southampton and Portsmouth. If the ferry firms fall over, we cannot do that. They are a true lifeline. I think people do not realise that an island separated from a land mass without a fixed link needs ferries.
The Department for Transport understands the lifeline nature of our services and is doing a good job. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has not yet acted on that. I understand that officials are working up a statutory instrument, and apparently there is a letter coming from the Secretary of State at some point. The Competition and Markets Authority says it will not take action, but as of this evening the firms—I am being texted by my ferry firms as we speak—still are not willing to talk because, for compliance purposes, they need a letter from a Government Minister and a Secretary of State.
Critically, I want Ministers to understand that I do not blame the Government. I know how stressed they are across the provision. This new clause is designed to be helpful because a Government diktat—a fiat—means that the Government will allow the ferry firms to talk to each other, avoiding much of the bureaucracy there seems to be at the moment, by getting a statutory instrument in place.
I would be delighted if the Government accepted new clause 6 in its entirety—I thank the Public Bill Office very much for its work. If they are not going to accept it, will a Minister reassure me this evening that a Secretary of State will write a letter with the assurances that I need? Can somebody also give me the assurance that the delegated legislation will be laid before Parliament?
Can somebody reassure me on medical supplies? For example, a consultant at a hospice contacted me today to say, “If we run out of morphine on the Island, can we give out other opiates?” Because of a glitch in the system, nurses can give out morphine, but they cannot give out other opiates.
Can I just answer that point, because my hon. Friend made it on Second Reading, and I have checked the issue? The Department of Health and NHS England are looking at precisely the issue of being able to authorise healthcare professionals to administer other opiates. I can also assure my hon. Friend that he will shortly get a letter from the relevant Secretary of State with regard to the Isle of Wight ferry issue. I do not know its contents—I am not briefed on that—but his lobbying has worked.
Thank you Dame Eleanor. I will be brief.
I want to speak to new clause 5, in my name. As we have heard, there have been calls from across the UK to look out for the members of our society who are elderly and vulnerable. I wish to add my voice and to say that the victims of modern slavery must be addressed urgently. I spoke to the Minister’s colleague earlier today, and I have received assurances from the Minister. I welcome the fact that the Department is working closely with the Salvation Army, which is the contractor dealing with these issues. I have faith that it will do the right thing and look after these people, but it is important to issue guidance on this issue when possible.
I recognise that the Department is pressed and that officials are working hard on this issue, but I really hope the Government will be able to address my concerns, particularly to ensure that the victims of modern slavery continue to receive special payments; that where their key worker is off ill due to the virus, someone else will liaise with them and keep in contact; that there are arrangements to address the need to protect them when they are in shared or cramped accommodation, as is often the case; and that the Government will look into these matters and ensure that these vulnerable people, who are already victims, are not further victimised or isolated as a result of a lack of capacity to deal with these issues and concerns at the moment. I am looking for that assurance, and I hope the Government will be able to issue guidance along the lines I have suggested in new clause 5.
I stand first with my hon. Friend Bob Seely. We cannot neglect his constituents on the Island. I fear that this issue has gone on for far too long, and I want to say sorry to him that we did not weigh in behind him sooner. This issue has just got to be dealt with, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister knows that.
Secondly, I would like to pay tribute to hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). She has done an absolutely fantastic job in the last 24 hours. It has been a real privilege to work with her to secure what I think is a fantastic result. At a time like this, matters of the hereafter are close to everybody’s thoughts. They sometimes say that there are no atheists in a foxhole. I certainly would not want to stand by and see my constituents cremated against their wishes, and nor, indeed, would I want to see people buried against their wishes. I really want to congratulate her; she has done a fantastic job, and she has done it in a wonderful cross-party spirit, which has done a lot to reinvigorate my faith in this place and in what we can achieve together when we put our constituents first. Well done to her.
I will pay particular attention to amendments 1 and 6 and Government new clause 19, which relate to the expiry of these powers. When I got into politics, it was with the purpose of enlarging liberty under parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. When I look at this Pandora’s box of enlargement, discretion and extensions of power, I can only say what a dreadful, dreadful thing it is to have had to sit here in silence and nod it through because it is the right thing to do.
My goodness, between this and the Prime Minister’s announcement tonight, what have we ushered in? I am not a good enough historian to put into context the scale of the infringement of our liberties that has been implemented today through the Prime Minister’s announcement and this enormously complicated Bill, which we are enacting with only two hours to think about amendments.
I could speak for the time I have available several times over just on the provisions relating to the retention of DNA, which we addressed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. [Interruption.] I see from the expression on the face of the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, that she understands the anguish—she probably knows it better than any of us—that we are all going through in passing this Bill.
Let me be the first to say that tonight, through this Bill, we are implementing at least a dystopian society. Some will call it totalitarian, which is not quite fair, but it is at least dystopian. The Bill implements a command society under the imperative of saving hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of jobs, and it is worth doing.
By God, I hope the Prime Minister has a clear conscience tonight and sleeps with a good heart, because he deserves to do so. Libertarian though I may be, this is the right thing to do but, my goodness, we ought not to allow this situation to endure one moment longer than is absolutely necessary to save lives and preserve jobs.
Although I welcome new clause 19 to give us a six-month review, I urge upon my hon. and right hon. Friends and the Prime Minister the sunsetting of this Act, as it will no doubt become, at one year, because there is time to bring forward further primary legislation. If, come the late autumn, it is clear that this epidemic, this pandemic, continues—God help us if that is true, because I fear for the economy and the currency—there certainly will be time to bring forward further primary legislation and to properly scrutinise provisions to carry forward this enormous range of powers.
Every time I dip into the Bill, I find some objectionable power. There is not enough time to scrutinise the Bill, but I can glance at it—I am doing it now—and see objectionable powers. There would be time to have several days of scrutiny on a proper piece of legislation easily in time for March or April 2021.
I implore my right hon. Friend, for goodness’ sake, let us not allow this dystopia to endure one moment longer than is strictly necessary.
I concur with Mr Baker: although supporting this legislation is absolutely the right thing to do, we must make sure that scrutiny remains and that his and the Opposition’s warnings are heeded by the Government.
I express my deepest sympathies for those who have already lost their lives in my constituency and around the country, and I pay tribute to the emergency workers around the country who, right now, need our support and direct, immediate action from the Government to give them the PPE they lack.
Here in London, we are at the frontline. There are densely populated areas in my constituency and around the city with huge amounts of overcrowding, intergenerational living and high health risks, which means that, ahead of the challenges spreading around the country, we face challenges now.
We have had several reports of major problems in my constituency in the last week. Doctors and clinicians at the Royal London Hospital have described the situation as being like a warzone, and others have said that they are already having to make devastating decisions—choosing between who to save and who dies. They speak of collateral damage and of doctors having to order equipment online. I echo the importance of making sure that PPE is sent to people immediately.
Care home outbreaks are of great concern around the country. Vulnerable people are at risk, so I have a few questions for the Minister. First, we need to make sure that Mildmay Mission Hospital does not close on
GPs are reporting that they are running out of inhalers. My colleagues in other constituencies have fed us information so that we could pass it on to Ministers. The Government need to act to ensure that the 1 million or so undocumented workers do not become a risk to public health, because they will continue to work if they are not stopped and not given an amnesty. I hope that the Government have taken that on board. I imagine that that has not been addressed yet, because that is also a public health emergency.
I welcome what the Government are doing on burial. I congratulate my hon. Friend Naz Shah on her leadership on this, but we need to ensure that local authorities work together so that the burial facilities are available.
Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, many thousands of people will be stranded in other countries. We need an evacuation plan, in the light of the Prime Minister’s remarks, to get them back to our country safely. I thank the Minister and the Government for their work.
The idea of two years was unconscionable; six months is liveable with, but three months would have been better for this draconian Bill. We need that reduction because it provides a much more reasonable basis not only to assess the unparalleled restrictions that may be imposed on people, but to enable an alignment of timeframes between our medical responses and the impact on the economy.
I wish to make some brief comments on the issue of balance between those two features. At the moment, we are passing this legislation when a monopoly of voices point in one direction—do more, go faster and impose more restrictions. What we need is an environment of balance to understand that all those measures, as we pursue with all of our hearts and heads the medical cures, the support for our NHS workers and the care for the sick, have consequences: consequences for our economy and for the mental health and well-being of our citizenry, and consequences as yet unforeseen.
A restriction in the timeframe for the legislation is absolutely crucial. Embedded in the phrase “whatever it takes” is a blank cheque that has to be paid at some point. It may not be favourable in public discourse to talk in that way. It may appear callous to talk in that way, but, at some point in the future, a reckoning for the decisions that have been made in response to this medical crisis and the economic consequences for families across the country will come. Whether the Government like it or not, the Bill they are passing today—new clause 19 that they are passing today—will become the vehicle on which they are held to account.
Let me give the Minister some suggestions that she may like to pass on to the Government for them to think about in terms of what we might be discussing in six months’ time. First, we need to set a clear goal. Secondly, we need to outline the reasonable, measurable benchmarks needed to show that we are making progress in achieving that medical goal.
We need to explain the exit strategy for our medical plan. In six months’ time, or at some other time, the Government have to say what considerations they have made if the approach to secure those medical goals has not achieved what they wanted it to achieve, and what the costs and consequences are for the economy. There are no easy answers here, of course, but as we pass this legislation at this difficult time, it is important that we understand that we will have to do that evaluation in a mood of much more balance than we can today.
I rise to speak in support of the amendment and new clauses that my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have tabled. We are not seeking to divide the House, but we are keen to put our concerns on the record. In the interests of time, I want to focus on two areas—social care and the self-employed.
There is unanimity in the Chamber about the fact that exceptional times call for exceptional measures. It is strange to find myself in violent agreement with Mr Baker and, indeed, Mr Davis. In these difficult, challenging times, the measures must be proportionate, strictly time-limited and with appropriate safeguards in place. I therefore welcome the Government’s concession that the Bill will be reviewed every six months, although our amendment seeks a review every three months, with a full review by both Houses. I note the concerns about whether we can amend or discard parts of the Bill in each review, and I hope that that will be taken on board by Ministers.
The Bill gives the Government sweeping powers over our civil liberties, and impacts on how we look after the most vulnerable in our society, which is dealt with in our amendment 14 and new clause 14. Social care provision is inextricably linked to NHS provision—they are two sides of the same coin. Fast and safe discharge into the community is essential to free up hospital capacity for those who are critically ill.
The system is already stretched to breaking point, and many people think that care standards are on the border line. The Bill seeks potentially to lower standards, which could be dangerously reduced, putting many elderly and disabled people of all ages at risk. Although the Secretary of State told me that the provisions seek to do the opposite by enabling local authorities to prioritise, I fear that the only safeguard is the European convention on human rights, resulting in many vulnerable people being harmed. They must not be cast by the wayside in this crisis.
The Bill has been introduced to tackle a serious threat, but it potentially raises another threat for the most vulnerable people in society. The Chancellor made it clear that he would give the NHS whatever resource it needed to deal with coronavirus. The same commitment must be given to social care, as the sister service to the NHS. Amendment 14 seeks to address that very point.
I turn to new clause 13, on statutory self-employment pay. The Chancellor has rightly stepped in with a far-reaching set of economic measures to support the millions of people across the country whose livelihoods and incomes have been decimated by the pandemic. As many Members from all parts of the House have said, the 5 million self-employed and freelancers feel that they have been completely overlooked. With over 11,000 self-employed people in my constituency I, like many others, have been inundated with hundreds of emails, from childminders to event organisers, to tradesmen and women, to musicians and those who work in the TV industry, begging for action. Many have seen their incomes dry up overnight, with no prospect of knowing when they might be able to work again.
New clause 13 seeks to provide for the self-employed on the same terms as the wage guarantee scheme for employees. I fully understand that the mechanism for delivering such a provision is not straightforward for Government, but let us not let the best be the enemy of the good. The situation is urgent for millions of people across the country who are struggling to put food on the table for their families and keep a roof over their heads right now.
In 2008, the Government stepped in to bail out the banks. Now it is time to do the same for everyone whose livelihood is under threat, whether employed or self-employed. At this time of national crisis, of course we support the Bill with an extremely heavy heart, but I implore Ministers to take on board our grave concerns, particularly on care of the vulnerable and providing for the self-employed. Let us make sure that not one single provision in the Bill is in place for a minute longer than it has to be.
First, let me thank the Government for their contribution and highlight the plight of the NHS staff who do not have enough protection gear. Will the Minister ascertain whether any factories can be used to assist in the interim? I have also been approached by someone about whether, in relation to new clauses 3 and 4, those with an HGV licence could step in to drive supplies—due to a DVLA technicality, they are precluded from doing so. Can we lift that restriction legally, as it is only a technicality, and allow him and others to step in?
The shadow Minister referred to the 80% of wages being available by
On new clauses 9 and 11, what about the self-employed? I have electricians with no premises because their jobs consist of fixing electrics in homes and businesses; can they access the business grant? I have self-employed café owners who have been asked to close their businesses—their staff are getting a wage, but they are not. What is being done to help them? What about a constituent who has a shop stocking cleaning products and basic groceries who is delivering cleaning products, potatoes, milk and other things free of charge? What help is there for him and his staff in new clauses 9 and 11? The business grant will only pay his rent for a few months, so how does he feed his five children?
Lastly, self-employed people should get a basic wage when we are telling them to close and when they cannot reasonably stay open. Again, I would ask what has been done for those who are self-employed. New clause 8 is about education: what about self-employed coaches who are essential in day-to-day life to the mental health and physical wellbeing of our children? What about agency staff working in colleges and the civil service? Do they qualify for the 80% wages that they should under new clauses 9 and 11?
Time is very limited this evening, but I want briefly to return to an issue that I did not have time properly to probe on Second Reading: the question of people with learning disabilities and autistic people whose rights are at risk as a consequence of the Bill. As someone who has campaigned on the “Transforming Care” agenda and the Government’s failure to implement it over many years, I know that there are people the autism community and among those who support people with learning disabilities who are very worried that the Bill could result in further unnecessary admissions to hospital. This could happen both indirectly, through the withdrawal of support for autistic people and people with learning disabilities, resulting in a higher incidence of crisis, and directly, through provisions in the Bill that make it easier for people to be detained.
Any institutional setting where large numbers of people live together has increased risk of covid-19 spreading. Families who have battled for years to get their loved ones out of hospital are very frightened that the Bill could mean that their loved ones end up being detained once again, and that if this happens they might also fall victim to covid-19. Once again, I want to seek assurance from the Secretary of State for those families that their loved ones will not end up once again in settings that have been traumatising in the past and where abuse has taken place, as a consequence of the Bill.
I ask the Minister to look again at the provisions in the Bill around the Mental Health Act 1983. I accept the reasons why having one doctor to free up capacity might be relevant, but could the Minister consider provisions under which one doctor signs and that is reviewed by a second doctor within a day or a very short period? Without that, some very vulnerable people could be left unprotected.
I accept the reason why elections have been postponed. However, in County Durham, we have a police and crime commissioner by-election due in May because of the death of the PCC. The acting commissioner is only in there for six months, so is there provision to extend his period by up to another 12 months? That will be needed, because the elections will not take place next year.
Lastly, I urge the Minister and the Treasury to do something for self-employed people.
Earlier, I asked the Minister about cremation and I know that she gave me the assurance that no one would be cremated or buried against their religious wishes. However, with all due respect, assurances from the Minister are not the same as provisions in the Bill. The Bill still says that it is “desirable” to ask for views and to do something, but unless the body of the Bill actually states that nobody can be buried or cremated against their religious wishes, the law as it stands is that that is not compulsory—the idea is only advisable or only something to do with consultation. I say that because currently the legislation is that someone cannot be cremated without the consent of the person.
The precise reason why the Government introduced the legislation was so that they could circumvent that by putting in the provision saying it is “desirable”. In a court of law, “desirable” is not the same as saying “you must” or “you cannot cremate or bury somebody unless they wish that to be so”. That is the kind of guarantee that is required in the body of the Bill.
Six hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Clauses 2 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.