I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Coronavirus is the most serious public health emergency that has faced the world in a century. We are all targets, but the disease reserves its full cruelty for the weakest and the most vulnerable. To defeat it, we are proposing extraordinary measures of a kind never seen before in peacetime. Our goal is to protect life and to protect every part of the NHS. This Bill, jointly agreed with all four UK Governments, gives us the power to fight the virus with everything that we have.
Like many hon. Members, I have had a huge number of issues raised with me by NHS workers regarding the availability of personal protective equipment to frontline staff and testing. I know the Secretary of State wants to protect NHS staff through the Bill, so will he take the opportunity of Second Reading to update us, perhaps with any information he has from across the UK, about progress on these matters?
Yes. If it is okay with you, Mr Speaker, I will answer that intervention and then get on with the point in the Bill. These issues are outwith the Bill, but they are incredibly important and very much part of the topic.
In terms of making sure that NHS staff, social care staff and those who need it clinically get the protective equipment they need—especially but not only the masks— we are undertaking enormous efforts to get that equipment out. The equipment is there; we have it. It is a distribution effort. I was not satisfied with the stories I heard of people running short, so we have brought in the military to help with the logistical effort. I want to hear from every single member of staff in the NHS or in social care who needs that equipment but does not have it, so we have also introduced a hotline and an email address, which is manned. I have had an update on that, and it has had a number of calls, which are all being responded to. In that way, we will find out where the gaps are, so that we can get this distribution out. It is a mammoth effort; we have been working on it for several weeks, but the increase in the use of the protective equipment in the last week has been very sharp, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman and the House will understand. The logistical effort is very significant.
We are expanding the amount of testing. We are buying tests, both ones made abroad and ones made here in the UK, because testing is absolutely vital to getting out of this situation. I want to get to a point where anybody who wants to get tested can get tested. At the moment, we are having to reserve the tests we have for patients, especially in intensive care, so that they can be properly treated according to whether or not they have coronavirus. Very soon, we are getting the tests out to frontline staff so that they can get back to work, where somebody in their household might have the symptoms and they are household-isolating. I understand absolutely the importance of testing. We are working on it incredibly hard. We were working on it all weekend, and we are making some progress.
On the point about testing, will the Secretary of State be absolutely clear? Does the current test that is available show whether somebody has got covid-19 or has perhaps previously had it? Does it do both, or does it do just one? If it does just do one, when are we likely to have a test that does both?
Tests for both have recently been developed. The test for whether someone has coronavirus, which we call the case test, was first developed here by Public Health England, and that is being expanded. The antibody test, which tests whether someone has the antibodies that make them immune to coronavirus, has now been developed, and we are buying it in large quantities.
Nobody denies that the Bill is necessary, but given that it gives the state, for the first time in our history, unprecedented powers to enforce isolation on people who have committed no crime, will the Secretary of State reassure the House that it will be fully involved in renewing this once this crisis is over, and that there will be no drift in this matter?
Yes. I will turn to this point shortly, but let me just correct my right hon. Friend. The measures we are taking to be able to hold people in quarantine build on those in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which we have been using hitherto. In that element, the Bill is not unprecedented. The Bill makes these powers UK-wide and strengthens the basis on which they can be exercised, but the powers are not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the point he makes about the House’s ability to scrutinise these measures and to ensure that we are, as a House, content with their continuation is important.
The Bill is jointly agreed between the four UK Governments. Of course, there are measures that are significant departures from the way we normally do things, but they are strictly temporary. I think that they are proportionate to the threat we face, and they will be activated only on the basis of the best possible scientific evidence. Crucially, to my right hon. Friend’s point, the legislation is time-limited for two years and the measures can each be switched on and off individually as necessary by the relevant authority, whether that is the UK Government or the devolved Government, depending on who exercises the powers. As an additional safeguard, we today tabled an amendment to give the House the opportunity to confirm that the powers are still required every six months.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Everyone admires the steps he is taking. He knows that I have been questioning and corresponding with him on testing for some time. Given that, as he pointed out, the test was developed in this country, can he explain why it seems to be so much less available in this country than in other countries around the world?
We have done more testing than most countries. There are some countries that are ahead of us, and we are racing to catch up. We have tested far more than, say, France or America, but not as much as Italy. It is something that we are putting a huge amount of effort into. I understand the pressure my right hon. Friend rightly puts on me to expand testing capability. We are increasingly using private companies to do the testing—to expand their production and execution of the tests—rather than just doing it in the brilliant public health labs we have at Porton Down and around the NHS.
I commend what the Secretary of State said about working with the devolved Administrations to get the measures in the Bill right. It is crucial that many of these measures are UK-wide; I realise that these are unusual times. There is a specific power in schedule 21 to limit entry to premises and, if necessary, to close them down, which applies to all four Administrations. Can he be clear about whether that will apply to care homes? I have heard a lot of concern from constituents who are worried that some care homes still are not restricting entry to individuals and are therefore putting elderly residents at risk. There is real demand for this to be unified across the country to protect elderly residents.
We have other ways to enforce that with care homes, not least contractually through local authorities. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern; people in care homes need to be protected, and many of them shielded, from the virus, because many of the most vulnerable people are in care homes. I will take away the point and look at whether more needs to be done, but we do have other powers available to deliver on what he and I—I think—agree is needed.
I commend the Secretary of State for accepting the six-month review that he has just announced, but in the event that the House decides that one element of the Bill is working badly, will we be able to amend or strike out that element, or will we have to take the whole thing or reject it at that six-month point?
As discussed with the Opposition, we are proposing a six-month debate and vote on the continuation of the Bill, and before that debate we will provide evidence and advice from the chief medical officer to inform the debate. There is also a reporting mechanism for a report every eight weeks on the use of the powers in the Bill.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the time he has taken in explaining at every stage how he has used the powers of his office to this House and, indeed, to the people through the media. I am hugely grateful and I know many others are. Could I just, however, state that over the last three weeks the world has changed in a rather more radical sense than many of us appreciate? The powers in the Bill, even over six months, are likely to change and to be exercised in different ways. Can he assure me that he and all other Ministers will exercise their powers reasonably, in keeping with only the coronavirus issue, and making sure that they are limited to the purpose for which they were intended, because these powers could—in different circumstances—be used in a particularly malicious fashion?
I can confirm that the Bill is to deal with the current coronavirus emergency, and that is an important point. But I would also say that although the world has changed in the past three weeks in ways that many could not have imagined, every measure that has been taken by the Government has been part of the action plan that we published three weeks ago. Of course, the Bill has been drafted over a long period, because it started on the basis of the pandemic flu plan that was standard before coronavirus existed and has been worked on over the past three months at incredible pace by a brilliant team of officials right across Government. The Bill is consistent with the action plan, so while some people might have been surprised by each of the measures we have taken, they have all been part of the plan that we set out right at the start. I can confirm that it is only for coronavirus.
I also want to give further detail to my previous answer to Stephen Doughty, which is that section 21 does not specify what it defines as a gathering or an event. It is deliberately broad, so it could include a care home, should we need it to, and that would be defined in secondary legislation should that be necessary.
I am sure the whole House will want to support my right hon. Friend and the provisions in the Bill. I just want to reinforce two points. The first is that I was very concerned to see the two-year provision, which is why I put my name to new clauses 1 and 6, and I am very pleased to hear what the Government have said about the six-month review. Notwithstanding what he just said about the period of time in which this has been produced, it is a heroic effort— 321 pages of legislation which may well be subject to changes in the next few weeks and months as this crisis develops. I hope, therefore, that he will see the six-month review not just as a rubber-stamping effort, but as a chance to improve the legislation, should it require that improvement.
We could consider that. The proposal is to have a debate and vote as opposed to a whole new piece of legislation and, of course, only to renew it if the measures in the Bill are still necessary. Then, of course, they will fall after two years. I understand the concern of my right hon. Friend and his wisdom. I know that as Secretary of State he dealt with some of these issues, albeit not here but around the world, and he knows the sorts of measures that are needed, which are contained in the Bill.
Will the Secretary of State provide clarity on the six-month period? Obviously, six months is quite a long time for people who are chronically ill or have a serious disability. Some of the proposals have implications for social care for the devolved regions or local government. What will happen if there are negative effects on people who receive social care within that six-month period? What recourse will Members have to bring that to the House?
There will be recourse, and I will come on to that in a moment. The purpose of the social care measures in the Bill, which are very important, is to allow for the prioritisation of social care, should that be necessary. However, there are a number of restrictions on that, because local authorities will still be expected to do what they can to meet everyone’s needs during that period. While local authorities will be able to prioritise to ensure that they meet the most urgent and serious care needs, there are restrictions to require them to meet everyone’s needs and, indeed, to fulfil their human rights obligations to those in receipt of care.
I thank the Secretary of State for the excellent work he has done to ensure that individuals get the care they need in these difficult and challenging times.
On the human rights perspective, I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for listening to faith organisations. Initially there were concerns that under part 2 loved ones would have to be cremated. As somebody from a Muslim background and the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, it was completely unacceptable to consider that if taking account of the views of the Muslim and Jewish communities. I therefore thank the Government for ensuring that the wishes of the deceased will be taken into account in relation to their final rites.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked hard to ensure that we come to a solution in the Bill, through the amendments we have tabled today, that ensures we can not only have dignity in the case of a large proportion of the workforce not being available, but accede to the wishes of families from the many different faith communities who had concerns about the way it was originally drafted. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who found a way through that I think everybody can be content with.
Essentially, the Bill gives all four UK Governments a legislative and regulatory toolkit to respond in the right way at the right time by working through the action plan. While I hope that some of the powers never have to be used, we will not hesitate to act if that is what the situation requires.
To follow on from Rehman Chishti, I am grateful for the work the Government have done in this area, because many of my constituents—both those from a Muslim background and those of the Jewish faith—were naturally concerned. It is one of the major tenets of faith that everybody has the right to dignity in death, so I am grateful to the Government for listening. Will the Secretary of State join me, at this difficult time for all our communities, in thanking our faith communities for the role they are playing, the difficult decisions they are taking and the support they are giving?
I entirely agree. This exchange is an example of the cross-party approach we are all taking. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for the work he has done, together with the Paymaster General, to bring this point to light.
I am also grateful for the work the hon. Member and many others have done with faith groups of all religions who want to gather. Understandably, it is upsetting not to be able to do that, but it is right that they cease large gatherings—or, indeed, any gatherings—where there is social contact that can spread the disease. It is happening around the world. It is a difficult thing for some, and I pay tribute to the faith organisations and faith leaders across all faiths who have made the right decision. I urge all faith leaders to see what has been done by those who have taken the right steps and to follow them.
I wish to thank Jonathan Ashworth for his constructive approach to the passage of this legislation and his constructive tone in respect of this whole crisis. I reassure him that I listen to what he says very carefully. Even when he does not agree, he has done so in a calm, sensible and evidence-based way. I think the House can see from the Bill that we have taken on many of his suggestions, and they will go into law. Along with the Labour Administration in Wales, the SNP Government in Scotland and the multi-party Administration in Northern Ireland, we have taken on ideas from all parties.
The measures in the Bill fall into five categories: because we rely on the NHS and social care staff now more than ever, the first set of measures will help us to increase the available health and social care workforce; secondly, there are measures to ease the burden on frontline staff, both in the NHS and beyond; thirdly, there are measures to contain and slow the spread of the virus so that we can enforce social distancing; fourthly, there are measures on managing those whom the disease has taken from us with dignity and respect; and fifthly, there are measures on supporting people to get through this crisis. I shall briefly take each of them turn.
The first part of the Bill is about boosting our healthcare workforce at a time when it comes under maximum pressure, both through increased demand and because of household isolation and the fact that large parts of the workforce may fall sick. The Bill allows for the emergency registration of health and social care professionals, including nurses, midwives, paramedics and social workers. I can update the House with numbers: 7,563 clinicians, including Members of this House, have so far answered our call to return to work, and I pay tribute to every single one of them. These are difficult times and they have risen to the call of the nation’s needs. We know that many more will join them.
Our thanks also go to the social workers who play such a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable in this country. The Bill protects the income and the employment status of those who volunteer in the health and social care system. Volunteers will play a critical role in relieving the pressure on frontline clinicians and social care staff. Again, I offer our thanks.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many people in the refugee community in the UK are qualified healthcare professionals? I have spoken to the refugee charity RefuAid, which says it has 514 qualified healthcare professionals on its books. These are people who are willing to work and fully qualified in their own country, but there are bureaucratic barriers to their coming forward. Will he please look into this matter with great urgency so that such people can help us out?
Yes. If the right hon. Gentleman emails me with the details, we will get right on to it. He refers to bureaucratic barriers; we of course have to make sure that people are able to do the work that is necessary, but we have already shown in the Bill that we are willing not only to bring people back into service but to put into service those who are towards the end of their training, to make sure that we get as many people as possible in full service. I absolutely want to pick up on the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal and take it up with the General Medical Council or the relevant regulator to see whether we can find a way through for the period of this crisis.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State may not need an additional power in relation to the Home Office being able to waive fees for tier 2 and tier 5 visas for foreign nationals who are already working in the NHS and are about to have to renew their status in this country, or for those who have been studying as students.
Will the Secretary of State look at the immigration surcharge for doctors and nurses who are working in intensive care units? Will he also look personally at the issues relating to research trials for potential new drugs or treatments, or existing drugs or treatments that are being used? Concerns have been raised with me that those processes are all being delayed by the traditional randomised controlled trial processes, which may not be appropriate given the emergency we face.
Absolutely. The chief medical officer is personally looking into that issue to make sure that when there is a treatment, we can bring it to bear as soon as is safely possible. There is a challenge with a disease that has, thankfully, a mortality rate as a proportion of the overall population as low as this one, which is that we do not want to do more harm than good. Many of these drugs are safe, because they are licensed for another purpose. It is a question of repurposing them—this is for treatment, rather than vaccine—and that is something we are actively working on. If the right hon. Lady has examples of particular barriers that we need to crunch through I would like to know about them. If she could email me I will take that up with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
I want to bring to the attention of the House to the professional indemnity clauses. Where there is no existing professional indemnity agreement in place the Bill provides legal protection for the additional clinical responsibilities that healthcare staff may be required to take on as part of the coronavirus response. I do not want any clinician not to do anything that they can do because that they worry about indemnity and what might happen if it goes wrong. I want everybody in the NHS to do their very best to the top of their qualification, looking after people and keeping them safe.
I commend the Health Secretary on everything that he and his team are doing. To ensure that returning healthcare professionals can do so at the right time, when the disease peaks around Easter, we have to move at pace to put the indemnity that he has cited in place, to ensure that people are physically and mentally fit to do this work and, crucially, to ensure that they are skilled or reskilled to do what we are asking of them. Can he assure the House that those three things are being put in place?
I thank the Secretary of State for everything that he is doing. We are all rooting for him to be successful. I am genuinely worried about what is happening in London hospitals, and what it says about the prospects for the rest of the NHS. He is right to try and get staff to return, but we have to be able to keep them when they arrive. I have seen disturbing reports over the weekend of agency staff walking out mid-shift because they do not have the right protective gear, the right sanitising hand gel, and the things that they expect to keep themselves and patients safe. Can he look urgently at this issue, because London is the story that will follow for the rest of the country if we do not get this right?
Yes, this is what I have been spending the weekend on—absolutely; it is incredibly important.
Turning to the second part of the Bill, which is about easing the burden on the frontline and follows from that intervention, that refers not only to the NHS frontline but to the dedicated public servants who guard our streets, who care for our children, and look after communities, in local government—in short, all those who keep the UK running safely and securely. By cutting the amount of paperwork that they have to do, by allowing more remote working, by delaying some activities until the emergency has ended, we can keep essential services going while we get through the pandemic.
Some of the measures are difficult, and not what we would choose to do in normal times. For instance, the Bill will modify temporarily mental health legislation, reducing from two to one the number of doctors’ opinions needed to detain someone under the Mental Health Act 1983 because they pose a risk to themselves or others. In circumstances in which staff numbers are severely affected, the Bill allows for the extension or removal of legal time limits governing the short-term detention of mental health patients. The Bill also allows for an expansion of NHS critical care by allowing for rapid discharge from hospital where a patient is medically fit. NHS trusts will be permitted to delay continuing healthcare assessments, a process that can take weeks, until after the emergency has ended. The people who need this support will still receive NHS funding in the interim.
The Bill contains powers allowing local authorities to prioritise the services they offer, as we discussed earlier in relation to social care, and that prioritisation, while challenging, is vital. The measures would only be activated in circumstances where staff numbers were severely depleted. They do not remove the duty of care to an individual at risk of serious harm or neglect. We do not take any of these measures lightly. I hope that many will not have to be used, but we will do whatever it takes to beat this virus.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being very generous. On frontline care, particularly those working in intensive care units around the country, may I press him again? When will those staff be tested? There are many staff who want to go to work, but are afraid that they may be carrying the virus. For those who are at work, if they are tested and they have the virus, they want to isolate so that they can return as quickly as possible to the frontline. When are they going to be tested?
The answer is as soon as the tests we are buying are available. Expanding testing is absolutely critical to everything we are doing.
This part of the Bill also covers other mission-critical parts of public services, not just the NHS, including schools, borders, justice and national security. The Bill empowers schools, for instance, to respond pragmatically to this situation, including the ability to change teacher ratios, to adapt school meal standards and temporarily to relax provisions for those with special educational needs. The Bill also gives the Home Secretary the power to close and suspend operations at UK ports and airports, powers that will deployed in circumstances only where staff shortages at the Border Force pose a real and significant threat to the UK’s border security. It expands on the availability of video and audio links in court proceedings, so that justice can continue to function without the need for participants to attend in person. To ensure that the Treasury can transact business at all times, the Bill makes it possible for a single Minister or Treasury commissioner to sign instruments or act on behalf of other commissioners.
At a time of unprecedented social disruption, it is also essential to maintain our national security capabilities. The Bill allows temporary judicial commissioners to be appointed at the request of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and for an increase in the maximum time allowed for an urgent warrant to be reviewed from three to 12 days. That means that vital investigation warrants can continue to be issued, and our security services and police can continue to protect the public.
On the key points of people with mental health problems being signed off by one doctor and a loosening of the regulations relating to children with special needs, what measures can be put in place, by local authorities or others, so that there is a review mechanism on those two very crucial points for vulnerable people?
Clearly, these are issues of the highest sensitivity. It is important that we take those measures in case they are needed in the circumstances where staff numbers available are low, to make sure we can get the support needed as appropriate and make the interventions that are sometimes difficult to make. For instance, it can be, in some circumstances, far worse not to detain somebody under the Mental Health Act where they are a danger to themselves or others. If there is not the availability of a second doctor, because of staff shortages due to the virus, then I think that is appropriate, but the safeguards are an important part of getting this right and an important part of why this is time limited.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being incredibly generous. Clause 23 talks about food supply chains, which are absolutely crucial. He will have seen that many supermarkets are taking on additional workers to meet demand. Can he provide an answer on this point or get one from the Treasury? I have heard from many people who are thinking of applying for those jobs, perhaps to make up loss of income. If they are covered by the 80% wage subsidy, are they able to take on extra work or will they lose the 80% wage subsidy from their existing job? May we have urgent clarity on that point, because it could be deterring people from taking up those important jobs in our supermarkets and supply chains?
That really is a question for the Treasury. My understanding is that the 80% wage subsidy is for those who are furloughed, as the Chancellor put it, as opposed to those who have moved into other jobs, but the hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Treasury for a more detailed answer.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way and for all the work he is doing—indeed, I thank the House for all the work it is doing—on this essential legislation. With regard to university settings, there seems to be some confusion. I have looked at the Universities UK advice, but some universities do not seem to be following it and are requiring students, notwithstanding the advice the country at large is being given, to attend.
I am surprised to hear that, because we have been very, very clear about universities, alongside schools. It is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary in the first instance, but on public health grounds we made it absolutely clear that we were taking steps to close schools, nurseries, universities and colleges, except for the children of key workers where they absolutely need to be at school, for example where neither parent can look after them. However, all those at university can stay at home on their own and do not need a parent, so I do not think there is any excuse whatever.
Our local authority, the new unitary Buckinghamshire Council, has made the point that workers in leisure centres who are furloughed may need to be redeployed into other areas of council work where they would not normally be employed. That raises a problem. The council really needs to use the furlough scheme to take those workers out of leisure centres and put them into social care—quite a different industry. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to make sure that that is possible?
I do not think a legal change is needed to do that, because to second someone from one job to another is perfectly possible under existing employment law. In fact, the Bill brings in a statutory volunteering scheme, which is essentially a new form of employment through volunteering. That is one way that that could be done, but I would not expect it to be the main way used. If someone is moving to do a different type of job because we need more people doing some things and fewer doing others during this crisis, that sort of secondment can be done entirely normally—unless I have misunderstood my hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend has slightly misunderstood, and I hope he does not mind me saying so. The point really is that all councils will be haemorrhaging money at this time and they will need that 80% support for those workers whom they would otherwise furlough, so that they can then use them as volunteers. The point is to constrain cost.
While we understand that the circumstances are exceptional, there is understandably grave concern about lowering social care standards. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable in our society—the elderly and disabled of all ages. Having the convention on human rights as a back-up could lead to care standards being lowered to a dangerous level, putting those people at risk. Will the Secretary of State outline the thresholds for turning the powers on, and indeed off to ensure that they do not become the new norm?
The threshold is to do with staff shortages. I say gently to the hon. Lady that I understand her concerns, but in fact the purpose of these measures is precisely the opposite: it is to make sure that when there is a shortage of social care workers, those who need social care to live their everyday life get it and can be prioritised ahead of those who have a current legal right to social care under the Care Act 2014 but for whom it is not a matter of life and death. This is absolutely about prioritising the vulnerable. That is the purpose of the legislation, but I understand her concern, and that is why we put the safeguards in place to ensure that the prioritisation works as intended.
I have a general question about the supply of medicine. Paul Howard, a consultant in palliative medicine at our excellent hospice on the Island, says that under patient group direction—that is, group prescriptions—nurses can give out morphine, but due to a quirk in the rules they cannot give similar powerful opiate painkillers. Will the Bill enable nurses to give controlled drugs as part of patient group direction? I ask not only in case medical supplies run short, but specifically because we on the Island rely on ferries, and such a provision would give us slightly more diversity in patient treatment.
I will look into those specific points. There are parts of the Bill that would help to tackle the problem my hon. Friend describes if it is appropriate to do so, but I think it is better if I get some medical advice and then get back to him.
The third part of the Bill contains measures to slow the spread of the virus. As the disease accelerates, our goal is to protect life, to protect the vulnerable and to protect the NHS by flattening the curve and minimising unnecessary social contact. This is a national effort, and everyone has their part to play—self-isolating if someone or anyone in their house has symptoms, working from home wherever possible, avoiding social gatherings and, of course, regularly washing your hands.
The Bill provides for us to go further: it gives us stronger powers to restrict or prohibit events and public gatherings and, where necessary, to shut down premises; and it gives the police and Border Force the power to isolate a person who is or may be infectious. This part of the Bill also allows us to close educational settings or childcare providers, and to postpone for one year elections that were due to take place in England in May. These are not measures anyone would want to take, but they are absolutely necessary in this crisis.
The Secretary of State will be aware that over the weekend thousands of people made their way to holiday areas and rural areas such as mine. Do the powers in schedule 21 allow Ministers to require people, in circumstances where local health boards are under increased pressure, to remain in their primary residences?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, because we have advised against all unnecessary travel and I do not regard going to a holiday home in Wales as a necessary journey. There is a risk of putting extra pressure on the NHS in rural areas from large numbers of people going to second homes, so I entirely understand the concern he has raised. The powers do allow for a constable to take somebody to a place in order to prevent the spread of the infection and make sure that we can police the public health guidance that we have given. We have been absolutely clear in the past few days that if people do not follow this advice, we will not hesitate to act. We acted last week on pubs, clubs and restaurants. We said that people should not go to them, but it was clear that some were still open and so we took the decision to close them down, with enforcement powers for the police and trading standards. This Bill provides those powers more broadly.
I am pleased with what the Secretary of State has said, as this is a significant problem. I received more than 1,000 emails over the weekend from constituents who are petrified about what is going on. The highland area makes up more than 10% of the UK landmass, but we have one acute hospital, in Inverness, and some of these tourist destinations are more than three hours from Inverness. We have been inundated with people who showed no concern for the local population. People are saying that they are now being denied the right to travel to the islands by ferry because we have stopped it and they are going to come to Skye. This is a dangerous situation, where they are imperilling the lives of our constituents. They must go home and they must stay at home, as I am sure the Secretary of State would agree.
Some holiday companies have been responsible. For example, Sykes Cottages has cancelled a raft of bookings for weeks ahead. However, my hon. Friend Ms Brown, by phone, has raised the fact that lots of Airbnb bookings are still available in holiday resorts. Surely that is irresponsible. If the companies will not do the responsible thing by limiting access to holiday properties, does the Bill give the Government the power to act? If so, will they act to stop this kind of behaviour?
If it is deemed a risk to public health, the Bill does give the potential power, through secondary legislation, to take action if that is needed.
I mean this in a constructive way, but it does feel as though we are constantly behind the curve; we are always waiting for people not to do what we have asked them to do before we then step in and introduce more strict communications. So I beg him: will he underpin this legislation and everything else the Government are doing with a much bigger, wider, louder and more comprehensive public education campaign, because right now the message clearly is not getting through? Anyone who was looking at the coverage over the weekend of people gathering in Richmond park and elsewhere will know that it is not being heard. We need to be doing an awful lot more to be able to catch up and get ahead of this.
There is the most comprehensive public communications campaign probably in the history of Government peacetime communications—maybe I will send the hon. Lady a poster.
The issue of Brits seeking to isolate in remoter parts of the country is a big issue in Rutland. Over the weekend, I went around the constituency, and I saw pile after pile of cars. I saw caravan parks open and hotels advertising self-isolation holidays and breaks in my constituency. Can the Secretary of State confirm, for the benefit of all in the House, that the current guidance is that people should stay in their own homes and not travel for self-isolation holidays or anything of the sort?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous, but these are important issues. On the issue of social distancing, is there something that he feels might happen tomorrow that is not happening today, as far as people’s behaviour is concerned? People are gathering in their thousands on the beautiful landmark of the Wrekin in my constituency. It is right that people should have exercise for their physical and mental health and wellbeing, but social distancing is not being followed by many, whether it be in the Wrekin or Holland Park, Hyde Park, St James’s Park or counties around the country. What behavioural changes does he expect? Is it not the case that we will have lockdown, and would it not be better to have it today rather than next week?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are absolutely clear that we are prepared to take the action that is necessary.
The fourth part of the Bill contains measures for managing the deceased in circumstances where many of those involved in the registration and management of death will themselves be self-isolating. We want to ensure that those taken from us by the virus are treated with the utmost dignity, while protecting public health and respecting the wishes of bereaved families. Among other measures, the Bill will expand the list of people who can register a death to include funeral directors. It will mean that coroners only have to be notified where there is not a medical professional available to sign a death certificate. It will allow death certificates to be emailed instead of physically presented. It will remove the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate in order for a cremation to take place, and it gives local authorities the power to take control of elements of the process if needed. Those powers would only be used if absolutely necessary and on clinical advice, but we plan for the worst, even while we work for the best.
The Secretary of State will know that a new medical examiner system has been introduced in many areas, including Durham. Their role is to look into deaths in hospitals, so they will be inundated if there is a large number of deaths. Is there any provision in the Bill that loosens up their role? Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the number of examinations that they will have to do.
I very much hope that they will not be. The medical examiners regime is very successful, and as the right hon. Gentleman says, we are expanding it across the country. We do not deem that necessary, not least because we think that we can expand it if necessary. We do not think that there is a need for statutory change in an area that is improving.
There may be instances where it is impossible to allow for a normal funeral in the way that one is used to. There might have to be mass funerals or, for that matter, instances where just one person is allowed to attend, apart from the celebrant. I wonder whether it might be possible to ensure that in all local authorities, and in particular crematoria, it is possible to film such moments, so that loved ones at least have an opportunity to feel that they are engaged online, if not in person.
I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks from experience of having presided over these events. That is available—increasingly so—and I entirely understand why many people would want that.
The fifth and final part of the Bill includes measures to protect and support people through this crisis. This is not an exhaustive list of everything we plan to do, but the principle is that no one should be punished for doing the right thing and self-isolating if they or someone in their household has symptoms. To make that happen, the Bill will ensure that statutory sick pay is paid from day one, and this will be applied retrospectively from
The Bill allows the four UK Governments to activate these powers when they are needed and to deactivate them when they are no longer needed. We ask for these powers as a whole to protect life. We will relinquish them as soon as the threat to life from coronavirus has passed. This Bill means that we can do the right thing at the right time, guided by the best possible science. That science gets better every day. This disease can isolate us, but it cannot separate us from the ties that bind us together. With patience and resolve, with the painstaking use of data and evidence, and with the whole nation working together as one United Kingdom, we will get through this. I commend the Bill to the House.
May I start by thanking the Secretary of State for his kind words and for the way in which he has continued to keep me updated throughout this process, for the arrangements he has made for us to be briefed by officials and the chief medical officer, for keeping me informed of Government decisions, and for his ongoing engagement on the Bill? I hope that Members across the House understand that when we ask the Secretary of State probing questions, we do so constructively—not to undermine him or to create some false dividing line for the sake of political point scoring. This is a frightening time for our constituents and we all have an interest in ensuring that the Government get this right. We want the Government to succeed in defeating this virus.
I will make a few remarks about where we are with responding to the virus before moving on to some specific comments about the Bill. As always, our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to the virus. Again, let me put on record our praise for the extraordinary efforts of our NHS staff and other dedicated public servants. This unprecedented global health crisis tests each and every one of them like never before; we are forever in their debt.
Today this House is being asked to make decisions of a magnitude that I simply would never have dreamt of only a few weeks ago. I know that no Member came into this place to put powers like this on to the statute book—powers that curtail so many basic freedoms that our forebears fought so hard for, and that so many people today take for granted. But I also know that every Member here will want to do all they can to support all means necessary to save lives and protect our communities in the face of this virus.
This is a global health emergency the like of which the world has never seen since the Spanish flu outbreak over 100 years ago. Throughout this outbreak, I have said that the virus spreads rapidly, exploits ambivalence and thrives on inequality. The Government have quite correctly sought to promote social distancing as a means of reducing person-to-person transmission of the virus. For the most part, these measures have been on a purely voluntary basis, but I am afraid that too many people are still not following the advice. This weekend we will all have seen the pictures of bustling markets, packed tube trains, and busy beaches and parks. I am afraid that the public health messages are still not being heard loud and clear. Everyone who can be at home should be at home. Everyone who can work from home must do so. This House must also send a clear message to young people—millennials—that they are not invulnerable to the virus; they are at risk too.
To be frank, we in this House need to adjust our behaviour as well. I love and respect this Chamber, and I think Members will agree that I relish the cut and thrust of robust debate across these Dispatch Boxes. But if other workplaces can use Zoom calls, Skype, conference calling and so on to make decisions, why can’t we? I therefore look forward to the reforms that Mr Speaker is looking into.
It would be remiss of me not to thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for the way in which they are both responding to this crisis—even though they are on opposite sides of the House—in the interests of the whole country. The whole House appreciates the way that both of them have conducted themselves throughout this crisis. On the point that he raises, an acquaintance of mine, who is an NHS nurse, asked:
“Why is the public creating more work for us medical staff and exposing us to the risk of dying?”
I thank him for giving those messages so clearly, but does he think that there is more that can be done to communicate more effectively to the public what social distancing means in practice and how people should behave given the scenes that we have seen this weekend?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I did note that the Secretary of State talked about the comprehensive public health advertising campaign. We welcome that campaign, but we encourage the Secretary of State to use his offices to see whether that comprehensive campaign can become even more comprehensive. Can we have more adverts on television and more adverts on radio stations? Can we have a leaflet going through every door, explaining what social distancing means, explaining what shielding means? Before this virus took hold, the words “social distancing” and “shielding” were probably not often used in the Chamber, so if they are not words that we are familiar with, we can bet that our constituents are not entirely familiar with them either.
The shadow Secretary of State will know Telford and Wrekin very well as he has visited them many times in the past 12 months due to flooding and other issues. I am grateful for his visits despite the fact that he is a member of the Opposition. Is he aware that, today, the Labour-led council made a decision, which I support, to close all the public parks, play areas and open spaces that it runs, and that that in turn will put more pressure on the other open spaces that are not currently run by the local authority? May I encourage him to continue to press the Government to move quicker to this lockdown that we all want to avoid, but that will ultimately save lives.
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that my attempts to change the political complexion of Telford and Wrekin have completely failed to date, but I am grateful to him for his comments about the Labour council. I think that this is the nub of the matter. I have a point to put to the Secretary of State while he is still in the Chamber. Sadly, it has just been reported on social media that the case fatality figures are continuing to climb and there is some discussion that we are seeing now an exponential growth in line with Italy. I appreciate that there are different demographic issues in different nations, but, clearly, people are concerned that our death rates are increasing at a rate that suggests that we could be heading to an Italian-style situation. We all know what is happening in Italy. The point is that clinicians are warning us that our intensive care bed capacity and our high-dependency unit capacity, could very quickly be overwhelmed. We have already seen a critical incident at one hospital, and no doubt we will see more in the coming days. This is a crisis and it is a crisis that demands an overwhelming Government response.
The right hon. Gentleman has rather anticipated my point. Looking at the graphs—and I do caveat this with a recognition that different countries have a different demographic profile—we are now beyond the numbers of fatalities that existed in Spain and France when they announced their stricter enforcement measures and their lockdowns. I do not really like the term lockdown, because it means different things in different contexts, but I think that we broadly understand what we are talking about this afternoon. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s point, we, as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, do now call on the Government to enforce social distancing and greater social protection as a matter of urgency. I am sorry and disappointed about that, but I am afraid that many people are not adhering to the type of social distancing that we expect.
My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State is absolutely right in what he says, but there are those who are finding it difficult to socially isolate because of the financial circumstances that they find themselves in. There are self-employed taxi drivers, those in the gig economy and others who are sometimes only just getting by in the first place. There needs to be clear financial packages available to put those people on an equal footing so that they can also take up that measure.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and his point has been made repeatedly by my right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor. The challenge of social isolation will not be boredom and fatigue, as some behavioural scientists have suggested; I think the biggest challenge of social isolation will be personal finances, and so on. That is why our proposed measures on sick pay are so important, and it is why we welcomed some of the measures announced by the Chancellor last week, but we think they need to go further.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for taking the issue of communication more seriously than the Secretary of State. We need leaflets going house to house, and we need them in different languages so that different communities can hear this.
The hon. Gentleman’s point about a strict lockdown is well made, but I echo what others have said about the importance of guaranteeing economic security to make it much more possible for people to cope with that lockdown, particularly the self-employed who are now struggling so much. Statutory sick pay is not enough for them.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am proud to represent the great city of Leicester, which is probably the most diverse city in the United Kingdom—every language in the world is spoken there—so I entirely endorse what she says. If we funded local government properly, it would be able to put such measures in place.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s broader point that if we have to ask people to stay at home, or if we have to force them to do so—we would support the Government if they took that action, and I think they do need to take that action—we would also need to provide them with the economic security they rightly deserve.
I thank my hon. Friend for his approach to this issue on a day-to-day basis. I completely support what he says about the need to enforce social distancing, and I know many Members on both sides of the House would do so, too.
I am struck by the contact I have had with friends in Italy and elsewhere who are, frankly, aghast that we have not moved to tougher measures sooner. Anybody looking at the graphs of the situation in Italy would definitely want to avoid it here, so I wholeheartedly support such measures, but they have to come with the economic measures he rightly talks about.
There is a lot of talk about income, but it is also about expenditure. I have had many complaints from constituents about prices rocketing, particularly for staples, but it is unclear whether that is the fault of the retailers, the cash-and-carry wholesalers or, indeed, the suppliers. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking into it, but I urge the Government to crack down urgently on profiteering from people’s difficulty.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and we are seeing it in my constituency. I have had complaints from constituents about exploitative profiteering, so I hope the Government will come forward with some proposals to stamp it out. It is an absolute disgrace that it is happening at this time of national crisis.
May I raise, once again, the issue of housing? Social isolation is great, but it is really difficult for people who happen to live with their family in one room in a deeply overcrowded shared house—sharing a kitchen and sharing bathrooms—as so many of my constituents do, particularly when the kids are off school. There needs to be some thought about letting them out in parks and stuff like that, because they do not have gardens.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I represent an inner-city seat, and I appreciate that her seat is on the outskirts of London but, none the less, our seats have similar demographics. I know full well that many, many families are living in cramped, small flats. There are intergenerational families living with elderly mums, elderly grandmothers and so on who have various comorbidities and who need to be shielded.
If we enter a situation in which we force people to stay at home, I hope the Government will look at how to support such families, because it is quite outrageous that, in many parts of the country—especially in London, but also in my constituency—there are flats with families of nine or 10 people sleeping on the floor, and so on, while property developers have flats standing empty. Why cannot we take over some of those empty flats to house some of these very vulnerable families and to help us get through this national crisis?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the stance he is taking in this debate. The whole House will respect him for it. The series of interventions that he has just taken demonstrates a wider point: the need for the Government, sadly—and I did not think I would ever say this in this House—to get into intrusive levels of planning that we have never seen before, because every time we have a change in the level of ferocity or intensity of our dictating what the state and society should do, we run into a new set of problems, whether that is crowding on tube trains overwhelming our desire for social distancing, or young mothers with children at home finding it very difficult to get to supermarkets and therefore literally running out of food, which is even more fundamental than running out of money. We need to think forward, and I say that because we have seen in Europe—between Germany, Italy and Spain—very similar policy actions but with completely different outcomes. I suspect that it is because of a different approach taken by the German Government and society from that taken by the Italians or the Spanish, and we have to think about that as we go into the next stage.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are asking people, and are probably on the cusp of probably of forcing people, to radically adjust their behaviour in a way in which we have not been used to for more than 70 years. The last time that we asked people to radically adjust their behaviour was in the second world war. We have generations who are not used to this. We are a society who are used to going where we want, buying what we want, doing what we want and socialising when we want, and clearly, for a lot of people, it is not dawning on them that they will have to change the way they behave. That has huge knock-on effects for how public services will be organised, how the criminal justice system will have to work and how food distribution systems are going to work. It is right that we as parliamentarians continue to ask Government Ministers serious questions about that, but we also have to be aware that we have a responsibility to set an example to the country. We have to socially distance ourselves, so I really hope that the good offices of the Speaker, the Leader of the House and everyone who is involved in House business can quickly find a satisfactory set of procedures for us to continue having our discussions and asking Ministers questions, but not setting the example that we are unfortunately setting today. I am not making any personal criticism of any Member, because it is the situation we are in—we have to debate the Bill today—but we are going to have to hold the Government to account on the far-reaching, extensive powers that they are taking.
As always, I am listening with great attention to what the hon. Gentleman has to say. Does he agree that part of the problem is that policy has to be based on behavioural science, but behavioural science is one of the most imprecise of sciences? The difficulty is that it is not like chemistry or physics. It means that we have to have a wider margin of error when designing policy, and what that means, in effect, is erring on the side of caution and safety, which I think is the burden of the direction that he is urging on Ministers. In a sense, it is about getting ahead of the curve by bringing in measures that we would all regret. However, if we are going to base policy on behavioural science—it being fairly inexact and difficult to predict, as we have seen over the weekend—we have to have that margin of error and caution, which I think he is recommending.
The right hon. Gentleman has shrewdly interpreted the stance I am taking. Throughout all this, given the way in which the virus has spread so rapidly, its reproduction rate and the mortality rate, I have always urged the Government to take a precautionary principle approach to every decision that they make. I have been a bit sceptical about some of the behavioural modelling that has been used. Let me give him a quick example. Before the Government banned mass gatherings, we were told by Ministers and officials—I hope that no Minister takes this is a personal criticism; I certainly do not mean it in that way—that there is no point in banning a football match with 70,000 people in the stadium, because the person with the virus is not going to infect the other 70,000 people in the stadium and that if we stop them going to the stadium to watch the match, they would all go to the pub to watch it and infect more people there. I am sure he has heard that example.
I am very proud to represent Leicester City football club, and all the football fans—or a large proportion of them—go to the stadium before the match, and go to the stadium after the match—[Hon. Members: “Pub!”] I beg your pardon, they go to the pub. They go to the pub before the match, and they go after the match—[Interruption.] Some of them do avoid the stadium, actually. I am sure that Dr Murrison sees the point I am making. Some of these behavioural models do not always, it would seem, reflect how humans behave. Given that, Ministers and Governments should follow a precautionary principle at all times. That is why Labour is now urging Ministers to come forward with their plans to enforce compulsory social distancing. There are different models in different countries—we have France, Spain and Italy, New Zealand, where they did it overnight, Greece, and Germany, where, other than families, they have banned more than two people from meeting outside the house—but we think that the time has come for the United Kingdom to go down this line. We would encourage the Prime Minister to come forward with plans for how he thinks that this should apply to the UK.
Behaviour is changing, and, unfortunately, some of it is unhelpful. Today, I have had probably one of the most upsetting emails that I have received throughout this time from my local foodbank, which tells me that two of the main supermarkets in the area are refusing to sell it food. The people who get that food from the foodbank have no other means of obtaining food in the midst of this crisis. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government need to speak urgently to the major supermarkets to ensure that foodbanks can secure sufficient supplies for those people who have no other option?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I totally agree that that is an absolute disgrace. I hope that the Government will look into that, because although foodbanks should not be necessary in this day and age, we know that they are vital and I hope that the Government can resolve that swiftly.
I was originally answering the point made by the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire so long ago: we would support the Government if they came forward with such proposals, but suppressing and defeating the virus is about more than just so-called lockdowns and enforcement. We need more testing, we need more contact tracing and we need more isolation to break the chains of transmission. The World Health Organisation has famously instructed the world to test, test, test—and we agree. Labour has called for testing for the virus to be carried out in our communities on a mass scale, starting with NHS and care staff as a priority. We urge the Government rapidly to scale up testing and we thank all NHS lab staff and PHE staff who are working so hard.
For example, could the Government consider what is happening in the Republic of Ireland, where there are 35 community testing facilities in operation? They have six more planned, and the largest, in Croke Park stadium in Dublin, provides a drive-through service that tests 1,000 people a day.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend on the need, in particular, to protect all key workers and to therefore make sure that there is testing available for them. Is it not important that at the same time we make sure that path labs have enough resources and capacity to be able to be able, for instance, to do cancer biopsies and get them back to people fast enough, because all those other conditions and diseases that are very time-critical will be just as important?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Path lab and virology labs are under intense pressure, because not only are they being asked to test for covid-19 but they have other testing responsibilities as well, whether that is for HIV, influenza, measles or all the other illnesses that are still circulating and still need to be treated. He makes a very important point.
I hope that Ministers can update us on testing capacity, because looking at the figures it appears that between 21 and
I emphasise the point I have made in this House before that we really need to be testing our NHS staff. Not testing NHS staff puts them at risk and it puts their patients at risk. This weekend, we heard powerful messages from doctors who were literally shouting out for help and telling us they feel like lambs to the slaughter because of failures in the distribution of protective kit and because they are not able to get access to testing. I have heard of GPs—indeed, GPs have got in touch with me directly telling me this going to DIY stores to make their own PPE kit. It has been reported today that one of the healthcare distribution chains has put out a call to DIY stores asking them to donate or hand over their visors and goggles.
Pharmacists are worried that they cannot get through to CCGs to get appropriate PPE when sick patients are walking through the door daily asking for advice. We have heard stories of community nurses, health visitors and paramedics without PPE. Indeed, The Daily Telegraph reports today about staff at Norwick Park Hospital being forced to wear bin bags because of a lack of PPE.
The health, happiness and lives of our constituents, and of their loved ones and neighbours, depend on our NHS staff now more than ever. We should not expect our NHS staff to go into battle exposed and not fully protected—lacking the armour they desperately need. If more PPE has been delivered in the last 24 hours, as the Secretary of State indicated, then we welcome that, but to be frank, it should not have taken so long. Our NHS staff deserve every ounce of support we can offer, and on that front, will Ministers also consider binning hospital car parking charges for NHS staff at this time of crisis?
Those working in critical services more widely—our police, our careworkers, our postal workers—need appropriate protective clothing too. We urge the Government to ensure that all public services can access the appropriate PPE speedily. For example, in The Sunday Times yesterday, it was reported that flights continue to arrive at Heathrow from Italy, Iran and China. Those flights are obviously coming from hotspots—perhaps Ministers could explain why that is still happening—but what protections are being afforded to airline and airport workers, and what measures are in place for those passengers on arrival? On the tube and on the train, there is real worry that services are being reduced too steeply, causing our key workers to get on to crowded carriages and putting everyone at risk. What assurances can Ministers give us that there is a sufficiency of public transport services to get our frontline workers safely to their workplace?
Let me turn to some of the specifics in the Bill, and first to the health and social care clauses. On the health clauses—Munira Wilson raised this with the Secretary of State—the Bill makes provisions for retired staff and final-year medical and nursing students to rejoin or join the health service for the duration of the pandemic. We understand why, and we welcome this. Can Ministers tell the House, either in response to the debate or in Committee, whether final-year nursing and medical students will be able to return to learning and complete more supported clinical placements, if needed, once the crisis is over? Will Ministers also outline how these students will be fully supported while working during what will undoubtedly be an incredibly stressful time for new doctors and nurses? Will students be properly remunerated for their work, and what protections will be available for retired staff, many of whom could also be in a vulnerable group? I put on record our thanks to those retired staff who have returned to the frontline.
Some of the most vulnerable people in the country absolutely depend on all of us here to defend their human rights and civil liberties, and they are the ones in receipt of adult social care services. On social care, this Bill makes sweeping changes to the duties that are placed on local authorities. It removes the duty to assess care needs, including on discharge from hospital, so there will be no duty to assess people who may need care or to assess their carers, and no duty to assess some of those with the most severe needs who may be eligible for continuing healthcare. Can Ministers reassure us that this will not mean that carers, disabled people and older people are left abandoned by the state until after this crisis?
Most significantly, the Bill downgrades the level of support that councils are obliged to provide to older and disabled people. Rather than the current wellbeing measures, councils will now have to provide services where necessary to uphold people’s basic human rights. In short, this means people will only be entitled to receive social care to keep them alive and to uphold their rights to privacy and a family life. Obviously, that is not the vision for social care that we legislated for in 2014, but we all appreciate that these are incredibly difficult times.
Many older and disabled people, and their families, will be concerned that this will lead to existing care packages being significantly reduced overnight. Local authorities are already struggling to meet statutory needs, and increasing levels of workforce absence will only make that harder. None of us wants to see the new legal minimum of support become the default. Where local authorities can provide more comprehensive packages of support, they should, and they should always bear in mind that people who use social care are not simply passive recipients; there are doctors and nurses who rely on social care, as well as teachers, shop staff, food manufacturers and countless other vital professionals. When councils reduce care packages, they must be careful not to end up causing yet more difficulties for staff in crucial services.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, since the courts are likely to be stood down, and in a context where disabled people often use them to ensure that their rights are protected, we are in a doubly difficult situation for disabled people and elderly people?
Absolutely. That is why these particular clauses must be scrutinised so carefully by Members across the House.
We have tabled amendments to schedule 11. We recognise that there will be difficulties delivering social care over the coming weeks and months, but it should not be possible for local authorities to immediately drop care packages to a lower level. As long as it is reasonably practicable to do so, they should continue to meet people’s care needs. The presumption should always be that services will be disrupted as little as they can be under the circumstances. Nothing in our amendments would stop a local authority cutting back care hours if it had to, but they would mean that disabled and older people could be reassured that any reductions in their care will be a last resort, and that their independence will not be the first sacrifice to be made.
There are particular concerns about people who live alone or are being held in in-patient units and care homes. We have seen visits to those settings stopped as part of the Government’s shielding approach, and the CQC has halted all inspections, but we know from incidents such as Whorlton Hall that is too easy for abuse to go unnoticed—something the current situation could make worse. How will we ensure that in-patient units and care homes do not become hotbeds of abuse of human rights over the coming months?
That is precisely why I asked the Secretary of State whether, when we get to the six-month review and renewal of this legislation, we will be able to amend it. If there is oppressive behaviour in one part or another of it while the rest is all very important to the survival of our people, what stance will the Labour party take?
The right hon. Gentleman is right: we cannot just have a take-it-or-leave-it approach to these things. Tonight, the House will give the Government extraordinary powers, like we have never seen before, and it is right that we parliamentarians are given an opportunity, after the appropriate timeframe, to look at how those powers have been used and hold Ministers to account. I agree with the spirit of the point he makes, although I cannot at this stage—I suppose it may emerge later in the debate—give him a commitment one way or the other on a particular amendment. We will see how the discussions proceed throughout the afternoon, but I certainly endorse the spirit of what he says. As I say, these are extraordinary powers that the House will grant the Government this week.
We have tabled a new clause related to schedule 11. We propose that a relevant body, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, should be tasked with overseeing the Bill’s impact on the provision of social care. That body would have to report every eight weeks on the operation of these changes and whether they should be amended. It would provide the oversight that is needed to prevent people’s rights from being undermined.
One of the ways the Bill seeks to free up medical staff is by relaxing the requirements of the Mental Health Act 1983. Specifically, only one medical professional will have to agree to someone’s being sectioned, rather than the two it currently takes. The scale of that change should not be underestimated. No longer will a decision to section a person have to be taken in consultation by two doctors. There will be no requirement for anyone involved to have had prior involvement with the patient. Medical professionals are going to be under huge pressure in the coming months, and mistakes may well be made.
The Bill says that a decision should be taken on the basis of one signature if requiring a second signature would be
“impractical or would involve undesirable delay.”
That seems to be too vague and potentially open to misreading. I hope Ministers can tell us what exactly that means and what safeguards will be put in place to prevent the change from being misused. Our amendments to schedule 7 would narrow the provision so that a second signature could be left off only if acquiring it would mean an undesirable delay. If something is impractical, it will by definition create an undesirable delay. By narrowing the wording in the Bill, we can avoid the potential misuse of powers.
We propose changes to ensure that private mental health hospitals cannot detain someone solely on the single recommendation of one of their employees. That could create a conflict of interest whereby a doctor comes under pressure to sign a detention authorisation because doing so will provide their employer with income from the NHS. No medical professional should be put under that kind of pressure, and our amendment would ensure that they cannot be. [Interruption.] Is James Sunderland seeing to intervene?
The Bill extends to five days from three the length of time for which somebody in hospital can be held waiting to be sectioned. That may seem like a minor change, but for the individual concerned it could make a significant difference. I hope Ministers can reassure the House that the intention should still be to adhere to the timetable set out in the Mental Health Act, with the changes we are discussing to be used only if absolutely necessary.
Let me turn to some of the proposals on education and schooling. Many parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities will understand the need for flexibility during this difficult time, but they are also extremely nervous that they could see the erosion of the hard-fought-for rights of disabled children and young people, children and young people with special educational needs, and their families. The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to change section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014: rather than giving children rights in law, it would only request that public bodies take “reasonable endeavours”. That sets a low bar, and we will seek to change that provision to a duty to take all practical steps, which will go much further.
Let me move on to some of the other issues in the Bill. Others have alluded to concerns that the Bill still does not go far enough in providing people with the incomes that they need to self-isolate. We welcome much of the Chancellor’s statement last Friday setting out plans to support the incomes of workers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. However, there are still some gaps in the provisions that were offered. Currently, the proposal for income support through the job retention scheme does not include the self-employed and freelancers, whose incomes are increasingly being seriously affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Will the Government today offer assurances to those groups of workers, who do not have a safety net to safeguard and help them through this time?
We have welcomed the new Government measures to improve access to statutory sick pay for workers. However, the Bill does not extend eligibility to all workers, including the just under 2 million workers who earn less than the qualifying threshold of £118 a week on average. It does not raise the level of statutory sick pay, which is, at £94.25, already the second lowest rate in Europe. We hope the Government will respond on those issues quickly because, as we have continually said throughout this crisis, people should not be expected to make a choice between their health and hardship.
Nobody should lose their home because of this virus. It is welcome that Ministers have listened to Labour and committed to an evictions ban for renters, but despite the Prime Minister’s promises that the Government would legislate to that effect, no such measures are in the Bill. Some 8.5 million households rent their home from a private, council or housing association landlord in England. Our analysis of Government statistics shows that 6 million renting households have no savings at all and are particularly vulnerable if they lose their job or have their hours cut as a result of coronavirus. To give people confidence and reassurance during this difficult time and to ensure that no renter loses their home as a result of coronavirus, rent needs to be suspended for those adversely affected by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Like many Members across the House, the Opposition support this Bill with a very heavy heart—heavy not just with the shock and grief that this deadly virus has brought, but given the very real threats that emergency powers of this nature pose to human rights. The Bill contains the most draconian powers ever seen in peacetime Britain—powers to detain and test potentially infectious members of the public, including children, in isolation facilities; powers to shut down gatherings, which could impede the ability to protest against the overall handling of the crisis or against the abuse of the powers themselves. It needs no explanation and very little imagination to understand the huge potential for abuse that such powers and others in the Bill, however well intended and needed, still give rise. Those words will chill every liberal and libertarian instinct of Members across this House, which is why we were grateful to the Health Secretary and the Solicitor General for discussing these measures with us and with my shadow Cabinet colleagues in the rapid preparation stage of this Bill.
We have heard many wartime analogies in the press. Many here have talked about Winston Churchill. Of course, Churchill was remembered not only for victory in the war, but for the European convention on human rights at the end of the war. Notwithstanding the anti-Human Rights Act and anti-judicial review grumblings that we have heard in recent times, this Bill comes under the cover of a statement of compatibility under section 19 of the Human Rights Act. Further, the Bill does not attempt to oust the supervisory jurisdiction of the courts. That means that every exercise of Executive power or administrative action under the legislation must and will be measured against human rights and common-law standards. These include necessity, proportionality, rationality, fairness and, crucially, non-discrimination. I thank the Government for that concession on their part and for agreeing, I hope once and for all, that human rights and the rule of law, far from impeding national efforts in time of crisis, should instead guide and inspire them.
It is important that various measures in the Bill, some interfering with liberties and others deregulating standards, may be turned on and off, as and when needed, by the appropriate Administration under our devolution settlement. It is welcome that the Bill contains a two-year sunset clause, but as we have discussed, two years is a very long time in normal days and longer still in the context of this pandemic. That is why we tabled an amendment last week seeking parliamentary votes on the renewal or revocation of these emergency powers at six-monthly intervals. Indeed, many of us would prefer even more frequent reviews, but given the particular challenge even for Parliament of this crisis, I am glad that the Government seem to have moved some way towards the compromise offered by the Opposition in the constitutional interest.
I welcome the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman is making his speech and also his proposal for a review at six months. I certainly support that, but does he agree that we could also sunset the powers in the Bill after one year and that the Government could then bring forward a Bill—there is plenty of time between now and then—that would go through Parliament about this time next year and make whatever changes proved to be necessary between now and then? Doing that—a six-month review and, after a year, a Bill—would not involve us signing off on two years today.
As I understand it, our amendment calls for a review every six months, but the hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, to which I am sure Ministers will respond in Committee, when we get to that point later.
I hope the Government will be able to explain the differences between their amendment and ours, and to reassure the House that there will not be large exceptions to the six-monthly review, especially in England, which has only this House to hold Executive power to account.
We have been scrutinising the Bill on behalf of our constituents. None of us came into politics to put a Bill like this on the statute book, and I for one will never rest until the day comes, hopefully not too far away, when I can come to this House and vote to get to get rid of it. But what we have seen in recent months is concerning, if not frightening, all our constituents, and it is right that we are taking the powers that we are taking today, although we have to continue to hold Government to account. We will overcome this virus, and when we do, serious lessons will have to be learned. The crisis has exposed the vulnerability of a society in which insecure work is rife, deregulation is king and public services are underfunded. When we come out on the other side, as we will, we have to build a society that puts people first.
Order. It has been very important that right hon. and hon. Members have had the opportunity to intervene on the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, but that has inevitably meant that the opening speeches have been somewhat longer than normal. There is, therefore, immense pressure on time. I would say two things. Those who have intervened a lot might feel that they have made their points and might not want to make a speech. There is also, I would point out, Committee stage, where a lot of issues can be raised. It is very difficult to see how everybody who has put their name down for Second Reading, which has to finish at eight o’clock, can all get in, but I start by urging colleagues to stick to five minutes—obviously that does not include the leader of the SNP. That way we can hopefully get as many people in as possible.
The Health Secretary is not in his place—understandably—but I want to start with a tribute to him. I think I am the only other person in this House who has sat behind his desk, and I can testify that even without a pandemic it takes years off your life. The Health Secretary has made himself exhaustively available. He has worked tirelessly, and no one could have done more or better to prepare the NHS for the crisis we now face. I also want to thank the shadow Secretary of State for the way that he has risen to the challenge of his role. All of us as parliamentarians are proud of the exchanges that we have had this afternoon and on many occasions.
Ordinarily, our role as MPs is to scrutinise every detail of legislation, to understand it and to try to improve it. There are many questions about this legislation, but we are in a national emergency and every day we delay could cost lives. So I support the Bill 100% and I encourage all colleagues to do the same. A week ago, the Government said we were four weeks behind Italy. That then changed to three weeks behind Italy, and today our mortality rates are just two weeks behind Italy. Our hospitals, especially in London, are filling up. We have had a critical incident at one, and others say they are running out of ICU beds. According to the papers, we have one nurse fighting for her life in an intensive care unit. One London hospital has seven doctors with the virus in just that one hospital. Yet still people are going to shops, parks, beaches and holiday homes as if nothing has changed. It may be too late to avoid following Italy, but to have any chance at all of doing so we must move now to lockdown rules that ban non-essential travel. It is time not just to ask people to do social distancing, but to enforce those social distancing rules—not next week, not this week, but right away. I support the call by the shadow Secretary of State to do that, and it is very important we do so as soon as we possibly can.
The Bill can help in two areas. The first is on protective equipment for staff. Last week, Sir Simon Stevens told the Health and Social Care Committee that there were sufficient national supplies of PPE, but there were distribution problems. Since then, I know that the Government have moved heaven and earth to try to resolve those. All hospitals have had deliveries, and I pay tribute to the Health Secretary and everyone in the Department for achieving that, but there is still a lot of concern on the frontline. The main reason for that is because on
Most importantly, the advice now makes it clear that doctors should wear goggles if there is any risk of being sprayed, but obviously doctors would feel vastly more secure with more extensive protection, such as full-length gowns and FFP3 masks. Is not the solution just to order manufacturers to make more of that vital equipment—not just a little more, but massively more? If that needs legal powers, the Bill should give the Government those powers to require every factory that is able to devote itself to the production of that life-saving equipment to do so.
Numerous doctors have died across the world, including Dr Li Wenliang, the courageous Chinese doctor who first tried to blow the whistle on this virus. Twenty-three doctors have died in Italy. This weekend, France lost its first doctor. None of us wants that here. Given the total determination of the Health Secretary to protect our frontline staff, would he urgently look into whether we need to manufacture more of the highest-grade equipment?
Does my right hon. Friend share my dismay at my being told just now that masks and PPE that were meant to be delivered to my authority, Wiltshire, tomorrow, will now be delivered on
My right hon. Friend knows, as a clinician— and I am concerned—that in our desire to get PPE out we have not understood the vital role that local authorities play in this. Residents in care homes are extremely vulnerable, and their carers need that equipment, so I very much support his concern about that.
The second area where the Bill needs to do more is testing. A week ago today our strategy changed from mitigation to suppression. I strongly support that change in strategy. Suppression strategies are being followed very successfully in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China, which appear to have turned back the virus. Here, all our public focus has been on social distancing, but testing and contact tracing to break the chain of transmission are every bit as important, if not more important. Those countries that have turned back the virus rigorously track and test every case and every suspected case, then identify every single person with whom a covid-19 patient has been in contact to take them out of circulation. As a result, those countries have avoided the dramatic measures and some of the economic damage that we have seen in Europe.
South Korea has avoided national lockdown, despite having a worse outbreak than us; Taiwan introduced temperature screening in malls and office buildings, but kept shops and restaurants open—it has had just two deaths. In Singapore, restaurants remain open and schools are reopening, although working from home is discouraged. Again, in Singapore, there have been just two deaths. Ten days ago in this country, we went in the opposite direction, and stopped testing in the community. How can we possibly suppress the virus if we do not know where it is? So far, we have had 281 deaths, tragically. According to the modellers, there is about one death per 1,000 cases, which means that we have just under 300,000 cases in this country. According to the same modellers, the number of cases is doubling every five days, which means that at the end of next week we will have about 1 million cases or more in this country. Unless we radically change direction, we will not know where those 1 million cases are.
The Prime Minister talked about expanding testing from 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000, which is welcome. He even talked about 250,000 tests a day, which would be more than anywhere in the world—I welcome that ambition, but ambition is not the same as a national plan, and we have not seen a national plan on testing.
The right hon. Gentleman may have seen reports today that some care providers are refusing to take patients being discharged from hospitals because those hospitals are unable to test them before discharge. Quite understandably, care homes are concerned about admitting patients who may be carrying the virus, given the other vulnerable people there. Does he agree that as testing is ramped up, not only health and care professionals but patients being discharged should be a priority?
I am very worried about that. A doctor in my constituency told me of exactly the same problem, and of course, the risk is that hospitals then fill up and do not have the space to treat people who urgently need hospital treatment.
We have an ambition to increase testing to 25,000 tests a day, but at the moment we are still only testing between 5,000 and 8,000 people every day. On Saturday, we tested 5,500, which is no significant increase on a week ago. It is not just South Korea that is testing more than us per head of population—Germany, Australia and Austria are as well. Now is the time for a massive national mobilisation behind testing and contact tracing.
If we have the antibody test, now is the time to become the first country in the world that says, “We are going to test every single citizen.” Now is the time to introduce weekly tests for NHS and social care staff, to reduce the risk of them passing on the virus to their patients. If the Francis Crick Institute in London is doing any research into anything other than covid-19 right now, it should stop—we need it to be designing tests. If the Sanger Institute in Cambridge is still decoding genomes, it should not be—we need it to process covid-19 tests.
And it is not just the science. Contact tracing is manpower-intensive, yet Public Health England has just 280 people devoted to this. We probably need 280 people in every city and county in the country. Every local government official doing planning applications, every civil servant working on non-corona issues and volunteers all should be mobilised in this vital national task.
As we have heard, testing is vital for NHS staff who are desperate to get back to work. Here is one tweet from a midwife called Katie Watkins, who speaks for so many:
“I know this is happening all over but had to call in sick for my clinical shift on labour ward today as my husband spiked a temperature last night. I feel fine and yet cannot go to work... Where are the tests for #NHS staff?? I could be helping but instead sat at home.”
Testing is also vital for the economy. If we are going to have a year of stop-go as we try to protect the NHS if the virus comes back, testing and contact tracing allows an infinitely more targeted approach and way to control the spread of the virus than economic measures that are much more blunderbuss and do much more damage. This Bill could help that by giving the Government powers to require any pharmaceutical company in the country to manufacture tests and any laboratory in the country to process those tests. It could stop the scandal of £375 tests being available to wealthy people in Harley Street when, in a crisis, every spare test should be used by NHS staff to get them back to work.
This Bill could help with something else being done very successfully in South Korea and Taiwan: the use of mobile phone data. In those countries, they look at the mobile phones of covid patients to identify other phones that they have been nearby when that patient was infectious. That has civil liberty implications, but in this national emergency, being able to do that would save lives, so those powers too should be in the Bill.
Finally, please do not take my word for it on testing. Dr Tedros Adhanom, the director general of the World Health Organisation, and virtually every epidemiologist at the World Health Organisation makes the same point: it is not possible to “fight a fire blindfolded”; social distancing measures and hand washing will not alone extinguish the epidemic; and
“our key message is: test, test, test.”
I know that time is short, but I want to touch briefly on two other issues. Some good points have been made about social care this afternoon. The Bill replaces local authorities’ duty to meet care needs with a power to meet care needs, except when it is a breach of human rights. Bluntly, there may be less provision of social care as a result. We understand in this House why that may be necessary, but if it lasts as long as a year, that will mean more pressure, not less pressure, on hospitals. If there was any lesson from my time as Health Secretary, it is that we need to invest in social care as well as in health. We need to ensure that these new measures do not have the unintended consequence of putting yet more pressure on hospitals that are already on the point of falling over.
My final point is on mental health. Under the measures in the Bill, someone can be sectioned not by two doctors, but by one, and that doctor does not have to know the patient. I understand why we have to take these measures, but obviously it causes huge concerns in the mental health community that someone could be locked up on the say-so of a doctor who does not even know them. I want a commitment from the Government that all cases will be reviewed on the basis of the current procedures as soon as this virus is behind us, and certainly within the first three months.
I end my remarks with a tribute to frontline staff, not from me, a politician, but from an eight-year-old constituent of mine called Tamsin. She says:
“I really want thank all the doctors and nurses who are working so hard to look after all the sick people…they are all risking their own lives to try and stop the coronavirus instead of being safe at home. I’m missing my Nana, Gamma and Grampy a lot because they have to be isolated at home but if they get sick they will need the doctors and nurses to help them get better. Doctors and nurses are amazing.”
Tamsin is right. We must not let them down.
It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Hunt. I do not think he will mind my saying that I cannot think of another time when I have agreed with almost every single word he said. I hope that people listen to his wise words, which come from his experience; there was an awful lot in his speech that was sobering. The way we are conducting this debate and the collegiate style of the contributions from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State are a testament to the importance of the crisis we are all experiencing. In this national emergency, the desire shared by all our constituents is that we all work together.
I will begin by saying something that is often repeated, but cannot be said enough. On behalf of all who sit on the Scottish National party Benches, I thank all of those who work in our NHS—our doctors, our nurses and all those in support roles around them who day after day make the choice to go into work, literally risking their own health to save the lives of others. At a time when the fragility of human life occupies the thoughts of us all, their example, their care and their limitless compassion are a source of inspiration and comfort to us all. They are nothing short of heroic. In return, they deserve all our thanks, but even more important, they need all our support. Today we would all do well to keep it in mind that the primary purpose of the emergency legislation is to help them—to help those who work in our NHS across all these islands. They need our help to slow the spread of this virus. They need our help to flatten the curve of infection. They need our help to reduce the pressure on their services.
In passing these emergency measures, we have to be fully transparent and open. That means being honest about the uncertainty of the timeline ahead. There are few things we can say for certain, but we know we are only in the foothills of this mountainous challenge. There remains a long way to go. We have to be honest that in fighting this virus, we may only be approaching the end of the beginning. No one knows for sure when this will end, but we do know that NHS and governmental action will not be enough on its own. Everyone has a part to play. We can get through this and overcome it only if we all work together.
On the specifics of the Bill, first, I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government have worked constructively with the UK Government on this legislation. It is important to say that, given the context of the last few years. It is no secret that there has been a virtual stand-off in other legislation, but the joint efforts and the extensive co-operation on this Bill highlight the extraordinary public health and economic challenges posed by the virus. Passing this legislation is fundamentally about protecting and saving lives. Politics cannot and will not be allowed to get in the way of that.
The Scottish Government tabled their legislative consent motion, with advice to approve consent, in Holyrood last Thursday. The LCM will now be considered by the Finance and Constitution Committee at Holyrood on Tuesday morning, and will be debated in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon. The urgency of that timeline is, unfortunately, necessary. It is clear, and we accept, that this Bill cannot be scrutinised in the way we would normally wish. The immediacy of the pandemic, and the unprecedented challenges facing Scotland and the rest of the UK, simply does not permit that. The stark reality is that there is simply no time to lose.
There is common cause even between Unionists and nationalists on this issue. The Northern Ireland Assembly will tomorrow give consideration to the legislative consent motion. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that before this legislation is enacted and enforced, the Government must move swiftly to give the self-employed people whom he and I represent the reassurance they need that they will be supported?
I am happy to say that I completely agree. My right hon. Friend and I were in meetings with the Prime Minister last Friday morning, and there was a consensus about the economic measures that had to be taken for those who were in employment—one of the reasons being that we were fearful of the potential risks of unemployment if we did not take those measures. I commend the Government for the actions that were taken and the announcements made last Friday afternoon, but there is unfinished business for the self-employed and the unemployed. Collectively, we need to work together to do what we need to do in order to secure the incomes of those we are asking to take action to protect themselves and the rest of us over the course of the coming months. I hope that the Chancellor will be in a position to meet Opposition leaders over the course of the next few hours, and to come to the House tomorrow to tell us all what we are going to do to ensure that we protect the interests of absolutely all our citizens.
A number of Glasgow taxi drivers live in my constituency and they are self-employed. Over the weekend and last week, many have taken their cars off the road. May I say to the Government, through my right hon. Friend, that time is really running out? We need the Chancellor to come to the Chamber tomorrow to make it crystal clear that support will be given to taxi drivers and lots of other self-employed people, including those in the wedding industry. The measures that have been brought forward so far are very good, but time is literally running out for self-employed people.
I agree. I hope that the Minister might make some reference to this issue when she sums up later. We are respectfully saying to the Government: let us work together to ensure that we can offer the financial security that all our citizens need, whether we are talking about taxi drivers in Glasgow, or the people who provide bed-and-breakfast accommodation and guest houses in my constituency, whom I am asking to shut their doors. It is important that we provide the financial security that they all need.
It is impossible to overstate the scale and seriousness of this health and economic emergency. None of us has witnessed or experienced anything like this before. It is no exaggeration to say that the covid-19 threat is the biggest challenge that we have faced since the second world war. That is the frame of mind that all of us should be in. It is for that reason—the extremity of this time—that we welcome the measures in the Bill. They are the measures that we need to fight this virus. The breadth of measures contained in this legislation reflect the enormity of the challenge across these islands. They also include bespoke provisions for Scotland to reflect our different legal system. For the public looking on today, it is crucial that we explain fully the powers that are being discussed and sought, and the reasons for them. They include additional public health measures to assist with the containment or mitigation of the spread of disease.
Give me some time and I will. The part of the world I live in, the highlands, needs the powers in this Bill if we are to protect our population, and I know that the same goes for the constituencies of many other right hon. and hon. Members, not least Steve Double, whom I know has been outspoken on this in the past few days.
Let me put on the record the challenge we are facing. The Highland Council landmass is 25,656 sq km, and of course that area does not include Argyll, the Northern Isles or the Western Isles. That Highland Council area makes up 32% of the landmass of Scotland and 10.5% of the UK landmass, yet we have one acute hospital, in Inverness. For many, that hospital will be more than three hours’ drive from home. Just think about that. If a hospital in an urban area has an issue with capacity, people can often be transferred to another hospital, but we do not have that opportunity in the highlands, as we have that one hospital. I am asking everyone who is thinking about coming to the highlands to think about that threat to our NHS.
I have been working with the NHS and talking to the police, and on the back of what we have been witnessed over the weekend I would like, with the forbearance of the House, to read out a press release from the chief executive of NHS Highland yesterday. It stated:
“As a community we in the Highlands, Argyll and Bute are friendly, welcoming and hospitable to the thousands of visitors we get all year every year. However, we are currently in a situation that has never been experienced before and for the first time we are making a plea for you to stay away.
We have heard that there are many people using campervans/motorhomes to make their way to the Highlands and Argyll and Bute as a way to self-isolate during this period. Please don’t.
National advice is quite clear that we, as a nation, need to stay at home, self-isolate and stop all non-essential travel. This includes using our area as a safe haven.
We have asked our communities in NHS Highland to do everything they can to stay safe. This includes self-isolating, working from home (where possible), and limiting their contact with the outside world.”
That is a very clear and a very stark message.
This situation is fluid and ever-changing, and I am sure everyone is receiving multiple emails about the changes in their constituencies. My right hon. Friend makes a point about the need to self-isolate. That is an essential part of any infection-control programme, and this is a public health emergency. Constituents have contacted me today to say that their employer, Amazon, is refusing to pay members of staff who have self-isolated unless they can prove that they have had a positive covid-19 test. That is forcing people to make the choice to go into work and not self-isolate. Does he agree that that is reckless behaviour on the part of Amazon?
That is the height of irresponsibility, and Amazon and anybody else who would behave in that way needs to think again. Of course there are companies that are engaging in best practice. I have had a number of complaints from people in the highlands about those who have not been doing the right thing, but let me thank Highland Experience Tours, which has suspended all its activities and sent its drivers home. Wes Streeting mentioned Sykes Cottages, and I have to disagree with what he said, because its behaviour has been absolutely reprehensible. Let me read to Members what Sykes Cottages sent to me on Saturday. It said, “Given concerns surrounding the current outbreak, it is understandable that people want to arrange private accommodation in more remote locations to distance themselves from larger towns and cities. The latest Government advice does not prohibit travel in the UK. We are continuing to provide a service for customers.” That is a service to customers to come from the urban areas; it is deliberately creating the circumstances whereby their customers should come to self-isolate in an area where we have limited public health capabilities. That simply is not good enough.
I am delighted to say that, under pressure, the site has now relented and is stopping new bookings in the highlands and islands over the next few weeks, but it has sent a considerable number of people up to the highlands who are there today. The site should be delivering immediate advice to all those guests that they should return home to their place of origin.
I give the same message to those with holiday homes and second homes in the highlands: “Do not come to the highlands. Do not put additional pressure on our public services. We will welcome tourists back to the highlands once this emergency is over, but do not threaten the health of our constituents.” In my district, like in many rural areas, 35% of the population is aged over 65. We have to think about the needs of those living in such areas.
In addition to the sites I have mentioned, Cottages.com is refusing to allow cottage owners to cancel bookings without a penalty, which is simply not good enough. As this is now in the public domain, I hope all these providers will now think about their responsibilities.
As I have mentioned, some providers are behaving more responsibly. HomeAway has guidance on its booking site for giving refunds to those who cancel, but I will read one last email from somebody living in the Lake district:
“My family and I were due to take up a holiday home rental from the 28th March. We will stay away and remain in the Lake District where we live.
However you might be interested to learn that the owner of this holiday home, let through HomeAway, is refusing (at present) to cancel my booking, refund my payment of £957 or move my reservation to next year. He maintains that Skye is an ideal place to self-isolate…and as the home is available he is refusing to refund the total of my booking fee.”
[Interruption.] I can hear an hon. Member shout, “Shocking.” Skye, or anywhere else in the west highlands, is no place for anyone to self-isolate, and I hope this cottage owner, and others who are behaving in such a reprehensible manner, changes their ways.
Of course, it is not just those who are providing accommodation. Everyone knows about the Harry Potter films and the attractions of the rail line from Fort William to Mallaig. The steam trains, which operate on a regular basis, are due to start on
This is my message to anyone thinking of coming to the highlands: “You will be made welcome when this is over but, for the time being, stay at home. If you are in the highlands now, please go home. The Scottish Government have already announced that ferry traffic will be prohibited for those on non-essential journeys, but you have the ability to return home today. Please do so.”
This Bill includes badly needed powers to allow more health and social care workers to join the workforce. That includes removing barriers to allow recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work, as well as bringing back those on a career break and bringing in social work students to become temporary social workers. It has to be said that the number of doctors, nurses and carers already seeking to re-register to help in this emergency has been one of the most uplifting stories of this crisis. The Bill allows that process to become much easier. Its provisions also allow for the relaxation of regulatory requirements within existing legislation to ease the burden on staff who are on the frontline of our response.
The next few weeks and months need simply to be about saving as many lives as possible. Try as we might to save these lives, unfortunately the truth is that this virus will inevitably end up with many of our people dying before their time. That terrible reality is why it is right that this legislation includes special arrangements and provisions to manage an increase in the number of deceased persons with respect and dignity.
Finally, something my party has raised repeatedly since the early stage of this crisis is the economic interventions required to help our people though this emergency period. I note that the legislation includes provisions to support the economy, including on statutory sick pay, that are aimed at lessening the impact of covid-19 on small businesses. While we have welcomed many of the measures brought forward by the Chancellor, we have put it on record that more needs to be done. The self-employed and the unemployed, whom we talked about earlier, need to be considered. They are under pressure and they need to know that we have got their backs. They need the security of a guaranteed income. We now have an opportunity to overhaul and fix the universal credit system—ending the delays, uprating the level of support and scrapping the bedroom tax. If we are to fight this virus together, we must ensure that everyone is supported equally and that no one—no one—is left behind.
The emergency and extensive powers in this legislation have rightly raised questions and concerns, many of which we have heard this afternoon. The imposition of measures that will significantly alter individual liberties deserves full and frank scrutiny, no matter the context. We know that the Bill sunsets after two years. However, there are serious concerns over the two-year period and the scrutiny of this measure. I know that aspects of the Bill and amendments to it will be discussed at later stages. I hope that the Government will look carefully at the safeguards of regular reporting, review and renewal if it is required.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. As he knows, I have an amendment in Committee to change two years to one year. I asked the Health Secretary whether we would be able to amend or delete an element of the legislation at the six-month review; otherwise, we will perhaps be faced with eight good bits of legislation and one or two bits that are doing badly, and we will be forced to vote the whole thing through, rendering it a rubber stamp. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that either my amendment or a variant of the amendment tabled by Ms Harman, which would allow us to change the Act, would be a better way forward?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that would be a very good way forward. It is important that we enact the Bill, but the House must have oversight of it in the period ahead. I commend him for his approach.
The Scottish Government have pledged to have appropriate reporting on how and when they will use the powers in the Bill. They will embed such reporting and renewal in law. They have stressed that the creation of these additional powers does not mean we will automatically be required to use them. I hope the UK Government follow that lead and give assurances in the remaining stages this evening.
The emergency powers and the extent of the legislation demonstrate what all of us are faced with. This is not a normal time. Unfortunately, the truth is that none of us will live normally for some time to come. As the First Minister has said, if individuals are continuing to live normally, they need to ask themselves if they are following all the scientific advice. The sheer speed of the spread of this deadly virus has shocked us all. It has naturally made us reflect on the way we live and the vulnerability to which we are all exposed. Equally, it has demonstrated our dependence on one another. We live in an ever smaller world and the major challenges we all face are the same; we can only face them together.
The provisions in this legislation are about saving as many lives as possible during the biggest health emergency this planet has faced in 100 years. If we do not take immediate and unprecedented actions, we will be responsible for putting people at risk. If we act fast, we know that we can save thousands of lives. It is as simple and as clear as that. Never has a more important responsibility been placed upon all of us. Saving these lives must be our sole focus.
There can be no doubt that this is an extraordinary Bill for extraordinary times. As others have said this afternoon, when we put our names forward to stand for election to this House none of us must have contemplated the day when we would be asked to back legislation of this kind, but back it we must, and we must do so today.
It is hard to find the words to comment intelligently on a situation that has been so exhaustively analysed and debated by the media and in every household and workplace the length and breadth of this country and of much of the rest of the world. Let me provide some reassurance: my slightly hoarse tone relates to a condition that I have had in my vocal cords since August, so it is nothing to do with covid-19. If it were, I would be back at home self-isolating.
Let me express my sympathy and support to everyone across the country who is grappling with this disease, who has had their lives turned upside down by this disease, or who have lost loved ones. I have not experienced anything like this in my 15 years in this place, nor, indeed, in my whole lifetime. It is difficult to point to any crisis as severe as this since the flu epidemic of 100 years ago. Of course there have been many political upheavals, especially in the past four years, but there has been nothing that has had such a direct and dramatic impact on the daily lives of every single occupant of these islands, and there is nothing that has come close to matching the potentially devastating impact on our economy. It is welcome that the Government have announced a wholly unprecedented package of support for jobs, wages, businesses and benefits. The plan to stave off economic disaster is a bigger injection of support into our economy than anything that any Government have carried out in our peacetime history. The consequences will be far reaching. We and future generations will be paying off these debts for many years to come, but as a great Prime Minister once said, “There is no alternative.” I urge the Chancellor and the Government to ensure that the grants, the loans and the other measures get out to the people who need them as soon as possible—not in three months, not in three weeks, but now. We do need to find more to help the self-employed and the freelance workers.
Of course, it is vital that we do all we can to protect the NHS and social care workers. It is at times such as this that we really appreciate how incredibly lucky we are that the NHS is there for us, and how incredibly lucky we are to live in a country that has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, staffed by professionals of outstanding skill and expertise. I want to express my gratitude to every single one of them. If we are to get through this crisis without a massive loss of life, we need to ensure that our NHS staff and our social care staff have the best, most comprehensive personal protection equipment. That means masks that fit properly and equipment that is compliant with World Health Organisation standards.
We also need to be testing thousands and thousands of our NHS staff so that we can keep them healthy and keep them on the frontline. The commitment to stepping up testing to 25,000 a day is welcome, and I urge Ministers to ensure that NHS staff are first in the queue.
I have been contacted by care homes who are crying out for a complete ban on care home visits to help them ensure that they can say no to visitors. For the safety of our elderly relatives and the people who look after them, care home visits must stop.
In conclusion, the next few months will test us in a way that none of us, except for the world war two generation, have ever been tested before. It will be difficult. It will be disruptive. It will be exasperating. It will be, at times, alarming and distressing, but we must as a nation rise to the challenge, and this legislation is part of that. We need a collective effort to keep our loved ones safe from this terrible disease. We must rise to the challenge as previous generations did when they too faced periods of great adversity and hardship. My advice to everyone, and to my constituents in Chipping Barnet, is to stay home, stay safe to protect the NHS and save lives.
I entirely agree with Theresa Villiers about the message we should give to our constituents. We have to support health workers as a priority and we have to support all essential workers, and we have to make sure that everything we do delivers that objective. I want to say a few words about information. We need information clarity. One of the problems we have had over the last few weeks has been the change in the information and advice given by the Government and others. What the right hon. Lady has said is exactly right: stay at home, stay 2 metres away from everybody else, wash your hands, and protect those health workers and essential workers so they can look after us. I do think we are going to need more stringent measures, and need them soon.
I will focus the remainder of my remarks on the financial measures. The Bill references sick pay, but 4.7 million self-employed workers, many of whom have lost their entire work, do not qualify for sick pay, and the same applies to a further 1 million company owners. It is essential that the Chancellor brings forward measures that deliver sick pay, yes, but also a package for our self-employed workers, as the Musicians Union has suggested, which means the real living wage. It has suggested £400 a week initially, and an equivalent 80% figure based on previous years’ earnings. This is to put the self-employed in a similar position to the package the Chancellor suggested for employees on Friday, which I think was a very important step forward.
There has to be rent and mortgage provision that does not put people into arrears. It is no good pushing people into debt and making life more difficult. I say these things because if people are not financially secure, they are more likely to make risky decisions and try to go to work, and to act in a way that is counterproductive to achieving the objectives of supporting our health workers and reducing infection.
Another point put to me by many self-employed workers is that insurance is simply not working. Provision has to be in place for business interruption and for income protection, as those policies are being regarded as not valid by the insurers. I have had many constituents and business organisations coming to me, including the example of a self-employed couple who already cannot put food on the table.
The other point I want to make is the importance of actions being taken quickly. The Government need to say for employees, as well as announcing the package for employers, exactly how people are to access the funds. How do businesses get the money quickly so they can carry out the income replacement schemes? Given that it will not apply in March, there is a risk that hundreds of thousands of workers will miss out because businesses will not survive. There are additional costs that have to be covered—the costs of rent, insurance and utilities—and many businesses simply will not be able to cover those costs to be in a position to take advantage of the measures announced on Friday. This is about speed of access, making sure the schemes are available and that the cash gets through as quickly as possible, and that does mean this week. I am glad that the Paymaster General is taking notes on these points.
On the loan scheme that has been announced, the banks are saying that they want personal guarantees. That is going to stop businesses taking out loans, and the loans that might have delivered cover for those other costs are simply not going to be viable for too many businesses. That is another aspect that needs sorting out. There is so much detail that needs attention, and I appreciate that, but the schemes need to be up and running.
Emergency workers, especially in the health service, need everyone to be able to stay at home. The schemes need to be implemented, and information from the Government needs to be clearer. The Government can now take advantage of advert breaks because the commercial advertisers are not going to be using them. Let us get the information out there on the telly, on the radio and on social media about how people can access these schemes and about staying safe out there. Let us make sure these schemes are in place quickly to look after people in employment and self-employment.
I rise as one the last new Members to give their maiden speech. I had planned to speak on the Budget last week, but I did not feel that a traditional maiden speech full of local anecdotes and questionable jokes was suitable in the current circumstances. Needless to say, the speech that I am giving now is very different from the one I had originally written.
I had desperately wanted my parents to be able to sit in the Gallery to watch me give this speech today, but my parents are both in their 70s, in high-risk groups, and, frankly, I dare not wait any longer. My dad was one of eight children from an Irish Catholic family in Salford. He was the only one to pass the 11-plus and went on to do a wide range of jobs, from being a Shabbos goy to a postman to a trade union shop steward. My mum left school with no qualifications, after having to take care of her younger sisters following the death of her father on her 11th birthday. Despite that, she had a groundbreaking career at the Department of Social Security, helping unemployed people back into work. My parents taught me the importance of public service and doing the right thing. They are the reason I am standing here today. It fills me with more pride than I can ever fully explain that they are able to watch me give this speech, even if it has to be on television.
I am also very grateful to see the shadow Health Secretary in his place. Like me, he went to Philips High School. For a comprehensive in north Manchester to have produced two Members of Parliament is a very rare achievement indeed.
When I put myself forward for election, campaigning for improved transport in the north, I could not possibly have imagined making my first speech in a debate such as this. As it turns out, being in this place makes me incredibly fortunate. I stand here with a secure job—for the next four years at least—and a guaranteed salary. That many of my constituents do not have the same security plays heavily on my mind. I am particularly concerned about the self-employed. They do not benefit from the job retention scheme, and many are seeing a big drop in their income. The Government have sensibly brought in protections such as the mortgage holiday and suspension of evictions, but many self- employed people, often with families to support, are understandably worried about the future, so I call on the Government to look urgently at more ways to support them. I realise that that is a simple thing to say and a difficult thing to do. Anybody can be a critic. I know a huge number of people are working day and night, many not seeing their own families, to tackle this pandemic head on. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say to those people, thank you.
This crisis is without precedent and we are all navigating without a map. Events are moving in minutes and hours, not days and weeks. That is why this emergency legislation is necessary. We have to give the Government the tools they need to respond quickly to events. But it is also essential that we keep Parliament functioning as best we can, so that we can continue to challenge those decisions and hold Ministers to account.
The crisis is undoubtedly bringing out the best in the people of High Peak. It is a staggeringly beautiful place, and we are very lucky to live there, but as beautiful as the High Peak is, it is the people who make it so special, and in this crisis they are pulling together, just like they did during the evacuation of Whaley Bridge last year, when the dam at Toddbrook reservoir partially collapsed.
This time, volunteer groups have sprung up in almost every town and village. Teachers are delivering packed lunches to the homes of children on free school meals. Food banks are working day and night to support the most vulnerable. In many ways, that is what makes the situation so hard. People want to come together and look after each other. Social distancing is counter to our natural instincts, and I do worry about the toll that this isolation is going to take on the nation’s mental health.
I come to this place intending to take an independent-minded approach and prepared to criticise my party and the Government when they get things wrong—and they will, as I have no doubt I will too. I am keenly aware that I was elected by the smallest of margins, just 590 votes. People did not vote for me because they agreed with every single line of the Conservative manifesto. Many lent me their vote, often reluctantly, after their pencil hovered over the ballot paper for a long time. So I want to make it clear to the people of High Peak that I am working round the clock, trying my best to represent everyone, no matter who they voted for. I will not get everything right, and I will make mistakes, but I promise that I will always put the High Peak ahead of party politics.
I want to quickly finish with a note of caution on the limits of power and our ability to achieve the things we hope for. The best intentions can easily get blown off course by events. Far too often, politics is boiled down to a contest between a simple, easy-to-sell magic solution and a nuanced, hard-to-explain truth. The truth is that governing is hard. It involves taking almost impossible decisions between competing lesser evils. There are rarely, in reality, obvious right and wrong choices, so we should be wary of those who are always certain or never change their minds. Ideological purity is a moral maze that many get lost in. For the modern puritan, it is no longer enough to accept that someone disagrees with them. They think that others can disagree with them only because their motives are malign. If our history has taught us anything, it is that we must reject that puritanism. Our greatest reforms—universal suffrage, civil liberties, the NHS—were secured not through ideological purity or confrontation, but by collaboration and taking the view that compromise is not betrayal but a kind of victory.
May I warmly commend Robert Largan, who I think made a magnificent speech? He delivered it with simple earnestness and a dignity that will commend him to many Members of this House. It is a sad moment, is it not, when one thinks that being an MP is the most secure job around. He was quite right to say not only what he said about no party having a monopoly on truth—ideological purity rarely does anybody any favours—but what he said about being an independently minded Member. I warmly commend everything that he said.
However, I completely despair of some of the scenes that I have seen from our fellow citizens over the last few days. The panic buying—the hoarding, frankly—of essential goods, which will therefore be denied to many people who most need them, including our key workers, is a disgrace. It is born out of selfishness and it must stop. People ignoring advice—because somehow or other they think that they will be immune to the disease or that it will only affect some other people—is, again, an instance of massive selfishness, and it really must stop. I am sick and tired of people saying that they know better than all the experts. The number of armchair epidemiologists and virologists in this country seems to have grown dramatically without any evidence of qualification.
I hate the idea that there are companies that are actively profiteering in this country. It was a criminal offence in the war and it should be a criminal offence now. I hate the scam merchants who are going round preying on the vulnerable at the moment, which is why it is all the more important that local councils run proper schemes for volunteer forces, so that if somebody knocks at the door, an elderly person can know that they are getting the right person.
I hate the way that some of our police have been treated in the last few days—spat at and coughed over deliberately, as an offensive weapon as it were, when they have merely been trying to prevent people from gathering, in the way that the Government have been advising. This goes back to what we have been trying to do for the last few years to stop assaults on our emergency workers, and I bet my bottom dollar that there will be more assaults on emergency workers during this process. This must come to an end. We as a nation must show the best side of our humanity, not the worst side of our humanity.
And I am sorry, but to those politicians in various different countries around the world who have somehow or other tried to dismiss the experts, including those who have dismissed the idea of vaccination over the last few years, I say this: you are dangerous and you must stop it. People will die because of your misinformation.
This is, of course, a draconian Bill, for two main reasons. First, it suspends lots of protections for individuals, such as who is able to certify a death. I know why the provision is there, but, frankly, the idea that in the end it could end up just being a funeral director certifying a death is worrying, let alone the provisions in relation to sectioning under the Mental Health Act 1983. The Bill also gives Ministers the power to impose significant restrictions, which we all know are draconian. On top of that, the Attorney General rang me—I am grateful for the phone call the other day—
All right. Let us stand on these things; they are the ones that matter. The Solicitor General rang me the other day and made the important point that we are suspending, very unusually, the normal process in allowing Ministers to switch powers on and off. All of these things are extraordinary in peacetime.
There are some things we have to do simultaneously, and they have to happen at the same time. First, there must be a deal for sole traders and the self-employed. I have had people ringing up my office in floods of tears worrying about how they are going to make ends meet over the next few weeks, and they need an answer to that urgently. Undoubtedly, because of the ludicrous misbehaviour of so many of our fellow citizens in the past few days, we will have to move forward with enforced measures. That must happen, but it cannot happen before the Government put in place provisions for sole traders and the self-employed.
We have to put much more protection in place for our NHS staff. Every single fashion brand in this country, from Marks and Spencer through to Burberry, should be ringing up the Government now to say, “What can we do to provide more personal protective equipment for staff?” Many local councils, including my own, have hardly a stitch to give their key workers. We need to give them that protection.
I echo what a beautiful maiden speech that was from my hon. Friend Robert Largan. I will be rather novel and speak about the Bill. Before I do that, I want to say that the package announced thus far and in the Budget last week was incredibly welcome, but I echo what so many Members have said so far today: we need to deal with the self-employed next, please. Many of my constituents are desperate for the Government’s help.
I rise to speak in support of the Bill receiving its Second Reading. Nobody wanted to be here, but it is an essential and urgent piece of legislation. We may be discussing the Coronavirus Bill today, but for some it is in large part the pandemic influenza Bill. I was very much involved in that when I was fortunate enough several years ago to be the public health Minister. The legislation will not make covid-19 suddenly vanish, as President Trump bizarrely proclaimed the other day, but it will help the state and our Government do what they have consistently stated is their primary objective, which is to protect the NHS and save lives.
As the Secretary of State made clear, these are extraordinary times and these measures are being pursued as a result. I, too, have had lobbying this weekend saying that the Bill goes too far and is a disproportionate power-grab by the Government, but it is worth saying that these measures were not dreamt up on the hoof by the Secretary of State over the past week. The “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011” sets out our preparedness for a severe pandemic. It was tested in 2016 through a major three-day exercise called Cygnus, which involved about 1,000 organisations and the devolved Administrations. It demonstrated a number of things that we do well as a country and a number of things that we need to improve upon, one of which was the drafting of the draft pandemic influenza Bill, which forms the basis of the legislation today.
The scrutiny we are giving this legislation on the Floor of the House is not what we do in normal times, of course, but these are not normal times. Parliament needs to work swiftly and with deftness of touch to match what pretty much everyone else is doing right now. I am satisfied that the legislation is, as was always intended, time-limited. It makes it clear that it is neither necessary nor appropriate for all the measures to come into force immediately. What is more, the lifetime of the Bill, once an Act, can itself be ended early, if the available scientific evidence supports that, and we can extend the lifetime of the Act for a further temporary period if that is prudent.
I want to home in on a couple of areas. Increasing the health and social care workforce is obviously mission critical, so the Bill introduces new registration powers for the registrars of the Nursing & Midwifery Council and the Health and Care Professions Council. That is absolutely right, but we need to hear from Ministers, as mentioned in the impact assessment, exactly how the Department of Health and Social Care plans to engage with the professional regulators to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is in place to allow the policy to be implemented.
I note the sensible move to allow the early registration of final-year students studying to become nurses, midwives, paramedics and social workers. The Government’s assumption is that all 28,100 of the students estimated to be in their final year in England will be willing to join the register early. What evidence do we have that that is likely to be the case, and are the costs noted in the impact assessment covered so as to give the regulators total confidence that they can get on with this?
I am pleased that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs holds responsibility for food supply, as a critical national infrastructure. It of course has to maintain our high standards, working with the Food Standards Agency, but I do not think the legislation goes far enough in protecting stock on the shelves. Like all of us, I have been contacted by hundreds of constituents in recent days, on many different subjects, but a consistent message is that what they are hearing from Ministers and the supermarkets about there being enough food is jarring with what they are seeing on the ground and, more importantly, online when they try to book a delivery slot.
Of course, the Government are not to blame for the change in our food policy, from the policy of “Dig for victory” of the last century, backed up by local food networks, to the centralised distribution controlled by the big five supermarkets we have now, but how sad it is that we have literally put all our eggs in one basket, and that we are reaping what we have failed to sow now that we need it most.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech on different aspects of the Bill. On his first point, about reassuring the self-employed, does he agree that no single scheme will be able to cover every single situation perfectly, and that the crucial point at this moment is the reassurance that something will be done to help everybody who is self-employed?
Yes, I do agree. I understand why we have to do this through pay-as-you-earn first, because employers are making decisions about job losses this weekend, but I completely agree that we need to hear something from the Prime Minister on that. I understand that he will be addressing the nation this evening—we can probably all guess what is coming—when he could say something reassuring to the self-employed and to sole traders, which would be very welcome.
Finally, on emergency volunteering leave, the provisions for which are set out in clauses 7 and 8, the unpaid statutory leave that the Secretary of State has mentioned is very welcome. Clause 8 states:
“The Secretary of State must make arrangements for making payments to emergency volunteers by way of compensation –
(a) for loss of earnings;
(b) for travelling and subsistence.”
Could the Minister tell the House at what level that might sit? There seems to be a norm of 80% for the coronavirus job retention scheme, so are we looking at the same for this? I think it is a smart move, as many of our volunteers come from the older generation, so we have to find a way of filling that gap.
We need ruthless, determined, collection action to protect the NHS and to save lives, combined with scientific progress. The Bill is part—only part, I have to say—of that national effort. I have listened carefully to the many voices lobbying us on the Bill over the weekend, but I am comfortable that it is a well-judged piece of legislation that will provide the powers needed to respond to the pandemic and the national crisis that we face.
I would like to begin by thanking everyone who is working hard to keep our country and our world as safe as possible from this dangerous pandemic. Above all, I want to thank the staff of our NHS and our social care sector. We are seeing people face personal risks, and we will forever be grateful for what they are doing.
In normal times, I and my party would be opposing many of the measures in the Bill with every breath in our bodies. The implications for civil liberties and human rights are profound and alarming, but our society now faces the unprecedented threat of coronavirus, which leaves some of the most vulnerable in our society at serious risk. It seems clear that at least some of the new powers being sought by the Government are necessary to deal with the threat. Nevertheless, our position is that the powers must be used only when absolutely necessary during this emergency, and not for a moment longer.
Like others, I welcome the Government’s change of heart on the two-year renewal. The six months now proposed is, self-evidently, a significant improvement. Nevertheless, we remain unclear why it is six months rather than three months. There may be good reasons, but it is important that the Government set out why they chose six months. After all, the Prime Minister said just the other day that the peak of the epidemic would be just 12 weeks away, so it is not unreasonable to ask why six months is needed.
Moreover, we need to look carefully at the review process. When it comes, it should enable amendments to this law, and the other place needs to be allowed to vote on it too. Let me give one reason why a more frequent renewal process should be considered. It relates to the Bill’s provisions on social care. The Bill temporarily suspends the duties on local authorities to meet people’s care needs—from older people to adults and children with disabilities. I am yet to be convinced that those provisions are needed at all. They are some of the most alarming provisions in the Bill. At a time when the most vulnerable in our society need more care, not less, why on earth are people’s rights being reduced? At the very least, such a reduction in rights for the elderly, disabled and mentally ill must be subject to early review and renewal.
Jeremy Hunt was right to raise the issue of personal protective equipment and testing. NHS staff who have contacted me are angry and alarmed at the lack of PPE. They do not understand why the distribution system has taken so long and is still failing to provide PPE for so many people. The testing experience in this country compares appallingly with other countries.
There are other problems with the Bill. Due to the time, I will mention just one: the Bill’s failure to enable the Government to extend the Brexit transition period. I know that is politically sensitive and contentious. I know we need to bring our country together after Brexit tore us apart, so I do not seek to reopen the Brexit question, despite what my heart tells me. I raise the Brexit transition period as a practical and real issue. Our economy faces its biggest challenge since the second world war—disruption to business on a scale even greater than would have been caused by the worst-case scenario of a no-deal Brexit. Surely, the Government should think again and allow themselves to extend the Brexit transition period.
We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will support the Bill tonight, but with a very heavy heart. We hope the Government will come back and allow the House to ensure that we can protect our country against this coronavirus threat but not ditch our civil liberties and human rights.
May I say to colleagues across the House that being angry with the public for what they are doing wrong is no way to proceed? In Fownhope in my constituency, a community that was hit very badly by flooding, we are seeing the most phenomenal community spirit and wonderful behaviour blossoming as people reach out to those who are lonely and self-isolating. Young people are writing to people in care homes to make sure that they feel valued. A wonderful sense of community spirit is shining forth. For me, that is worth so much more than being cross with people who may be getting their self-isolation or shielding wrong.
I want to talk about the most important thing we have here: our parliamentary accountability. That accountability is a baby worth saving no matter how toxic, dangerous or infectious the bathwater, so two years calls into question the advice the Government have been given. China has had 81,307 cases and 3,254 deaths, yet it has managed to shut down the disease in six weeks from its epicentre—a much more difficult task than we have—with flights still coming in from countries such as Iran three times a day. How is that possible when we are looking at such draconian legislation today?
It is not necessarily perfect legislation. Under clause 23, which relates to powers on food—I was naturally drawn to it—a person may be required to provide “relevant information” to the authority in subsection (1), and yet subsection (6) states:
“A requirement under this section may not be imposed on an individual.”
That does not look quite right, so perhaps the Government could look at that before Report.
In my last few seconds, I want to reiterate how much the public need to understand that what we are sacrificing, both economically and in terms of our freedom, is worth it if we are protecting the professionals in the health service, local authorities and all the caring services that are reaching out and providing the sort of community that we all hold so dear. I am seeing it every day in my constituency, and I want to make sure we never forget that it is the goodness of the British people that makes all these sacrifices worth it.
It is a pleasure to follow Bill Wiggin. When I indicated to some constituents and even members of my family over the weekend that I was coming to London today, they thought I was mad. They think that, collectively, we should not be here. They point to the information that we give out and the leadership that we show and wonder why we are here.
But when I reflected that my brother, a consultant in the NHS, will be going into hospital to face these acute difficulties on the ward, and that his wife, my sister-in-law, and tens of thousands of members of our national health service—not through bravado or machismo, but because they care—will be turning up to work today and in the days and weeks to follow, I decided that we could do our duty and be here today. It is a tribute to our institutions and our democracy that, even though parts of this legislation will curtail our freedoms, we are here, and it is important that we put on record our gratitude for all those who are stepping up at this time.
The shadow Secretary of State for Health raised the subject of parking charges at our hospitals. I also want to raise that, because I think it is totally abhorrent that, in the face of such adversity, we are expecting people to not only turn up to work at hospital but pay for the privilege of parking there. I know that all these issues will be devolved and will fall to different trusts and commissioning groups across the country. I want to put on record my appreciation to the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust for its decision to waive parking charges for staff members in all the Belfast facilities. I ask the South Eastern trust, which is responsible for the Ulster Hospital in my constituency, to take exactly the same measure. We need to be supporting people through this.
When I attended a pharmacy on Friday, it could only be described as a warzone. They asked why they were left without sufficient pharmacists, and in that regard I welcome the extension for new registrants in clause 4. They were saying, “We can’t sell paracetamol. We have run out. You cannot use anti-inflammatories in this situation. Our stores are filled with 100-packs of paracetamol, and yet we are legislatively precluded from breaking them down and giving them to people who need them.” They said, “The Government say that we have a home delivery service to get prescriptions out to those in self-isolation, but it is an unfunded and overstretched service, and our vans run on diesel, not good will.”
There are huge challenges in every aspect of our society through this crisis that the Bill alone will not resolve, but it is an important first step. I want to place on record my appreciation for not only the Government’s engagement with us over the last week but the substantive nature of the Bill. There is hardly a clause of the Bill that does not replicate provisions for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Officials have performed a mammoth task over the last number of weeks, and we need to put on record our appreciation to them.
I want to raise an issue with the Paymaster General, and I hope she will be able to give clarity on two specific points. As she will know, clause 13 covers continuing healthcare assessments and clause 14 covers local authority care and support in England and Wales, while clause 15 relates to Scotland. That is the one part of the Bill where I see no corresponding provisions for Northern Ireland. I mention that not to raise concern, but because there are people out there who are advocating on behalf of charities and who have children in a vulnerable situation or with mental capacity issues who feel that that means they will not get the care they need. Can she respond appropriately to that, to alleviate their concerns? Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for the time.
There have been some fantastic speeches this evening so far, including from my hon. Friend Robert Largan who made a stunning maiden speech, but I wish to go back to the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he said that the virus impacts most the weak and vulnerable. He is of course right.
I support the measures in the Bill. They are extraordinary measures that can only be used in extraordinary times, but that is exactly what we are facing. Tonight I wish to speak for the weak and the vulnerable, as hon. Members might expect from the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I have real concerns about how equalities might be impacted and about how those people with protected characteristics for whom we speak might be affected. I draw particular attention to the elderly, who we know are the most impacted by this disease, and their need for care that is appropriate in their own homes at the right time. I speak for the disabled, who of course have the biggest challenges and who desperately need assistance. I appreciate why we have the powers in the Bill, but they must be used proportionately and reasonably.
I also speak for those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and, of course, the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, has done some phenomenal work with faith communities, making sure that funerals can be held appropriately for religions. But I would like to point out that it is in the gig economy where we are most likely to find people from a BAME background working: they are also most likely to be young people. They are also most likely to be self-employed, on zero hours or sole traders, and we must be particularly cognisant of the impact the virus will have on those people who we will want—when this horror is over—to be able to bounce back to be the entrepreneurs who will enable our economy to recover from this difficult period.
I will also, of course, mention women. We know that caring responsibilities fall most heavily on their shoulders. We also know that in areas such as childminding, childminders are not only doing the caring, but of course are providing the support that enables women to go out to work, whether it be in our essential professions at the moment or in all parts of the economy. We must provide support to the childminding sector as well as the early years sector, because when the virus is quashed and we are in a position to rebuild the economy, we will need childminders to enable that 50% of the workforce to go back to work. We have done great work over the past few years in making sure that there are more women in employment, but we have to make sure that it is possible for them when this is over to be able to—
That is exactly the point: so many of the early years sector and childminders are self-employed. That is another reason to repeat the point that so many have made today about why we need something for that part of the economy.
My hon. Friend is right, so I have managed to fit in the childminding sector and the self-employed in one hit.
I want also to speak about volunteering and the clarity that is needed. There is a great company in my constituency that runs Kimbridge Barn. That is shut, of course, but the company wants to enable its staff to volunteer, whether in the health service or the care sector, or as delivery drivers—it has many vehicles—but it wants clarity as to whether the 80% of salaries that HMRC will underwrite will be applicable if people are effectively outworking in a voluntary capacity.
I also draw attention to the comments made by my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt about whether local government officers should be considering planning applications at the current time. I would also ask whether they should be implementing or imposing parking fines. Those are all areas of regulation that are undertaken by local authorities that are far from an imperative at the current time.
I would like to pay tribute in the voluntary sector to both Southampton Voluntary Services and Unity in Test Valley, who have done some brilliant work pulling together volunteer bureaux and making sure that people in the shielded group will have the support from people in the community who can help deliver medicines and essential shopping.
There is much in the Bill that in ordinary times we would not consider, but I end with one final plea about parliamentary scrutiny. There is as yet no mechanism or ability under Standing Orders for Select Committees such as the Women and Equalities Committee—which has much to scrutinise in the Bill—to meet remotely by video link, by Zoom, by Skype for Business or through any other mechanism. I understand that the Leader of the House will make a statement at some point. I very much hope that he will make sure that, at the very least, the Select Committee structures can work at this time to ensure that measures such as this are held to proper scrutiny, so that we understand how they are impacting on the most vulnerable.
I very much appreciate the spirit of co-operation and purpose in the Chamber today. We all want the same thing: for the coronavirus outbreak to be over, for people to be safe, and for our public services to be resilient and well resourced enough to cope. I believe that to achieve that, we need today’s legislation, but we also need to speak the truth, which is, sadly, that we have wasted weeks—time that could have been spent ramping up testing, acquiring more protective equipment and ordering more ventilators. This emergency legislation is welcome, but more than anything else, decisive Government action is overdue.
The UK had the advantage of being able to learn from the experiences of China and other countries, yet to people watching from the outside, we have too often seemed like a nation in denial. We cannot change where we are now, but only by understanding the answers to those questions can we ensure that similar errors of forward planning do not cost lives. So let us put that right now with a clearer and stricter lockdown—I agree with the shadow Secretary of State, Jonathan Ashworth, on that—and, crucially, with the economic security that will make that possible. I echo everything that others have said about the importance of underpinning the livelihoods of those who are self-employed, and crucially—I make no apology for repeating this—we need a much, much clearer, more comprehensive, wall-to-wall public education campaign to underpin all that.
The message from our health workers could not be clearer: stay home to save lives. We owe them a massive debt of gratitude, but more than that, as MPs in particular, we owe it to them to listen and model the behaviour that we are asking of our constituents. The clearest way to do that is for Parliament to start meeting virtually and voting electronically, rather than putting staff at risk here and risking sending mixed messages to the rest of the country.
I have three brief points to make about the Bill. The first, on sovereignty and democracy, has been made by many others and I am very grateful that the Government have accepted the amendments to ensure that the legislation will come back to the House after six months, rather than waiting two years. It is crucial that we have the opportunity to correct any mistakes that could easily have been made in the understandably speedy drafting of this very large piece of legislation.
My second concern is about what is missing from the legislation: from closing detention centres and safely housing those released to allowing asylum seekers to work and have recourse to public funds; and from preventing utility companies cutting off anyone’s water, gas, phones, internet or electricity to putting real pressure on the insurance companies who are hiding behind the definition of notifiable diseases and refusing to pay out to businesses that are forced to close. Powers are needed to make them play fair. The Bill should give local authorities the power to grant council tax holidays and suspend all business tax payments, with central Government meeting the lost revenue. It needs to freeze household and business rental payments across all sectors, again, with compensation for landlords for the lost rent—not just for three months but for as long as is necessary—and to allow for flexible provision for those at risk from domestic abuse, sexual violence and child abuse. Above all. the Bill needs to include those measures to protect people’s incomes, not just their wages.
So many people in Brighton have raised with me the fact that their concerns have not been covered by the Government’s guarantees so far. As a nation, we are rightly proud of our entrepreneurs, creators and innovators. We need to remember that many of them lack all the legal protections of redundancy and other rights that exist to help employees who are faced with a sudden lack of income. They need to be included in the Government’s scheme. Something like 80% of their average wage needs to be made available to them as well and it needs to happen very fast.
My last point is simply that, as we go through this crisis, we need to do it in a way that prepares us for the next crisis, which is still there, my friends—the climate crisis. Therefore, the kinds of measures that we put in place—for example, when it comes to choosing which businesses we are bailing out—must also be driven by a concern for the climate and ensure that we are supporting the green economy, not the fossil fuel economy of the past.
I would like to put one or two points on the record before the Bill goes through. The first thing that strikes me is that this is an ambitious and aggressive virus, which intends to infect every single one of us, both here in the UK and across the entire globe, unless we do something quite dramatic to stop it. It does not discriminate between rich and poor, old and young, black and white, gay and straight, and it does not discriminate on the grounds of nationality. It does not respect borders, and the pace at which it is covering the globe is something to behold. That is why I very much welcome the legislation, because the pace at which we are delivering these important measures that the Government need to be able to take under Executive action is equally as impressive.
I have a couple of questions for Ministers. Clearly, I am going to support the measure, as it is necessary that these types of measures go through quickly so that we can respond as a nation. First—I asked this question last week, but did not receive a full answer—why was it felt necessary to introduce a brand-new piece of legislation, as we have the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 on the books? Looking at the Bill, it seems that the measures and powers in it would fit within that Act quite comfortably. I raise that because some of the questions that have been asked today—I am glad that we have seen some compromises—were about accountability and about the timeframe in which the measures will be in force. The Civil Contingencies Act says that if a measure is introduced by a Minister, within seven days Parliament can say something about it. If Parliament is in recess, it can be recalled to within five days deal with any urgent matters.
I am only flagging that up—I suspect that there are good reasons why a separate piece of legislation outwith the scope of the Civil Contingencies Act was introduced. This is a dynamic and fluid situation, and things are changing, literally day by day. Some of the actions that the Government may rightly need to take may have consequences, some intended, some unintended. For example, last week, we heard about measures that, I suspect, will be incorporated in powers in the Bill relating to pubs, restaurants and clubs being told to close their doors. Without an immediate adjustment, perhaps 1 million to 3 million people would have had no money within a week or so. Thankfully, the Government were able to introduce measures that dealt with that for the majority of those people. I suspect that there will be situations in the weeks ahead where the numbers begin to escalate and we all begin to worry about our sanity, let alone our health. There will be moments when it may be necessary for the military or police services to be on the street, committed to take actions that will surprise us.
I certainly do, and my hon. Friend has made the point very well. That is the central thrust of what I am saying.
One of the key aspects of the virus, and a key reason why it is so aggressive, intrusive, ambitious and quick to move around is that it may well have the ability to mutate. If that were to happen, I should like confirmation from the Government that they have in the Bill the powers necessary to ramp up the actions that they have taken in the wording of the Bill.
Overall, I very much welcome this piece of legislation, but I should like clarification about why the Civil Contingencies Act was not used, as it was carefully thought through and includes a lot of checks and balances. Secondly, I should also like reassurance that if some of the powers under the Act were deployed on the streets of our country, Parliament would in some way—I know that Ministers are responsive, and the Prime Minister has shown great leadership and is seeking to do the absolute best for the nation—be able to express, even in recess, concerns to which Government Ministers and the Executive could respond quickly, rather than at the end of a six or three-month period, or a two-year period.
I would like to begin where many hon. and right hon. Members have begun, by putting on record our profound thanks to the volunteers and public service workers who have done so much. The definition of the frontline is the point of maximum danger, and there are hundreds of thousands of people who have put themselves in danger to keep the rest of us safe.
There is one group I would like to single out: the extraordinary group of people at Heartlands Hospital in my constituency who have been working tirelessly to help to keep our city of Birmingham safe. It was Ernest Hemingway who said that the definition of courage is grace under pressure. Well, our volunteers and public service workers are under pressure today like never before. Their skill, their care, their compassion, their grace, and their courage are something that will live in the memory for generations to come.
There are two issues with the Bill that I want to touch on. Those issues are protections that are needed, but which are missing from the legislation—one on the income side and one on the cost side. On the income side, the challenge now for Her Majesty’s Government is to begin quilting together the patchwork of measures that have been so rapidly put in place. There are five groups whose household income will come under severe pressure very quickly: those who are in work; those who are self-employed; those who are newly sick; those who are newly unemployed; and, of course, those who are having to take parental leave because the schools are now closed.
The Government have moved quickly to put in place wage subsidies, and that is good and welcome. I add my voice to those who tonight are calling for rapid measures to help the self-employed, but we also need to address three other areas in the income protection system. First, we need to ensure that the rate of statutory sick pay quickly moves up to about £160 a week. It is very difficult for people to live on the extent of the pay cut that they have taken just because they are ill. Secondly, paid parental leave now needs to kick in from day one, and that has to be enforceable as a statutory right. Thirdly, for those now labouring on universal credit, that payment has to go up to at least £100 a week. A couple in my constituency with two kids will now be £800 a month below the poverty line if they were having to live on universal credit. That is simply not acceptable, and we are going to have to improve that situation.
The second protection that is missing relates to costs; I mentioned this earlier in comments I made to the Leader of the House. Some companies are behaving very badly. For example, individuals such as Philip Green laid off thousands of staff before the income protection system kicked in. He should be summoned to the Bar of this House to explain himself. Staff in Topshop are telling me that they are being prohibited from circulating the petition that I have launched to have him summoned here to explain himself. Of course, we also need rapid protection in price regulation. In times of emergency, prices go up. I have been inundated with complaints after Jhoots Pharmacy in my constituency raised the price of Calpol from a couple of quid a bottle to 20 quid a bottle. Markets need morals in times of emergency more than at any other time, and we now need rapid action to put in place the price regulation that I have proposed in new clause 28, which has been widely shared and supported by Members across this House.
I join others in commending the spirit, tenacity, determination and grit of those on the frontline, not just in the health service, but in the police and other services—the growing team out there who are trying to keep our country together during these difficult times. I commend the Government’s work to provide the necessary medical support through mobilising the NHS at the start, and the economic support for businesses and employees. I also commend their provision of support to 1.5 million of the most vulnerable people in the country.
This emergency legislation is unparalleled in modern times. It grants enormous powers to the state and is expected to be approved in the shortest of time periods. I very much welcome the Health Secretary’s assurances that the measures in the Bill are temporary, proportionate to the threat, only to be used when strictly necessary and only to remain in place for as long as is required to respond to the crisis.
As the Bill is being debated tonight, we should remember that the Cobra meeting is taking place. British nationals abroad are being called back to the UK. There is every expectation that there will be either a national lockdown or localised lockdowns. The armed forces have already been mobilised. The Ministry of Defence has had planners in various Departments for a number of weeks, but we should expect to see more of them providing fantastic assistance to a number of agencies across the nation. We must not forget that the armed forces are also preparing their own manpower—that which is needed to watch our backs—because while the national focus is absolutely on the coronavirus, our armed forces have a duty to ensure that we can sleep at night. They protect our skies, shores and seas as well. We must not forget that they have a day job to do, as well as their contribution to the nation. We should remember that this decade was on track to be one of the most dangerous since the cold war. Complex and diverse threats remain out there, and a wily competitor will take full advantage of the global turbulence, not least because threats are no longer so much territorial but come from a cyber and digital capacity.
The Government have focused on their role—on the power of the Government to tackle the crisis—but, as has been repeated again and again in the House, we all can and must play our part in reducing the spread of this deadly virus. Life is not on hold, as some commentators have claimed; we must adjust to a new normal. We must face the reality and understand that life will now be different, not only as we tackle the virus, but afterwards as well.
The Bill is unprecedented, but if the powers are used to their full, that is because too many Britons continue to ignore the guidelines and are part of the problem, not the solution. The Queen sent more than a message to the nation last week; it was an instruction. Let us change our routine, as the country has done in the past. Everyone must play their part, for the greater good, towards the common goal of saving lives. This is a national crisis—not a national holiday, which some people seem to be taking it as—and every person, authority, business, charity and laboratory must turn their efforts either towards helping to save lives and supporting our NHS, or towards helping us all to adapt to the new normal, because life will not go back to what it was for months or years to come. The world has changed; we must all play our part in the solution.
This is an unprecedented crisis.
How this House, the Government and the Prime Minister respond will determine the fate of millions. We are making life-and-death decisions—choices that either save millions of people from poverty or plunge them into it. They are choices about priorities and about what and who is important. They are political choices, and I am concerned about the choices the Government are making. For example, the rich can buy a covid-19 test at private health clinics, but frontline NHS staff are not getting them. That cannot be right. In response to this emergency, we must change our priorities. Public health must come before private profit.
I welcome the fact that an amendment has been accepted that gives protections to Muslim and Jewish communities, who feared that the Bill would have resulted in forced cremations. I hope that the provisions on those protections are heeded. I have a number of ongoing concerns; given the time constraints, I shall limit myself to three.
First, even after the passing of the Bill millions of workers—including low earners, the self-employed and workers in the gig economy—will not qualify for statutory sick pay. For the people who do qualify, at £94 a week it is the second lowest rate in Europe. The Secretary of State himself has admitted that he could not live on it, so he should not expect our constituents to. I urge the Government to raise the rate to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the real living wage and extend it to cover all workers.
Secondly, the Bill will have an impact on disabled people by suspending the duty to meet the needs of disabled people and their carers. It will weaken the duties to meet children’s educational requirements and relax the safeguards for detaining people under the Mental Health Act. The virus presents us with huge challenges, but it cannot be an excuse for abandoning disabled people. Ten years of cuts have already drastically eroded disabled people’s rights; coronavirus must not be allowed to hit them hardest, too.
My third and final point is on migrants’ rights. There are now confirmed cases of covid-19 in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. The virus will cause a health disaster unless the Government release detainees. It is not just migrant detainees who are at risk; in spite of the fact that NHS staff from around the world are on the frontline battling the pandemic, migrants are still being charged for NHS treatment. Adding covid-19 to the exempted conditions does not go far enough. As long as there are charges for some conditions and the NHS is sharing data with the Home Office, migrants will be deterred from seeking medical help when they need it the most. That is unfair and it is a public health risk, so I urge the Government to release detainees from detention centres, suspend NHS charging, end data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office, and make sure that NHS staff and migrants know about it all with an information campaign.
I will finish by saying this. Crises show us who we are. They show us what we care about, and across the country people are answering. They are reaching out to elderly neighbours they do not know, offering support and reassurance. Strangers are organising food deliveries for vulnerable people they have never met. In cities across the country, networks of support and solidarity are springing up. That is one answer; it is an answer that says we value everyone and that no one should go through this alone or unsupported, but that is not the answer the Government are giving. Instead, they are abandoning the self-employed, neglecting the sick and disabled, letting businesses lay off staff, and leaving sick workers destitute. They are giving millions to profiteering private health companies, while NHS staff do not even get basic protective equipment and are resorting to using bin liners. That is not a response true to our values, so before it is too late, I urge Members: let us rise to the challenge and beat this virus together.
On Saturday, we had our first death from coronavirus in West Dorset at our county hospital. However, while a fellow citizen was dying from this awful virus in hospital, others were congregating all along the Jurassic coast, particularly in Lyme Regis and Bridport, sharing ice creams on the beach as if it were a summer Saturday afternoon, showing flagrant disregard for the Government’s advice. This country is not on holiday; it is time to wake up and take this seriously. We need to minimise the transmission of this highly contagious virus, because with 38% of the population in West Dorset older than 60, the risk is considerable. Whatever is asked of us, we must follow the Government’s advice
Right now, we in West Dorset urgently need two things. I appreciate very much indeed what the Chancellor has done so far to support people’s incomes, and I commend all the Ministers here today for their work, but 24% of those in work in West Dorset are self-employed, and at the moment we are not doing enough to help them. I urge Ministers to expedite measures to support our self-employed workforce.
On Friday, our local bus operator gave 48 hours’ notice that it was stopping vital bus links into our second town. Those buses have now stopped operating. They are connections that are desperately needed to get to Bridport Community Hospital. I urge colleagues and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to consider what help we can give local buses in rural parts of the country. This will be an issue not just for my constituency but for the entire country.
I support the Bill. It covers many of the measures that are necessary in this national emergency. This past weekend, people were still ignoring reasonable advice to observe social distancing, so the Bill has to contain measures that enable the Government to ban gatherings and to go still further if necessary, however uncomfortable that may be. It allows our recently retired healthcare heroes to return to the frontline, and it puts into law the Chancellor’s welcome statements on statutory sick pay. As the Member for one of the most at-risk areas in the country, with the eighth highest proportion of over 65s in the United Kingdom, I am pleased that the Government are taking this approach, but we must do more for the self-employed. They are the backbone of the economy, and while I welcome announcements regarding the minimum income floor, we need to sort that out.
The United Kingdom is facing a pandemic the like of which none of us has seen in our lifetime. We need only look at Spain and Italy for an insight into the challenges that we are going to face. I pay tribute to the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, both of whom are playing crucial roles in tackling this virus. I commend the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and other Ministers for their leadership at this incredibly difficult time. Our response to the coronavirus will prepare this country like never before. I have only this left to say: to those on the NHS frontline, thank you, and to the volunteers in West Dorset and across the country, thank you.
I start by paying tribute to all those who, right now, are working so hard in Newport West and right across the country to help their patients, their neighbours and their friends. My message to everyone across the UK is to think of others and act wisely—that is how we will get through the weeks and months ahead.
As of last night, there have been 12 confirmed covid-19 deaths in Wales, five of them in the hospital in my constituency. They and their families are in my prayers at this difficult time. Like all hon. Members, I extend my deepest sympathies to all those across Wales, Britain and the world who have lost loved ones.
I am grateful to the Welsh Government and their staff, who are working around the clock to ensure that vital services are maintained and that the most vulnerable are protected and supported as best as possible. There are a number of specific, practical Welsh measures that I welcome, including free travel for NHS staff on Transport for Wales services from today.
My first key demand is that this legislation must be renewed every six months by a fresh binding vote on the Floor of the House. Many parts of life, as we know, have changed and will change, but we cannot allow the basic democratic principles of this country to change. I am pleased the Government have tabled their own amendment, and I welcome the provision for Parliament to review progress and hold the Government to account over the coming months.
My second demand is for action on jobs, livelihoods and incomes. Over the past week, like many others, I have been inundated with requests and demands for guidance, answers and clarity from local businesses in Newport West. The Government can take some tangible steps now: they can underpin jobs and incomes with a comprehensive income protection scheme; they can introduce European-level statutory sick pay for all workers from day one; they can tackle universal credit by increasing it, suspending sanctions and scrapping the five-week wait for the first payment; and they can act now to assist the many millions of self-employed people who are worried out of their minds about where their next penny is coming from.
My third demand is that we must have action on rents. There should be a clear suspension, and there should be an immediate ban on evictions for six months. I note the Government have introduced a three-month ban, but that does not go far enough or provide enough protection.
My final demand is that the legislation is examined with regard to those with additional needs. The legislation, as drafted, removes the right of those with disabilities to access care homes on their terms. The duty to educate children with additional educational needs has been modified to require authorities only to make reasonable endeavours, and the civil liberties of disabled people appear to have been severely eroded, along with their right to support in many areas of their lives. It cannot be right that legislation that is intended to do the most good will inadvertently affect the most vulnerable in our society, and I ask the Minister to address that specific point in her summing up.
Another specific ask is a plea for clarity on the definition of “key worker.” There is much confusion, and we need clarity.
Five million self-employed people have spent the weekend desperately worried about what will happen to them, their families, their staff and their livelihoods. We need immediate support for the beautician, the journalist, the childminder, the dog walker, the cleaner, the publican and those who support our churches, mosques and other places of religious worship.
Talking of faith, I welcome the amendment on the burial, not cremation, of victims, which will do so much to reassure the strong and vibrant Muslim community in Newport West that respect and decency, as well as saving lives and getting through this crisis, is an important focus for all of us.
My last point is a direct plea to my constituents and to people across the country: please, please, please stay at home and follow the medical advice. This is a matter of life and death but, if we work together, we will get through this.
I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Robert Largan for his maiden speech. I have been his friend for 12 years. It was an excellent speech, and I always knew he would make a significant contribution to this House.
Everyone recognises that these are unprecedented times and that the Government needed to act with extraordinary speed. I thank Ministers, and particularly the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, for the energy and determination they have shown. The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest crisis facing our country for a generation. Today’s legislation is necessary to tackle it. Both the Government and local authorities will require temporary emergency powers to get us through this period. Passing this Bill is the right thing to do, but we must hope that not all of the powers outlined in the Bill will need to be used. Some are uncomfortable and are justified only by the magnitude of the moment.
My one concern related to the proposal in schedule 27 to disregard the wishes of the deceased, which would have allowed all bodies to be cremated indiscriminately if the system could not cope. Understandably, that caused alarm to anyone whose religion forbids cremation, including my local Muslim community in Peterborough, who made their feelings clear to me this weekend. However difficult circumstances become in the weeks and months ahead, it would be extremely undesirable for their religious beliefs to be ignored. To get through this crisis, we need to bring every community in our country with us. For that reason, I am enormously grateful to the Government for their reassurances today on that issue. Because of the speed required, we all understand that not every measure announced will be perfect or complete first time. Today’s notice of the amendment from the Secretary of State, combined with his comments, will give our Muslim and Jewish communities much of the security they need. I sincerely hope that this will now mean that local authorities will never enforce cremation of a dead body against the express wishes of the family when they have ample burial plots available and the ability to transport the body to the plots. That is welcome and needed.
I have been in close contact with the leaders of all Peterborough’s mosques, who took a firm lead last week in closing Friday prayers, in their extra-curricular schooling and in all their other activities, which was by no means easy for them. They saw through the tough decisions that had to be made. I thank Mr Abdul Choudhuri of the Faizan-e-Madinah, Nazim Khan of the Masjid Ghousia, Hamid Choudhery of Masjid Khadijah, Mohammad Yunas of the Alma Road Mosque, and Salim Rehmatullah of the Hussaini Islamic Centre, Burton Street. We need them and they need us, now more than ever. I know that they will be relieved and pleased by the news from the Government. I also know that Peterborough can come together to refine procedures that will allow for Muslim and Jewish burial. As the pandemic develops, we may face the heartbreak of capacity limits, but I am now confident that the city council and local communities will now find a way through this that is respectful to all.
First, I pay tribute to civil servants across Government, who have worked incredibly hard to put this legislation together. I welcome the content of the Bill and the work that the Government are undertaking. But I want to focus my remarks on housing, because there are massive holes in today’s proposed legislation when it comes to protections for the millions of people who rent, not own, their home. I am basing my remarks on the amendments that have, in the last 15 minutes, been published by the Government. We have absolutely no time properly to scrutinise them.
These are very difficult times for all of us in this country, but the risk of losing one’s home is surely too much to ask anyone to bear at this time, on top of everything else. The Government themselves have acknowledged that with their action on mortgage holidays. The Labour party, and my right hon. Friend John Healey in particular, published draft legislation last week to protect renters, which would have gone much further than the Government have gone today. There is an overwhelming case for action: 20 million people in England rent, 6 million of whom have no savings whatsoever.
Last week, Shelter estimated that 50,000 households could face eviction through the courts in the next six months, and those evictions do not include large numbers of section 21 no-fault evictions. We have heard of landlords threatening to evict health workers because of the risk of their exposing others to the virus. More alarmingly, some of the 1.5 million people the Government have written to and told to stay at home for 12 weeks could face eviction notices over the coming weeks.
Astonishingly, today’s amendments do not get us to what the Government promised last week, which is a three-month ban. They simply extend the notice period for evictions by one month. That means that, over this entire period, eviction notices will still be landing on people’s doormats. They simply will not be evicted until June instead of May. It is really clear what we need. We need three things: a real ban on evictions for six months; suspension of rents to defer rental payments and allow repayment over a further manageable period; and a substantial increase in support for rental costs through the social security system.
Although I broadly welcome the work that the Government are doing, it would be frankly disgraceful for Ministers to have promised one thing last week and to have misled renters with a promise to ban evictions, when the reality is nothing like that. Will the Minister please tell us what he will do for the thousands of families who could be evicted in the middle of this lockdown? Will we see an immediate suspension of all possession cases? Shelter has draft legislation in place. Will the Minister also protect those families in temporary accommodation and bed and breakfasts and listen to the Children’s Commissioner’s call and pay attention—
I think it is important to recognise what the Government have done so far. They have produced a 321-page Bill at very short notice. There is no template for this; they have moved very quickly. They have listened to concerns from all around this Chamber, and they are leaving no stone unturned in minimising the impact of coronavirus on both the British people and their businesses. There is still work to be done to address the needs of the self-employed and to ensure that our world-leading charitable sectors can be sustained, but we need to get this Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. The brief comments I will make are intended to seek reassurance, not to thwart.
In order to beat this virus, our statutory services need all the help and support possible from the voluntary sector. As a former member of the St John Ambulance Suffolk county board, I would like to highlight the work that St John can do working alongside the NHS. There are 15,000 St John volunteers, of whom 8,500 are clinically trained. They can provide ambulances, first aiders in emergency departments and support for the homeless with outreach clinics. However, to make full use of their services, St John volunteers need access to paid leave, ready access to emergency volunteering certificates, as required by schedule 6 to the Bill, and inclusion within the definition of key workers so that the children of St John volunteers can attend school.
This Bill has the very best of intentions, but the Government must guard against unintended consequences. Many groups are worried that the disabled and the vulnerable will be disadvantaged, and left both without essential support and any right to request that support. This could put lives at risk. There are concerns about possible delays in carrying out assessments for the eligibility of NHS continuing care, and that local education authorities may suspend a child’s education, health and care plan. Reassurances from the Government on these two points would be welcome, and funds must be provided for, not diverted from, this vital work.
A final unintended consequence, based on the evidence from China, is that lockdown conditions created by the pandemic could lead to a significant increase in the number of victims of domestic abuse. SafeLives has set out a number of actions that the Government can take to prevent this, and I urge them to give these full and very serious consideration.
We must not dither and delay—we must get on and enact this Bill—but in doing so we should continue to seek to build consensus and to guard against unintended consequences.
I will be brief, given the time, but it is quite clear that we face the most serious and sustained crisis—something that is, quite simply, new to many of us and that our generation has never faced before.
I would like to commend the speech by the former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in which he pointed out the very effective action that has been taken in a number of Asian countries. I associate myself with the thrust of his remarks, which is that we need to take very clear and determined action as fast as possible, given the circumstances. That means obviously much tighter social distancing measures and a much more active approach by the state. It also requires, as he pointed out and other speakers have said, the need for effective PPE and other supplies to get to our hospitals as soon as possible. I should say that I have heard of cases in my own area—not in my constituency, but nearby—where there are real concerns about this.
We do need to look at what works and what has worked around the world in tackling this dreadful problem. There are examples where action has been taken immediately and it has constrained the spread of the virus. I am very pleased that the Prime Minister has now pivoted: he has listened to the World Health Organisation advice and he has taken the UK on a different track. We have a very narrow window of opportunity to stem the worst of this crisis. We have seen what has happened in Italy and in many other countries on the TV news, and we do not want to see that in this country. I would urge everyone to support the measures that are being taken forward.
However—I am conscious of time—I have some reservations about this Bill. I would like to echo the points made by my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth and by other Members around the House about the need for consent, for protection of the needs of vulnerable people and for greater thought to be put in. I urge the Government to take on board the points made across the House today. The spirit of the debate has been extremely constructive. The Minister is nodding and I know she is thinking about this matter. Please take on board the need for wider social consent, for effective review mechanisms at six months at a minimum, and for a further ability for Parliament to bring it back within a year, if possible. I urge Ministers to consider that. I am conscious of time and grateful for the opportunity to speak.
There is no doubt in this House that the situation we are facing is unprecedented in living memory. The raft of measures we are debating this afternoon would be unspeakable in any other situation outside wartime, such is the challenge we face.
The Government have my support in implementing measures to help keep us all safe from this hidden enemy. I share the concerns of Opposition Front Benchers about the impact on the self-employed, those who are disabled and frontline NHS staff.
Time not permitting, I will make one point that has been raised with me by a number of constituents about schedule 27, which suspends protections that prevent the cremation of an individual regardless of their wishes or faith. The right to faith and dignity in death is one of our most inalienable rights and one on which we must never compromise. How our physical bodies are handled and treated after our death is a core tenet of all faiths. That is why I wrote to Public Health England some time ago to express my concerns about how the deceased may be handled during this emergency, and why I was alarmed to learn of the measures in the Bill that overrule the right to faith and dignity in death by permitting a local authority to cremate an individual against their wishes.
While I acknowledge that the Government have this afternoon taken a step in the right direction and shown that they are listening to and engaging with faith communities by making it clear in law that faith must be taken into account before a decision on cremation is made, there is still some confusion as the provisions still appear to allow a local authority to cremate an individual against their wishes where there is a lack of capacity, either locally or in the immediate area, for handling the deceased. The Government must this afternoon address that confusion and make it clear that the absolute right to refuse the option of cremation is upheld in their amendment and in Government policy.
The Government must also make clear their commitment to ensuring that all local authorities have sufficient capacity to handle an increased number of deaths. On that point, I pay tribute to the work of Bradford Council over recent days and weeks to build additional capacity to handle deaths in a faith-compliant manner, to ensure that in Bradford we never have to compromise on the right to faith and dignity in death. As the leader of Bradford Council has firmly set out:
“Those of faith where burial is a prerequisite will always have that wish respected, and that will always be Bradford Council’s position in all circumstances.”
I think that point should be put clearly on the record.
In short, our Muslim and Jewish faith communities are rightly concerned about the measures in the Bill and want firm assurances from the Government—assurances I urge the Government to provide today—that they will never compromise the rights to faith and dignity in death. Those are fundamental and absolute rights, and they are non-negotiable.
I recognise the need for emergency legislation at this time to minimise and reduce the harm and devastation that covid-19 threatens for communities across the country.
I rise today to speak on behalf of the millions of people who are currently receiving social care, those who are in need of social care but whose needs are not currently being met, those who will need social care for the first time because of the impact of covid-19, and children with special educational needs and their families. These are already some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Many are also in the vulnerable category for covid-19 due to age or comorbidities. They are also exceptionally vulnerable to the social and mental health impacts of the pandemic.
In suspending all of the rights of older and disabled people under the Care Act 2014, there is a significant risk that some vulnerable people will have care withdrawn as resources are prioritised and that some will be left in truly desperate circumstances. I am concerned that in his opening speech, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care appeared to say that the purpose of the measure was to ensure that people’s life-and-death social care needs would be met over those who currently have a statutory entitlement, but for whom it was not a life or death issue. In my experience, it is simply not the case that, for anyone who is able to access social care in one way or another, it is not a matter of life or death. What assurance can the Minister give that the needs of those already eligible for care under the Care Act 2014 will continue to be met? We need greater clarity from the Government on what criteria will be used to allocate social care resources at this time and how individuals can trigger a review of decisions made about their care under this Bill.
I am also concerned that the Bill could result in what little progress has been made on the “Transforming Care” agenda for people with autism or learning disabilities being undone, that the withdrawal of support for autistic people and people with learning disabilities could result in a higher incidence of crises, and that, because of the provisions in the Bill, more people could end up being detained and back in institutions that have been traumatising and where abuse has taken place.
It is clear from the words set out in sub-paragraphs 13(1)(a) and (b) in part 3 of schedule 27 that it is desirable for local authorities to consult with religious communities and groups in the event of a deceased person. However, that provision does not say that if a family or person objects to the cremation taking place, the local authority can still go ahead and cremate. I would like the Minister’s assurance that that is correct; or will the Bill be amended during its passage to say very clearly that if a person does not wish to be cremated, then a cremation will not take place?
The tone of this debate—sober, serious, determined—reflects the mood of the people. I am conscious that, on a Bill of any importance, I would usually be addressing a packed Chamber. However, I thank those Members who are not here and have stayed away for reasons of social distancing. They are doing the right thing, and they are still standing up for their constituents.
We have heard some powerful speeches from hon. and right hon. Members. I thank my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne and my hon. Friends the Members for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), for Newport West (Ruth Jones), for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for Reading East (Matt Rodda), for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for their contributions. I also commend Robert Largan for his maiden speech. He said that his parents were unable to watch it from the Gallery, but that at least they could watch it on television. I am sure they were very proud, and I wish him well in his time in the House.
This Bill will change our everyday life in profound ways. Freedoms we have enjoyed over generations will be curtailed. As my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth set out, in this public health emergency the Opposition are supportive of the Bill as a necessity to mobilise resources effectively, but most importantly of all to save life. Our thoughts are with families who have lost loved ones in the global pandemic. At this time of crisis, the public interest requires that we consider extraordinary measures that only a few weeks ago were unthinkable.
We have to ensure, though, that the arrangements are fair and just for everyone. Social distancing and isolation but must be accompanied by guarantees of access to the basic means of living: food, fuel, income and housing. For every sacrifice expected from our people, there must be an equally strong imperative on Government to protect and provide for them. Nobody should have to choose between their own wellbeing and the nation’s public health. Nobody should lose out for doing the right thing. I will set out in more detail in Committee the measures that we suggest to improve what the Chancellor has suggested.
As we ask many people to remain at home, with all the effects that has, let us remember, too, those who do not have a home to stay in and are on our streets, in need of our protection. Let us thank all those who have been working for the good of others in the most difficult of circumstances—our brilliant NHS staff, caring and compassionate; the teachers who, with school closures imminent, continue to do their very best for our children with dignity and determination; all our local government workers, keeping vital services going; and our shop workers, who have kept going, sometimes in difficult circumstances. But words of gratitude are not enough. The Government have to make sure that protective clothing and equipment is available to every single person who needs it, and there must be ventilators, too, for every patient who needs them.
In time of peril, it is right that people look to Government and elected representatives for leadership. It is when Government is at its most powerful that it needs most scrutiny. I am pleased to see the certification on European convention on human rights compliance and the fact that this Bill will be subject to the supervision of our courts, but a two-year sunset clause without regular scrutiny was not enough. I welcome the Government’s concession to move to six-monthly votes, but the general view of the Chamber is that if it could be made clear that any votable motion is amendable, it would make it clear that certain individual elements of the Bill could be switched off as well.
In 1939, the then Government passed emergency legislation to deal with total war, and that required renewing annually. Times have changed now and we are not in a battle with other countries. Rather, we stand together in the values of our common humanity to drive back the coronavirus disease, which threatens us all. The Government’s focus must be on diverting resources to this colossal national effort, but that should not mean that duties to people already in need completely fall away and that hard-won rights over many years are lost forever. New legal minimums of support should not be a default. Care packages should not automatically be cut back to the minimum required, those with special educational needs must have the care they need and those with disabilities must have their rights protected. The Government must make clear its value—in action, not words—for everyone who relies on support.
Life will return to a sense of normality in the not-too-distant future, but we are asking for changes in our way of life. There have of course been negative stories—in the course of this debate, the shadow Transport Secretary has sent me a photo of workers in a canteen in Teesside clearly not respecting social distancing—but alongside those there are also great stories of the very best values of our society. Hearing the famous “You’ll never walk alone” played simultaneously on radio stations across the world summed up where we are. We must not let this period be defined by isolation. I think of the grandparents not seeing their grandchildren as they otherwise would and of the people whose attendance at community events kept them going, but being separate does not mean that people have to be alone. In this age of modern technology, we must use all the means at our disposal to keep talking, to stay together. I say to anyone watching this: if you do nothing else this evening, contact somebody who is on their own to show them that.
The late Aneurin Bevan, who created the national health service, which we will need more than ever in the weeks ahead, wrote:
“Not even the apparently enlightened principle of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ can excuse indifference to individual suffering. There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual.”
There can be no other test for this Bill and the financial measures that go with it than how it protects every single individual person. Let this be a time of togetherness across our United Kingdom, with us all determined to get through this. Let us look out for each other and set an example across the world.
I do not have a lot of time left, so if I cannot address some points now, I will try to address them in the Committee stage. I would like to briefly put on the record, echoing the sentiments that every Member has expressed in this debate, my thanks to our care and health professionals, the police, the military, volunteers and everyone who is working so hard to combat this crisis. I also wish to thank all hon Members who have contributed on Second Reading. The key points are: that the vast majority of powers in the Bill will not be live at Royal Assent; that parts of this Bill and those powers can be switched on and off—they do not stand or fall together; and the powers the Bill creates can be switched on and off as well. That addresses many of the points that have been made by some Members. We are only taking powers that we need. Many Members, including Sarah Jones, raised points about renters and the self-employed, but the Bill today is about the powers we need to take now and not about every aspect of our response.
I am now going to deal with the shadow Secretary of State’s points. I thank him for his approach to working with the Government on all aspects of this response. What he says on social distancing and the offer of support he has made for further measures is noted, and I thank him for that. He asks about EU joint procurement. Not all member states are part of that procurement system, and we have chosen other routes. He asks about car parking, and I believe there are ongoing discussions with trusts about that and about pay for nurses taking time out of training. They will be paid in accordance with the terms and conditions of those roles.
I want to turn to the issue of social care, which was mentioned by many Members, including Catherine West, my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, and the hon. Members for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). I fully understand why this is such an issue. Carers, adults in social care, parents of children with learning disabilities and others often feel that they have a fight on their hands at the best of times, and we are heading for what I hope will not be the worst of times. I understand their concerns around that and wish to provide them with reassurance. The purpose of these powers is to protect the most vulnerable when we come under great strain in these systems.
Clause 13 is live on Royal Assent, but clauses 14 and 9 are not. They need further regulations in order to commence. The Minister for Care, my hon. Friend Helen Whately, is doing an amazing job of ensuring that we understand what is going on around the country. If these powers are switched on, we will understand what is happening, taking data from the CQC and from other areas as well. I think I can provide the assurance that hon. Members are seeking on that, and I am happy to do so at length in Committee, if I get the chance.
My right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt mentioned personal protection, as did many other hon. Members. We are working with business, and there has been an incredible response from industry—injection moulders and others—to produce more PPE. The strains in the system are not to do with the volume, but the distribution, but military assistance and other assistance has been stood up to get that to where it needs to be.
I am sure that hon. Members will hear more in the future about testing and the new end-to-end testing scheme that has been put in place, and about mobile phone data. My right hon. Friend mentioned Dr Tedros, and we should all pay tribute to his efforts and those of his team.
The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey, mentioned the “Transforming Care” aspects. I know that the schemes that my hon. Friend the Minister for Care has put in place, which monitor referrals and other such data, will give us confidence that we can understand what is happening in the system.
Ian Blackford emphasised the importance of our working together and that we needed to put economic measures in place. I would say to him that we have to recognise that people who are travelling to other parts of the country might be doing that with the best of intentions. He is right, and we are right, to ask them to follow the chief medical officer’s advice, and that is why we need to be clear about that advice, and about staying at home and the support systems that are around people in their communities—
I am sorry, but I am very short of time.
Other hon. Members have mentioned businesses, with examples of good practice and, I am afraid, bad practice. That needs to be called out. My right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers spoke about care homes and, obviously, policy is under review but we have to find the right balance between giving those individuals mental health and social support and keeping them safe.
Bill Esterson mentioned sick pay and what further support we could give to caseworkers and so on. The DWP is looking at training and teach-ins for citizens advice bureaux, caseworkers and others so that we can ensure that as these initiatives come out they are well understood.
In the short time I have left, I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend Robert Largan on his maiden speech. As the Opposition spokesman pointed out, Louise and Terry, as I believe they are known, are no doubt watching on television and I am sure that the whole House will want to send them our best wishes as they follow the chief medical officer’s advice and to let them know that their son has done very well for himself. He was absolutely right to acknowledge—I know that Members understand this—that we are in a very privileged position compared with many people, and I know that that is in everyone’s thoughts as we consider our own personal response to this situation.
I am sorry to disappoint hon. Members. I have the issues they have raised in front of me and I will say more about them, including the issue of funerals, in Committee. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed (Order, this day).