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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 4:01 pm, 23rd March 2020

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.