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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West 7:24 pm, 23rd March 2020

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.