Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will make a statement on our response to the rising number of coronavirus cases and how we must act now to avoid still graver consequences later on.
At every stage in this pandemic, we have struck a delicate balance between saving lives by protecting our NHS, and minimising the wider impact of our restrictions. It is because of the common sense and fortitude of the British people that, earlier this year, we were able to avert an even worse catastrophe, forming a human shield around our NHS and then getting our country moving again by reopening key sectors of our economy and returning children to school. But we always knew that, while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. I am sorry to say that, as in Spain, France and many other countries, we have reached a perilous turning point. A month ago, on average, around 1,000 people across the UK were testing positive for coronavirus every day. The latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929. Yesterday, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser warned that the doubling rate for new cases could be between seven and 20 days, with the possibility of tens of thousands of new infections next month.
I wish I could reassure the House that the growing number of cases is merely a function of more testing, but a rising proportion of the tests themselves are yielding a positive result. I also wish I could say that more of our people now have the antibodies to keep the virus off, but the latest data suggests that fewer than 8% of us are in this position. It is true that the number of new cases is growing fastest among those aged 20 to 29, but the evidence shows that the virus is spreading to other, more vulnerable age groups, as we have seen in France and Spain, where this has led to increased hospital admissions and, sadly, more deaths. In the last fortnight, daily hospital admissions in England have more than doubled. Tens of thousands of daily infections in October would, as night follows day, lead to hundreds of daily deaths in November, and those numbers would continue to grow unless we act. As with all respiratory viruses, covid is likely to spread faster as autumn becomes winter. Yesterday, on the advice of the four chief medical officers, the UK’s covid alert level was raised from 3 to 4—the second most serious stage—meaning that transmission is high or rising exponentially.
So this is the moment when we must act. If we can curb the number of daily infections and reduce the reproduction rate to 1, we can save lives, protect the NHS and the most vulnerable, and shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary later on. So we are acting on the principle that a stitch in time saves nine.
The Government will introduce new restrictions in England, carefully judged to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number with the minimum damage to lives and livelihoods. I stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March. We are not issuing a general instruction to stay at home. We will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open, because nothing is more important than the education, health and wellbeing of our young people. We will ensure that businesses can stay open in a covid-compliant way. However, we must take action to suppress the disease.
First, we are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible, such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces and, like Government, this House will be free to take forward its business in a covid-secure way, which you, Mr Speaker, have pioneered.
Secondly, from Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10 pm and to help the police enforce this rule I am afraid that that means, alas, closing and not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount. The same will apply to takeaways, although deliveries can continue thereafter. I am sorry that this will affect many businesses just getting back on their feet, but we must act to stop the virus from being transmitted in bars and restaurants.
Thirdly, we will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles, and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
Fourthly, in retail, leisure and tourism and other sectors, our covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations. Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach the rules.
Fifthly, now is the time to tighten up the rule of six. I am afraid that from Monday a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, although up to 30 can still attend a funeral, as now. We will also have to extend the rule of six to all adult indoor team sports.
Finally, we have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events, so we will not be able to do this from
These rules—these measures—will only work if people comply. There is nothing more frustrating for the vast majority who do comply—the law-abiding majority—than the sight of a few brazenly defying the rules, so these rules will be enforced by tighter penalties. We have already introduced a fine of up to £10,000 for those who fail to self-isolate, and such fines will now be applied to businesses breaking covid rules. The penalty for failing to wear a mask or breaking the rule of six will now double to £200 for a first offence. We will provide the police and local authorities with the extra funding they need, a greater police presence on our streets, and the option to draw on military support where required to free up the police.
The measures I have announced all apply in England, and the devolved Administrations are taking similar steps. I spoke yesterday with each of the First Ministers and again today, and I thank them for their collaboration.
The health of everyone in these islands depends on our common success. Already, about 13 million people across England are living under various local restrictions over and above national measures. We will continue to act against local flare-ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.
I want to speak directly to those who were shielding early in the pandemic and who may be anxious about being at greater risk. Following advice from our senior clinicians, our guidance continues to be that you do not need to shield except in local lockdown areas, and we will keep this under constant review.
I must emphasise that if all our actions fail to bring the R below 1, we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions. I fervently want to avoid taking this step, as do the devolved Administrations, but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behaviour changes.
We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass testing, but unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months. For the time being, the virus is a fact of our lives, and I must tell the House and the country that our fight against it will continue. We will not listen to those who say, “Let the virus rip”, nor to those who urge a permanent lockdown. We are taking decisive and appropriate steps to balance saving lives with protecting jobs and livelihoods.
I know all this will have profound consequences for our constituents, so the Government will give the House every opportunity to scrutinise our decisions. In addition to regular statements and debates, Members will be able to question the Government’s scientific advisers more regularly, gain access to data about their constituencies and join daily calls with my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General.
After six months of restrictions, it would be tempting to hope that the threat has faded and to seek comfort in the belief that if you have avoided the virus so far, you are somehow immune. I have to say that it is that kind of complacency that could be our undoing. If we fail to act together now, we will not only place others at risk, but jeopardise our own futures with the more drastic action that we would inevitably be forced to take.
No British Government would wish to stifle our freedoms in the ways that we have found necessary this year, yet even now we can draw some comfort from the fact that schools, universities and places of worship are staying open, shops can serve their customers, construction workers can go to building sites, and the vast majority of the UK economy can continue moving forwards.
We are also better prepared for a second wave with the ventilators, the personal protective equipment, the dexamethasone, the Nightingale hospitals and a hundred times as much testing as we began this epidemic with. It now falls to each and every one of us to remember the basics: wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social distancing and follow the rules. Then we can fight back against this virus, shelter our economy from even greater damage, protect the most vulnerable in care homes and hospitals, safeguard our NHS and save many more lives. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call last night. The picture presented yesterday by the Government’s advisers was stark and cannot be ignored. Infections are rising, hospitalisations are rising and the trajectory is clear. We know from bitter experience what happens next, so it is right that the Prime Minister is announcing further measures today, and we support those measures, just as we supported lockdown in March and the more recent local lockdowns. Although we have fierce criticism of the way the Government are handling this pandemic, when restrictions are needed, the national interest lies in clear communications and cross-party support, and so we will—as we have done before—encourage people to follow the Government guidance and obey the rule of law.
Families across the country will be anxious today. Many are already living under local lockdowns; many more fear that, soon, they will be. They are worried about their jobs, their loved ones and whether they will be able to spend Christmas with their families. They will also be worried that the Government do not have a clear strategy. One day, people are encouraged to work in the office; in fact, more than encouraged—they were openly challenged by the Prime Minister for not doing so. Today, they are told the opposite.
This is a time of national crisis, and we need clear leadership, so it is right that the Prime Minister answers a number of serious questions about the next steps. First, a number of areas in England already have localised restrictions, including some that are very similar to those announced today. Pubs and restaurants in Bolton, for example, have been told to shut at 10 pm for about two weeks, and Leicester has been in localised restrictions for about three months, yet infections in those areas remain high. Can the Prime Minister be sure that the restrictions he is introducing today will be effective in suppressing the virus? If they do not work, when does he envisage further measures might be necessary?
I also want to ask about support for families and businesses. These restrictions will put further pressures on the hospitality sector, on high streets and town centres and on people’s jobs and businesses, so what emergency financial support will be made available to those who need it? There was nothing in the Prime Minister’s statement about that. There is a big gap here. Will the Prime Minister now accept that withdrawing the furlough scheme in one fell swoop would be a disaster, and actually at complete odds with the measures he just announced, which are possibly for up to six months? Will he take us up on our offer to work with him, and with trade unions and businesses, on a replacement scheme that protects jobs and businesses?
Given the rise in infections, these restrictions are necessary, but they were not inevitable. We warned the Prime Minister months ago that testing needed to be fixed by the autumn. The Academy of Medical Sciences told him the same in July, saying:
“Testing and tracing capacity will need to be significantly expanded to cope with increasing demands over the winter.”
However, the Government did not listen. They pretended there was not a problem. They did not act quickly enough, and now the testing system is not working, just when we need it.
We should also recognise that a second national lockdown is not inevitable. That would be a huge failure of government, not an act of God. There is still time to prevent it. That must be a national effort. Labour will do whatever is reasonable and necessary to support that, to save lives and to protect the NHS, but the Government must lead, and they must do so fast.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support. I notice that it seems to come and go, but it seems to be here today. He criticises testing. He should know that, as I have told the House many times, this country is now testing more than any other country in Europe—one test for every five people. Actually, in spite of the massive increase in demand for testing, we have greatly increased the number of contacts reached from the indexed cases. He should pay tribute to those involved in the whole testing operation, in spite of all the difficulties they face.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions the success of local lockdowns, and he is absolutely right to draw attention to what happened in Leicester. That was a heroic effort of local people, and it has happened in other parts of the country—local people pulling together to drive the virus down. That is what we hope to encourage throughout the country, and that is certainly part of our strategy. He asked what we are doing to support businesses, families and communities across the country, as though we had not already quite rightly spent £160 billion to support businesses, jobs and livelihoods across the country. We will continue to put our arms around the people of this country.
I am grateful, as I say, for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says and the support, such as it is, that he has offered. However, I can tell him that, in putting forward that message of support, I hope he will also say to everybody in his constituency and elsewhere that this is a balanced and proportionate response to the crisis that we face. We are driving the virus down—that is our objective by these measures—but we are also, as I have said, keeping the vast majority of the UK economy going. That is our programme. That is what we intend to do. This is a package to drive down the R, but also to allow education and jobs and growth to continue. That is absolutely vital for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand, and I hope that, in his support, which I welcome, he will communicate that to the country as well.
One of the most difficult decisions a Prime Minister has to take in a democracy is to restrict our freedoms for the greater good. In the measures he has announced today, which have cross-party consensus, my right hon. Friend has sought balance and proportionality, as he has said, in protecting the economy while reducing the risk of the virus spreading like wildfire.
However, given the six-month timeframe he has announced, what does he have to say to grandparents who want to live their lives before it is too late and who cannot see their families; to worried parents and families who cannot access a test at the moment; to workers and business owners facing financial ruin; and to MPs who want to debate these matters in Parliament before they are decided, not after, so that they can help him shoulder this onerous responsibility? How can he convince all of them that he is taking the right path, and unite our country with hope of an end to this misery?
I thank my right hon. Friend. She is entirely right that Parliament should and will debate these issues. We will make time early next week, in Government time, for a full debate on these measures.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. We have reached a critical moment. The virus has not gone away, it is not going away, and it remains as deadly as ever. I welcome the fact that following calls this weekend from our First Minister, a four-nation Cobra meeting has taken place this morning. We have all witnessed the worrying rise in virus cases over the past number of weeks, and we all know the projections and consequences our society will face if it continues to grow at the same rate.
We must also be clear about one thing: if we take the right actions now, there is nothing inevitable about the exponential spread of this virus. If we act decisively, move sharply and take the right, tough decisions now, we can get the virus back under control, minimise the time we all spend under new restrictions and, most importantly, we can save lives.
Today, Governments across the four nations are rightly asking citizens to make more sacrifices to protect our collective health. In return for these sacrifices, it is only right that citizens are provided with financial support amid the health and economic uncertainty. We are now just a few short weeks away from the end of the furlough scheme. Analysis from the Scottish Government has already shown that extending the scheme by eight months could save about 61,000 jobs in Scotland. France, Germany and Ireland have already extended their job retention schemes into next year, but the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have rigidly refused to extend furlough.
We all know, however, that U-turns and mixed messaging have come to define this Government. On
“Go back to work if you can.”
“going back to our places of work,” and on
“Go back to work or risk losing your job”.
The Prime Minister has changed his advice this morning on working from home. It is now time to change his mind on furlough as well. So today I have one question, and it is a question that 61,000 employees in Scotland are asking. Prime Minister, they deserve certainty and they deserve an answer. Will this Government now save those jobs and extend the furlough scheme beyond October? Prime Minister, do not throw workers on the scrap heap, through no fault of their own.
There was a great deal in the right hon. Gentleman’s question that I agree with. He is right that we need to take decisive action now, and I am very grateful for the collaboration that we have all been engaged in across the UK. Our objective is to keep businesses going, to keep the economy moving as much as we can and indeed to allow people to go back to work where they must but, of course, to work from home if they can. It is very clear what the choices are and what the guidance is.
Of course we will continue to support businesses and people who face challenges because of coronavirus throughout our United Kingdom. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in Scotland alone, the Barnett consequentials of the support are now well over £5 billion, and across all the devolved Administrations they are about £12.6 billion. We will continue to send that support throughout the whole UK, to put our arms around the whole workforce of the UK and to protect jobs and livelihoods, but we also want to see those businesses continuing and jobs being created.
I support the measures announced today. The Prime Minister will have decided them with a heavy heart, but all the evidence from South Korea, Singapore and other countries is that early, decisive action now is the best way to avoid a second full lockdown later. I want to ask him about testing. We have tripled capacity since May and will double it again by the end of October, so there has been a transformation, but we are not there yet. At a school in my constituency a child has tested positive, but it only gets a quota of 10 tests every three weeks, and it is worried that people may be passing on the virus asymptomatically whom it is not able to identify. How can he reassure that school and others up and down the country that are trying so hard to do the right thing?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have massively increased testing across the country. We are now prioritising teachers, as he knows. He raises a very important point about school pupils, and an interesting fact is that the rates of infection and transmission among school pupils are much lower than in the rest of the population. But I am not going to hide it from him that the future I see for our country and the way to defeat this virus is massively to expand testing, not just for teachers and not just in schools but throughout the country. That is why I am proud that, in spite of all the difficulties that Keir Starmer and others have legitimately pointed out, NHS Test and Trace is now conducting more tests than any other country in Europe. I think we should be proud of that.
There was one major omission from the Prime Minister’s statement: an apology. Will he now apologise for his Government’s gross incompetence over testing, tracing and clear communications, which has led to these latest restrictions on people’s daily lives? As families and businesses look forward, especially to Christmas, how will the Government support the millions of people who are on the brink of losing their jobs, losing their businesses and losing their livelihoods? What is the new plan for them?
The plan is that we should continue to keep the economy moving in the way that I have described and the Government have set out, which I believe is, quite rightly, supported by the Opposition, while suppressing the R and getting the virus down. That is our policy. Does the right hon. Gentleman support it?
One of the lessons of the lockdown measures in the spring was that they worked, but almost everyone ended up wishing that they had been introduced a week or two earlier, so the Prime Minister is right to act in anticipation rather than in reaction. Will he take the public into his confidence and tell them whether the six-month period that he mentioned is irrespective of the experience of infections and hospitalisation over the weeks and months ahead? What will be the criteria for lifting these restrictions and others such as the rule of six?
My right hon. Friend asks a really important question. The answer is, of course, that we must look at what the data tell us. There are several important data. The R is perhaps the crucial one, but we also look at rates of admissions to hospitals and new infections. If those facts change—if things turn around, and if the British public can do what they did before and get this virus down and get it under control—then of course we will review the measures and review the situation.
The Prime Minister is right that testing is a vital part of the Government’s response to the coronavirus. Will he join me in commending companies like Randox and Fortress Diagnostics in Northern Ireland, which have played a vital role at national level in delivering the Government’s testing programme? Randox has committed 99% of its covid testing capacity to that programme, and on
I do indeed congratulate Randox and all the other businesses involved. We are massively expanding testing the whole time. It is very important for the House to understand that testing alone cannot fix this problem. There is a hiatus in the logic of the attacks that are sometimes mounted. The problem we have in the spread of this virus is that, alas, a minority of people have not been following the guidance in the way they might have done. What we are trying to do now is to get everybody to focus on the rules and the guidance, to enforce it strictly and to get the R down.
I thank the Prime Minister for all his hard work during these difficult, challenging times to keep us all safe. He will be aware that I have put forward two private Member’s Bills to improve mental health care provision for all, supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This morning, I spoke to Professor Allan Young from King’s College London, who raised with me real concerns about the reduction in mental health care provision for those with severe mental health issues during covid-19. Will the Prime Minister please look urgently into the matter and the representations of experts such as Professor Young, which I will forward to his office?
I look forward to receiving those representations—I will study them carefully. As the House has heard before, the Government are spending £12 billion more on mental health provision. Also, throughout the pandemic, we have been putting extra cash into mental health charities. I will certainly look at the case my hon. Friend raises.
Diolch, Llefarydd. At the start of the pandemic, there were concerns that visitors were gathering in crowds at beauty spots like yr Wyddfa—Snowdon. This happened again last weekend. Local lockdowns in Wales now require people to remain within their local authority area, except for essential reasons, but no such requirements exist in England. In those unfortunate situations where people face local lockdowns, will the Prime Minister give clear guidance against out-of-area travel for leisure purposes?
For local lockdowns, the guidance is given by the local authorities, following the decision in Covid-O about exactly what restrictions are to be put in place. Clearly the restriction the right hon. Lady suggests is part of the mix.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for being here in person to answer our questions. Surely the reality is that national lockdown has one shot and any repeat of that, with the inevitable unlock that follows, reintroduces an increased element of opportunity for the virus and risk for us, as we are seeing now. Does the Prime Minister agree that all these restrictions on our constituents’ lives require their ongoing consent, and that it is incumbent on the Government, the scientists who advise him and Parliament to stress-test these decisions and, crucially, the evidence that lies behind them?
I do agree with that. It would be greatly to the advantage of the debate and the country for these questions to be discussed in the House in the way that I have outlined and was proposed by my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan.
The public have shown a vast capacity for putting others first during the pandemic, and now they are being asked to do more. In return, the Government need to do more for them. Public consent is dependent on people not being forced into financial ruin. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the most affected sectors, such as hospitality and the arts, continue to get the financial support they need? In particular, will he meet me and other hon. Members to find solutions for more than 3 million self-employed people who have not been covered by the existing financial schemes? He says he will put his arms around the whole workforce; many millions of the self-employed have not felt the benefit of that embrace.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We have extended loans and grants to every conceivable sector of the economy, including £1.57 billion to the arts sector alone, and we will of course do more. The most important thing that we can do, returning to the central message that I am trying to get over today, is to push down on the R while simultaneously allowing as much of the economy to flourish as we possibly can. That is our collective objective today.
The country is now full of amateur infection control experts, amateur epidemiologists and the odd Captain Hindsight. I do not intend to be one of those, but I must express to the Prime Minister the concern of constituents in my area where the seven-day rolling average is now well below 20 and falling, where people have followed the rules but have seen those at protests and street parties not having action taken against them. We will now suffer as a result of these further measures, support them though I do. In particular, hospitality will suffer. May I urge him to look again at the Government’s plans to halve the small brewers’ rate relief, which will damage small brewers, particularly craft brewers? Can we look again at that as this is not the time to be introducing such changes?
My hon. Friend speaks eloquently for his constituents and for those who feel let down by the minority who are not obeying the rules. That is why we are outlining this programme of tough enforcement today. I will certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to look at the fiscal measures that my hon. Friend proposes in respect of small brewers.
The Prime Minister will have support for taking the necessary measures to contain and suppress the virus, but he is receiving a very strong message from both sides of the House today that he does need to revisit the economic support measures, particularly in the light of changed circumstances and bearing in mind the need to look at other creative and innovative solutions. Will he therefore accept that, when the Chancellor made his statement back at the beginning of July, a certain set of planning assumptions were made that now no longer apply with the virus, so it is incumbent on the Government to change course and to change what they are doing to support people as well?
I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and it is certainly our intention, as we go forward, to do everything we can to protect lives and livelihoods and to put our arms around everyone in this country. No one can deny that the Chancellor has been exceptionally creative and ambitious in the plans that he has set out, and he will continue to apply the maximum possible imagination and creativity in that respect.
Don Valley appreciates all the work that the Prime Minister and his team are carrying out in response to the recent rise in cases of covid-19. That said, I must say to him that the blanket restrictions are affecting all people of all ages, immaterial of the actual risk posed to them. Will the Government therefore ask individuals to carry out a personal covid risk assessment, the results of which could determine whether someone needs to shield or can go about their daily lives. This will help boost the economy while protecting the vulnerable. After all, many people’s lives are being affected tremendously by these restrictions, especially the young, who, as we all know, are only young once.
My hon. Friend really puts his finger on the heart of the dilemma. The tragedy of the coronavirus epidemic is that people who are not badly affected themselves can none the less pass it on unwittingly to older or more vulnerable people, so their harmless cough can be someone else’s death knell, unfortunately. That is why we have to apply the restrictions that we do, but he is right also to look ahead to a time when I do believe that we will be able much more easily to identify whether or not we are infectious and to allow us, therefore, to go about our daily lives more easily—young and old.
By 6 pm this evening, both local authorities covering my constituency will be under Welsh Government local lockdown restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Among the restrictions will be one on holiday travel, meaning that constituents will not be able to go on planned holidays. Some holiday companies are refusing refunds on the grounds that local restrictions are not covered by UK law, pointing instead to Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice on travel. What can the Prime Minister do to support constituents in this case and what is his message to those holiday companies?
The hon. Gentleman asks an excellent question. It is not an anomaly that I had hitherto been aware of, but if he would care to write to me with the details of his constituents’ concerns, I will certainly take it up.
Darent Valley Hospital in my constituency did an amazing job at the heart of the outbreak, as did many of my local GP surgeries. However, they were under huge pressure. Therefore, will the Prime Minister consider extending the ability of local pharmacies and chemists to administer health treatments so that these gems on our high street can ease the pressure on our health system?
My hon. Friend is completely right that pharmacies and chemists are in the frontline of our healthcare and do an absolutely outstanding job in testing people for all kinds of things, covid among them. We will certainly support them in any way that we can.
We may well have to endure this for six months or more, but it is less than six weeks until the furlough scheme ends. Germany, France and even Ireland are extending furlough schemes for specific sectors. It is a political, not a health decision. Many communities in my constituency were devastated by political decisions made by a Tory Government in the 1980s that reaped mass unemployment. Are we now to have that revisited on them in 2020, or will the Prime Minister extend the furlough scheme?
The comparisons with other European countries are actually illuminating, because the furlough scheme is far more generous than that of either Germany or France, or virtually any other country in Europe. What we will continue to do, as I have said repeatedly to the House, is to put our arms around the workers of this country to make sure that we help people throughout the crisis, but also, as I said before, to do everything we can to keep our economy moving and keep people in work wherever we can.
I very much welcome the balanced and proportionate set of measures that my right hon. Friend has put together and recognise that these are very finely balanced and very difficult decisions for him to take. But lockdowns, as I think he recognises, destroy jobs and also personal wellbeing. The fact that lockdowns have damaged our economy means that in the years ahead a smaller economy will probably have serious impacts on the health of millions of people up and down our country. Does he recognise that, yes, we should listen very carefully to the epidemiologists, but we must also listen very carefully to the Treasury, to businesses and to economists?
My right hon. Friend is spot on. That is why we have to take action now to avoid the risk of having to take more drastic action later on that would do greater economic damage. That is the key point of what we are doing today.
Can the Prime Minister explain why a new test centre opening today on Hull University land for students and the local community—a centre that of course I welcome—will be run by private firms Deloitte and G4S with no accountability to local bodies with statutory public health responsibilities to the local community, or to the university, which is of course responsible for its students? How does this silo approach that the Prime Minister has created around testing help us to have the joined-up approach that we all want in Hull to tackle this pandemic?
I will study what the hon. Lady says about the testing unit at Hull University. Everywhere across the country, NHS Test and Trace has been working hand in glove with local authorities to get testing done and hand in glove with Public Health England and of course all our public services. I am surprised by what she says about the testing unit at Hull University, but I will certainly ask NHS Test and Trace to give her a full explanation. In my experience, everything is done to enlist and mobilise the expertise of local government to get the testing done.
Many people are concerned that, with this dominant focus on covid, people who need NHS treatment for other illnesses or are seeking elective surgery will be pushed further back in the queue, so will the Prime Minister assure us and make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care gives priority to communicating the progress made in dealing with the backlog in surgeries as we go through the winter period?
Of course we must do everything we can to ensure that our NHS is not overwhelmed with covid cases. It is when we have a covid crisis—a boom in covid cases—that, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, other needs, including cardiac and cancer cases, are pushed off. That is completely wrong, which is why it is now so vital that we suppress the R—that we drive the rate of infection down—and stop a boom in covid cases, because that is the threat to our NHS and to the provision of all the basic services on which our country relies.
The Prime Minister’s objective relies on the local public health effort. I thank the local NHS in Bristol, Bristol City Council and Public Health England in the south-west for their remarkable work. The reorganisation of health services always distracts from people’s jobs, destroys morale and wastes money, so will the Prime Minister explain the benefits of abolishing Public Health England in the middle of this crisis? If he cannot, will he commit now to reversing that decision, at least until we have an inquiry?
It is essential that we have the most powerful possible public health organisation in this country. The Joint Biosecurity Centre now needs to come together with Public Health England to deliver what I believe will be a better service for this country. In fact, the change to which the hon. Lady refers does not happen until next year, but we are getting it under way now.
I know that the Prime Minister is a true libertarian and must have agonised over today’s decision and those taken over recent months. My constituents in Meriden are concerned about a second national lockdown, with schools closing and businesses shutting down. Does my right hon. Friend agree that individual responsibility is more important today than it has ever been? Will he confirm that he will do everything he can to avoid a second full national lockdown?
The whole objective today is to avoid that second national lockdown—nobody wants to see that. My hon. Friend is right to point the finger at us: we can do this together if we take responsibility for the way we behave, the way we enforce the rules and the way we act in public places. That is how we will get the R down collectively and defeat the virus.
Back in July, the Government introduced the Business and Planning Act 2020, which allowed the sale and consumption of alcohol off the premises for as long as the licence of licensed premises. Today, just weeks later, the Prime Minister has come to the House to say that there will be no sales and no service in hospitality after 10 o’clock at night. Will he explain the rationale behind that 10 o’clock curfew and the Government’s very fast change of plan?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I am grateful to her. As Members from all parties have said, these are not easy decisions—nobody wants to curtail the right of restaurants and other businesses to go about their lawful business. What we have seen from the evidence is that, alas, the spread of disease tends to happen later at night, after more alcohol has been consumed. This is one way that we see of driving down the R without doing excessive economic damage. That is the balance we have to strike.
I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has laid before the House today. People who are vulnerable to covid are also extremely vulnerable to seasonal flu, a disease that killed more than 11,000 people last year in the UK alone and is one of the biggest sources of winter pressures on NHS. In the summer, the Government promised one of the largest flu vaccination programmes in history; will my right hon. Friend update the House on what is being done to deliver it?
Yes, indeed I can. The biggest flu vaccine programme is going ahead as we speak. Thirty million people will be able to have a flu jab this autumn, and I thoroughly advise Members to get one.
There is a wee whiff of hypocrisy here. As the Prime Minister and his Cabinet bring in new measures to combat covid-19, he needs to tell us how he expects citizens throughout the UK to follow his rules and laws when he and his Government openly admit that they are willing to break international law and treaties themselves.
I think everybody in this House wants to see the people of this country and help the people of this country to obey the law of the land and get the virus down. That is the objective of this Government.
Children are very unlikely to be harmed by this virus, and they are also less likely to spread it. In my role as a children’s doctor and as a member of the Select Committee on Education, however, I have seen examples of children being harmed by not being in school. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reassure the House that he will do everything in his power to keep schools open?
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for what she does, and I thank the tens of millions of parents, teachers and pupils up and down the country who rose to the occasion at the beginning of the month and went back to school in overwhelming numbers. They are still at school in spite of the difficulties that they are currently facing. She is so right; it is vital for children and young people to be in school, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that that remains the case.
The Prime Minister will no doubt be aware of the alarming rate at which coronavirus cases are rising among black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, particularly among the Asian population, with some 34% of coronavirus patients in intensive care right now being from ethnic minorities. Can he tell the House how he thinks shutting pubs an hour earlier will address this worrying trend and what action the Government have taken to tackle the disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities since PHE published its report in June?
What we have done, as the hon. Lady possibly knows already, is to target testing and enhance protection for those in frontline groups, many of whom come from black and minority ethnic groups. What we are also doing, to stop the spread of infection in some communities, is working much harder with local government and local communities to get the messaging into those communities about the risks of transmission and the basic rules about hands, face, space. Those are among the things that we are doing.
Sport and physical activity contributes more than £16 billion to the UK economy. It directly employs more than 600,000 people and indirectly employs many more. It has an ecosystem that reaches beyond the pitch, field, court or pool, and its social value, which includes physical and mental wellbeing, is estimated at more than £72 billion. Right now, however, both codes of rugby, football, cricket, netball, hockey, tennis and swimming, to name but a few, are in a perilous situation because spectators cannot return and venues cannot host income-raising events such as conferences. Sport, and all that it directly and indirectly involves, cannot continue to face such losses. Given today’s announcement that pauses the return of spectators, will the Prime Minister elaborate on his comments about a financial support package to ensure that sport is not left decimated after the pandemic?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the huge importance of sport to our national economy and our wellbeing. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is now working flat out with the Premier League and others to identify ways in which we can keep these clubs going and support sport at all levels throughout the pandemic. One of the things that we are not doing today, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, is stopping outdoor physical exercise or team sports outside. We want that to continue. That is why it is vital that we enforce the package of measures that we have outlined today.
Mr Speaker, you will be aware of the recent imposition of further restrictions in the north-east of England. First, I thank the Prime Minister for listening to and acting on the concerns, both individual and collective, from the northern group of Labour MPs about informal childcare arrangements in my constituency and others. However, before he feels my warm embrace, I ask him to provide assurances to businesses in my constituency in relation to the latest announcement of restrictions on businesses. Will he outline what sector-specific support the Government will offer to those worst affected by covid, such as the coach sector, which is on the brink of collapse because of Government inaction, in the main, and the failure to listen to the “Honk for Hope” campaign?
We will do whatever we can to support the coach sector and all other sectors across the country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have put in place a massive programme of loans, grants and support of all kinds. It is clear that the best thing for businesses in his constituency and across the country is not to paralyse the economy now and not to go back into lockdown, but to defeat the virus in so far as we possibly can and allow the economy to move forward—but we will continue to give whatever help we can.
I am thankful for my right hon. Friend’s commitments on parliamentary scrutiny. He will know that many Members of the House and members of the public are concerned about the use of delegated powers, and I am sure that he remembers the sifting Committee from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Will he please consider whether some innovative thinking can be applied to ensure that the authority of this House is brought to bear on these measures in advance, so that the public can have confidence that their representatives are authorising the use of law to constrain their freedom?
Yes; under the current procedures, it is up to the House to confirm that the Executive do have the power to continue measures under the Coronavirus Act, and that will continue to be the case. We are additionally offering—insisting—that there should be a proper debate of these issues in Parliament. There are many different opinions in Parliament, and people need to air them together.
Children were delighted to return to their primary schools earlier this month, but—not surprisingly, after six months of isolation—coughs and colds have spread rapidly among them since. We have been reminded that each primary school has just 10 covid tests. When will primary schools have the wherewithal to test children and staff with symptoms to avoid spreading the virus at school and unnecessary school closures?
The right hon. Gentleman is spot on about what has been happening in schools. Sadly, in many cases we have seen a rise in demand for tests because people are, reasonably, unable to distinguish between the symptoms of covid and a seasonal cough or cold. We are trying to address the situation as fast as possible. The one consolation we have is that children are much less likely to suffer seriously, if at all, from the disease, and it seems that they are much less capable of spreading it.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for his steadfast service to our country during this very difficult time. He understands the long-term harm that a second lockdown would cause to people across the country—to their health, their lives and their livelihoods—as they try their best to get back on their feet. Will he consider targeting protective measures at those who are most at risk, rather than deploying the blunt instrument that is lockdown, which causes so much suffering and offers no hope of a cure?
My hon. Friend is right. We are doing everything we can to protect people, particularly those in care homes, who are so vulnerable, as we saw during the early stages of the pandemic. We have massively increased the winter action plan for care homes: putting in another £546 million; stopping movement between care homes; and taking the tough decision to stop visits to care homes in lockdown areas, which is very difficult for elderly people in care homes. The reason that we are taking those and other difficult measures now is that we want to avoid another national lockdown of exactly the type that my hon. Friend also rightly wants to avoid.
Some of my constituents have been waiting for four days, five days or even longer to get their test results back. In July, the Government rightly promised that 80% of in-person tests would receive their results within 24 hours of booking. That figure is now down to below 20%. That is dangerous: it means that people are not in the tracing system and their contacts are not being traced; it makes it easier for the virus to spread; and it makes it more likely that we will face even tougher restrictions, which the Prime Minister has described, across the whole country. Given that the Government made so many mistakes on testing in the first wave, we cannot afford for him to get this wrong again now. When will that 80% target now be met?
Despite the massive increase in testing that we have seen, with a 10% increase in capacity just in the past 10 days or so, we are seeing 64% of people getting their results in 24 hours. I do want to get that up as fast as possible to 80%. I can tell the right hon. Lady that we will double our testing capacity by the end of October, to 500,000 tests a day, and we are already testing more people than any other country in Europe.
Permission to land a question: Bob Blackman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and clear statement of purpose to conquer this terrible virus. One key concern locally has been the failure to comply with the regulations on the wearing of a face covering in shops and on public transport. Clearly, with these new restrictions coming into place, one key issue will be ensuring that people comply with the requirements. Equally, people do not want to get to a position where they are forced to wear a face covering in the open air as they are just going about their normal business. Will he state for the House what he is going to do to make sure that the message gets across to people that failing to comply with these rules is selfish and potentially places others at risk?
My hon. Friend is spot on, which is why we are increasing the fines from £100 to £200. You are protecting yourself and protecting other people, so you wear a face covering where you should.
Shamefully, the UK has had the one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world. If we had had Germany’s deaths per million rate, we would have had more than 30,000 fewer coronavirus deaths. If we had had the much lower death rates of South Korea and New Zealand, we would have had more than 40,000 fewer deaths. So will the Prime Minister take responsibility for our unacceptably high death rate? To avoid a repeat this winter, will he now pursue the zero covid strategy that the Independent SAGE is calling for, and that countries such as South Korea and New Zealand are successfully implementing?
What we are pursuing, with the support of the Opposition, is a policy of driving this virus down, while allowing education and our economy to continue. I hope the hon. Gentleman will lend his support to that effort as well.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are continuing to expand testing and tracing, and it is by driving down this virus that we will be able to take the country forward to a much, much brighter future. If people focus on the measures we have outlined today, particularly on obeying the guidance on social distancing, together we will defeat covid.
It is clear this afternoon that there is significant agreement across the House that the restrictions the Prime Minister has announced, although not necessarily popular, are necessary. There is also a great deal of cross-party agreement that the support schemes for businesses need to be extended at the same time as the restrictions are extended. So rather than simply rejecting it out of hand, will he agree to an invitation to speak to business leaders, trade union leaders and Opposition parties, in order to put together a financial support scheme for not only those employees who currently rely on the furlough, but the tens of thousands of small business owners who have been left without any support at all during the past six months?
I have had the opportunity in the course of the past few months to talk to many businesses up and down the country—across Scotland—and they have uniformly been appreciative of the support the Government have given so far. As I have said earlier, we will ensure that we maintain a very creative and imaginative approach in helping those businesses, but the best thing we can do is fight the virus and keep the economy moving.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. He is right to say that it is the co-operation and good sense of the British public that has seen the spread of this difficult outbreak curtailed. My constituents will continue to do exactly what is required of them, but the truth is that Cornwall has a very low rate of covid-19, and that has been the case throughout. What message of hope can the Prime Minister give to teenagers going to schools and colleges who are being asked to wear face masks when not in class, to churchgoers who have been blocked from freedom of worship, and to businesses that have yet to open and are continually frustrated from doing so?
Churchgoers will continue to have freedom of worship under the proposals. We want life, as far as we possibly we can, to keep going as normally as possible. We want the economy to keep moving. The best hope I can offer my hon. Friend’s constituents, for whom he fights so valiantly, is that we get this virus back under control, take the country forward and keep the economy moving. That is the best prospect for our country.
No, I don’t, and I think the continual attacks on local test and trace and what NHS Test and Trace has done are undermining and unnecessary. Actually, there is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world: our country is a freedom-loving country. If we look at the history of this country over the past 300 years, virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country. It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary. What we are saying today is that collectively—I am answering the right hon. Gentleman’s question directly—the way to do that is for us all to follow the guidelines, which we will strictly enforce, and get the R down. That is the way forward.
Appreciating the frustrations of people who currently have symptoms and are finding it difficult to get tests, does my right hon. Friend agree that with capacity going up by over 10% in the past few weeks, four new labs coming online and hundreds of additional staff, we can reach our target of half a million tests a day by the end of October? Does he agree that that would be an amazing achievement against a virus that we were only first learning about a few short months ago?
Manchester is home to two of the largest universities in the country, with a combined student body of nearly 80,000, many of whom choose to live in my constituency. With so many students returning to the area, this is an incredibly difficult time for the community, and for students and their families, who are concerned for their safety. With the surge in infections and the second wave now in evidence, what advice do the Government intend to give to universities on keeping their students, staff and the wider community safe?
The most important thing is that the students who are now back at university in large numbers should, like everybody else, follow the guidelines. It is also important that, where there are outbreaks in universities, students should not be going home to infect their older relatives.
The districts of Wealden and Rother, which comprise my constituency, have in the past week each recorded just four covid conditions per 100,000 of population. The Prime Minister said that palpable progress will need to be made if the new measures are not to last six months. Will he consider freeing areas with lower rates from the restrictions earlier, if progress is made across the nation?
Of course, and that is why we are putting our hopes and confidence in a local, regional approach, rather than a blanket, one-size-fits-all national approach. We hope that those areas that are complying with the rules—and the vast majority of people are complying with the rules—will be able to see the opportunities that my hon. Friend describes.
The Prime Minister calls it NHS test and trace, but would it not be more accurate to call it Serco test and trace, as it has been outsourced, like other health contracts, often to friends and family members of Tory MPs, lining their pockets while taking the public for a ride? Despite its record of failure, last week Serco was handed another test and trace contract, worth £45 million. These giant corporations put private profit before public health. Is it not time to end the scandal of outsourcing and bring these contracts into public hands for a genuine NHS test and trace?
I have to say that I think the hon. Lady is grossly undermining the huge effort of local authorities, which are an integral part of NHS test and trace. They are doing a magnificent job and I thank each and every one of those individuals for what they are doing. We are putting another £300 million into supporting our local authorities deliver test and trace, and of course it is right that we should reach out across the entire UK economy, and our armed services, to help them and us deliver on this enormous project, and we will continue to do so.
I welcome the work that has been done across the four nations in recent days, as people expect our Governments to work together and unite as we tackle this virus, but given that the restrictive measures could be with us across the UK for the next six months or longer, what guarantee can the Prime Minister give that the UK Government will continue to support Scottish employers and workers in areas affected by the measures when the furlough scheme ends?
I thank my hon. Friend and, as I have said to Scottish colleagues across the House, we will continue to put our arms around workers and firms—businesses and jobs—across the country. That is why the furlough scheme was rolled out—the most imaginative and generous of any such scheme in Europe. As I have said, we are providing for every person in Scotland an extra £1,200 to help fight coronavirus, and £5.3 billion more was announced just this summer alone. The people of Scotland and the people of the whole UK can count on this Government to stand by them throughout the crisis.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement today, but can he confirm that scheduled surgery—such as hip replacements, removal of tonsils, cancer surgeries, and diabetic screening and treatment—will continue with high standards of protection in place, that we will not see people falling through the gaps, and that where there are long waiting lists they will be reduced?
The whole objective of trying to prevent another boom in coronavirus suffering—a boom in coronavirus patients—is to protect the NHS and allow scheduled surgery of the kind the hon. Gentleman describes to continue.
Unfortunately, in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, schools such as the Excel Academy and Ormiston Horizon Academy have staff and students testing positive for coronavirus. Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns about staff and students being away from the classroom as they await testing? Does he agree that schools should be prioritised for testing to ensure that both staff and students are back in the classroom as soon as possible?
Yes, indeed, and I want to thank the staff and students in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the country for the 99.9% of schools that are now back open. The vast majority of pupils are back in their schools, and they should have confidence to be there. They are in the right place; it is by far the best place for them to be. We are sending out new test kits the whole time and there is an online portal through which every school can now access the tests that they need.
Liverpool begins local lockdown measures today. When restrictions were first imposed six months ago, the Prime Minister outlined a package of financial support for local government. We did all that was asked of us, but we have now been left with a £23 million funding gap. What support is the Prime Minister able to announce today for hard-hit councils?
As I have told the hon. Lady before, I believe that we have put about £3.7 billion into supporting local government. We will continue to support local government, and I will look at the £23 million funding gap that she raises with me today.
Working from home has been great for many, such as senior managers living in larger properties with nice gardens, but that has not been the experience for a great many others living in cramped, overcrowded accommodation. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there will be dismay today among those people for whom a return to covid-secure workplaces has been so important for their mental, physical and social wellbeing? It feels like it will be a long six months for them, having to work back in their own homes.
I thank my right hon. Friend, but it is important that he should not misunderstand what we are saying today. Where people must go into work for their job, their mental health, their wellbeing or whatever it happens to be, then of course they should do so. What we are saying is that they should work from home if they can, and I hope he appreciates the distinction and gives his constituents that reassurance.
The Chancellor pledged at the start of this crisis that the UK Government would do “whatever it takes” to help people, and the Prime Minister has said today that he will put his arms around the workers of this country. If these statements are to be believed, will the Prime Minister commit to extending the furlough, to save jobs in Motherwell and Wishaw and across the UK and, for those not in work, will he make permanent the £20 uplift in universal credit and extend it to all legacy benefits?
I am glad that the hon. Lady draws attention to the increase in universal credit, which is probably worth about £4,000 to the poorest families in our country. I am also proud of what we have done on the living wage. I can tell her that of course we will continue to support people across the country, but to repeat my point, the most important thing is for the economy to keep moving, for jobs to be created and for people to get back into work.
My constituency, as part of Kirklees, goes back into local restrictions today, and we have just heard about the new measures that could last up to six months, taking us through the busy Christmas period. Will the Prime Minister ask the Chancellor if he will now lay out a financial support package for hospitality, including the likes of the wedding industry, marquee companies, small breweries, freelance musicians and performers, event venues and many more, whose livelihoods will be impacted by the measures he has announced today?
The sectors that my hon. Friend refers to have in many respects already been provided for and supported, but clearly there will be further demands. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be applying his imagination and creativity to helping those sectors in the months ahead, but the best thing for them is to get back to life as close to normal as possible by getting this virus down. That is the point of the package of measures that we are announcing today.
Last week I received a letter from the Health Minister informing me that a new covid testing centre would be available for my Stockport constituents some 240 miles away at the University of Greenwich campus in Kent. I am willing to accept that this might have been an administrative error, but it is entirely possible that the letter is accurate, given that many of my constituents are already having travel more than 70 miles for a test in Telford. Is it not time that this Government got a grip and provided comprehensive testing like our partner countries, or will their shambolic handling of the pandemic once again lead to the highest covid death toll in Europe in the imminent second wave?
I am afraid that I must correct the hon. Gentleman’s figures. We are now testing more than any other country in Europe, and the median journey is, I think, about 5.8 miles. No journey is permitted to be more than 75 miles, so I do not recognise the figures that I have heard from him.
My constituency is one of several under local measures, and has been for several weeks, so I would like to pay tribute to my constituents—the businesses, individuals and families who have made great sacrifices to keep this country safe. In welcoming today’s statement, may I ask the Prime Minister for an assurance that this represents a circuit break and not a hard-wiring of policy, and that as it is reviewed we will follow all the scientific data to ensure that we get back to normal as soon as possible?
Yes, the intention of these measures is collectively to depress the R but to keep the economy and education functioning. That is what we are trying to do.
Can the Prime Minister, for the sake of absolute clarity and to remove any doubt about potential mixed messaging, please confirm that the measures he has announced today in the national context do not supersede or dilute the more stringent measures announced last week for Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and Durham, where case numbers have, sadly, been growing rapidly, despite a local reduction in testing capacity? Will he also confirm what additional support he will put in place for businesses and workers in the north-east in sectors where activity has been greatly reduced by covid restrictions?
The hon. Gentleman is completely right in what he says about the areas currently in local lockdown measures. We are, of course, giving them extra support to get them through lockdown, as he would expect.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all those on the frontline at the covid-19 test centres and in the labs? They are working incredibly hard to keep up with the unprecedented demand as we grow our testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October.
Yes, indeed. I thank each and every one of the people involved in NHS test and trace. They are doing an outstanding job, in spite of the massive increase in demand, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend has paid tribute to them just now.
How does the Prime Minister justify recent reports that every child at Eton gets a covid test, while 10% of children and staff at Gill Blowers nursery in Luton have to stay at home and isolate while they wait for tests that show no sign of coming? Can he tell us how many schoolchildren are self-isolating because they cannot afford to buy their own tests and why, if there is so much spare capacity, not every child can get a test when they need it?
Every child with symptoms should automatically get a test—that is, everybody with symptoms should get a test. I can tell the hon. Lady that we are massively expanding testing across the country. I repeat the points that I made earlier: it is one of the few things for which we can be thankful in this epidemic, that the virus affects children and young people—the youngest of all—much less than older people, and there is much less evidence that they pass covid on in the way that other people do.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to support our heroic staff at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, as well as care staff and indeed residents in care homes, is to reinforce the central message of washing our hands, maintaining social distancing and wearing face coverings where appropriate?
One of the most shocking aspects of the coronavirus pandemic has been the disproportionate impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic residents. When Public Health England published a report documenting that injustice, the Government were warned that they needed to act immediately to stop further preventable deaths, but we have seen no urgency. The chair of the British Medical Association is now warning that Government inaction will lead to more preventable deaths of black, Asian and minority ethnic residents over the winter. What is the Prime Minister going to do about it?
I have already mentioned that we have done a great deal to target measures to protect those in frontline jobs, including many from black and minority ethnic groups. I thank and pay tribute to those public servants, many of whom have done such a fantastic job throughout this crisis at great personal risk. I really thank them for what they are doing, and we are doing everything we can to protect them. Where there are vulnerable communities that need to understand the guidance about coronavirus, we are doing everything we can to get the messages home. Those are just some of the things that the Government are doing.
Could my right hon. Friend say to what extent the measures he has announced today are being co-ordinated with the devolved Administrations? I raise the issue because in Wales different arrangements have sometimes been the cause of confusion, not least because most Welsh residents take their news from the London-based media.
Actually, over the last few weeks and months, there has been an exceptionally high degree of collaboration between the UK Government and all the devolved Administrations. Yesterday, I had good conversations with Mark Drakeford about what he is doing, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to what the rest of the UK is doing.
Clarity is key to public trust. Many people have been confused by the Government’s mixed messages on public health measures. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that none of his Ministers or advisers will contradict the rules he has set out today, and that if they do so, they will be disciplined?
It is up to all of us to obey the guidance and to urge everybody in this country to obey the guidance and follow the rules, because that is the way we will defeat the virus.
Blyth Valley has recently faced tighter restrictions as an immediate response to a rise in local cases. I know that these measures are necessary in controlling this deadly virus, but they have a real impact on families, businesses and local communities. I welcome the decision yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to lift the ban on informal childcare; I know that that move will be a relief to many of my constituents. May I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to continue to do all he can to support families through this tough time?
I thank my hon. Friend for the way he represents Blyth Valley. I can tell him that we will continue to listen to people and to respond to their concerns in any way that we can.
With 2.4 million households in the UK facing fuel poverty this winter, a figure that will only be exacerbated by the pandemic, will the Prime Minister consider introducing a one-off covid-19 winter fuel payment to every household at risk?
We will consider all sorts of measures to alleviate poverty and suffering in the months ahead. The best thing we can do is to follow this package of measures scrupulously, drive down the virus and keep the economy moving.
The last six months have been tough for our country, and it sounds as though the next six months will be too. It is vital that we take our constituents with us and that they have confidence in and understand what is being asked of them. At the beginning of the lockdown, the Prime Minister looked into the camera and said, “I need to level with you, folks,” and the nation sat up and listened. Can we have more of those “level with you” moments, where the Government give clear and consistent data, with clear explanations of how the regulations are working and why, rather than leaving the people at the mercy of covid deniers, so-called independent experts and professors of hindsight?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We will do everything we can to share the data with Parliament in real time and give colleagues the opportunity to debate and discuss the issues. I think the more that colleagues are able to look at the facts and study them, the more they will see that a balanced, proportionate approach such as the one we are taking today is the right one.
I thank all those working on testing, because they are doing remarkable and life-saving work, but that does not mean that the Prime Minister can simply brush off serious questions about failures in systems on something so crucial to this fight. First, has he now fixed the problems in the UK Lighthouse lab system that have negatively affected Wales and caused the Welsh Government to have to plug the gaps? Secondly, is it true, as Dido Harding has said, that people will have to pay for his so-called moonshot tests?
We are not only fixing the problems; as the hon. Gentleman will know, we are building four more Lighthouse labs. On the machines in question that needed to be supplied, we have secured them, and we are moving forward. I am confident that we will have the capacity to do 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. That is an extraordinary thing. On the ambition for mass testing, I think that is a great thing, and the Government will support it.
The last lockdown, which was quite severe, did succeed in reducing the spread of the virus, but it did not eradicate it. What confidence can we have that these measures will actually eradicate it to the extent that we will not be in this Chamber in six months’ time discussing further lockdown measures? What discussions has the Prime Minister had with scientists and health experts to find a proper way forward?
My hon. Friend asks a most important question. The virus is not one that is readily capable of being eradicated, and what we have to do is drive it down as far as we possibly can, keep it under control and restrict outbreaks as fast and as far as we possibly can. Riding to our rescue and to the rescue of the economy will be several things. First, I think that we will be able to continue with the measures that we have to control the virus and to get the R down, provided people obey—
Please, Prime Minister.
I call Stephanie Peacock.
Sadly, the reason we are facing greater restrictions is that the Government have failed to establish an effective testing system. My constituent was not able to access a test for her son, who was sent home from school and asked to travel 300 miles for a test. Despite the fact that I raised her case in the Chamber last week and received assurances from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, she still cannot get a test and has still had no contact. When will the Prime Minister fix the testing system?
I increasingly think it is disgraceful that the Labour Opposition continue to blame NHS Test and Trace for the resurgence of the disease. There is a complete hiatus in their logic. They are talking absolute nonsense. Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease. The spread and the transmission of the disease is caused by contact between human beings and all the things that we are trying to minimise. Of course NHS Test and Trace is vital, but the way to fix the problem now is for the whole country to follow this package of guidance, drive the R down and allow both education and the economy to continue. There is a complete flaw in the Opposition’s logic.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. It is clear that the country is now living with covid, probably for six months but maybe longer. We know that life changes, so will he commit to regular reviews of these measures, to ensure their necessity? As life keeps going, we need families, so will he consider an early review of the rule of six for primary school children, so that they can meet grandparents, cousins and aunts?
We will, of course, keep all these measures under review continually. None of them are measures that we want to bring in, but they are measures that we believe are necessary, and I am delighted that they are supported by the Labour party.
I accept the need for these restrictions, but the Prime Minister must know that they come at the worst possible time for hospitality and tourism in Cumbria, the lakes and dales and elsewhere, because furlough is ending just as the low season begins. He could back the targeted package proposed by the tourism industry and me to save jobs and businesses through these tough winter months, or he could cost the taxpayer billions in benefits and lost tax revenue by letting them all go to the wall. Will he meet me and tourism and hospitality industry leaders, so that we can find a solution and save jobs?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says on behalf of the tourism and hospitality industry in his area, which is a fantastic place to visit. I certainly undertake to ensure that his delegation is able to meet the relevant Minister to find a way forward. We will continue to support tourism and hospitality, as we have throughout this crisis.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement during these difficult times and congratulate him on rising to the challenge. It is such a shame that the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Members have not always had a positive and constructive approach, given the severity of the situation. In my constituency, I have been campaigning hard for our high streets, which are facing challenge after challenge. What support can my right hon. Friend give retailers in these difficult circumstances?
I thank my hon. Friend for what she says. The best thing we can do for retail, which we opened up again in June, is to ensure that we keep it open and that people can keep going to the shops in a covid-secure way, including on the high streets in Morley and Outwood. That is the way to take our country forward. But the way to do it is to follow this package of measures to the letter. I am delighted that it has Opposition support, which, as she rightly says, is not uniform or everyday, but we have got it today. Let us work with it and get that message across to the country.
Through the testing scheme, we have seen that the BAME population has suffered most from covid-19. What assurances can the Prime Minister give that ethnic minority communities can be prioritised for testing? My constituency has a high Bangladeshi population, which has suffered the highest number of excess deaths of any ethnic group. That community is devastated. It really needs assurances that it will be prioritised for testing, along with other ethnic groups.
We grieve for what has happened in black and minority ethnic communities. The hon. Lady is right in what she says about the Bangladeshi community. We will do everything we can to get all the groups in our country that need testing the testing they deserve as fast as we possibly can. All I can tell her is that we have hugely expanded our testing capacity. There is a hierarchy of need, of priority groups, which she will have seen. We will do everything we can to ensure that black and minority ethnic groups get the support and protections they need, in addition to the measures that we have already taken, which I outlined earlier.
Constituents who have spent a lifetime in public service wrote to me over the weekend saying, “We are on the point of giving up”. Churchill said he had nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, but Jeremiah 29 talks about giving us hope and a future. What can the Prime Minister say to people to give them hope over the next six months as we deal with this dismal pandemic?
I think we have every hope. You cut me off, Mr Speaker, when I was going to answer an earlier question—quite properly. The answer is that we have every chance, if we follow this package of measures, of driving the R down, keeping our economy moving and keeping education going. Science is helping us every day. Dexamethasone, trialled in this country, is now reducing the number of deaths. We have the prospect of a vaccine. All the medical guidance I have is that, by next spring, things will be vastly improved. I do not deny for a minute that things are going to be tough for our country and our people for months to come, but we will get through it, and we will get through it well, particularly if we follow the package that we announced today.