Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:28 pm, 14th October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Kevin Hollinrake. He made some interesting points, although he will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with most of them.

I am delighted to take part in this important debate, which, regardless of what the Chancellor says, is not about cheap shots and getting at the Government. I believe that all of us in this place are united in our determination to tackle covid-19, and to see the impact on the people’s health minimised, and their businesses and economy prepared for recovery. That is why I wish to make it clear today that the Liberal Democrats support the motion from the Labour party. More than that, we repeat our call for furlough to be extended to June next year. I know that that will cost £10 billion, but it is what the country needs, and it is a drop in the ocean compared with what will have to be spent if we get this wrong. The scheme also needs to be reformed and expanded to include the 3 million people in this country who are still waiting for any help from this Government; that is not good enough.

I also support the Labour party’s call for the Government to take on board the scientific advice and bring forward a two to three-week circuit breaker. I know that the thought of us all having to endure that again is not what any of us wants to hear, and particularly not businesses. My constituents in Edinburgh West, like individuals, companies and families up and down this country, have already endured unimaginable stress about their futures and their health, and some have endured very real hardship.

The situation that we face could have been avoided if this Government had used the summer to create a world-beating test and trace system—not one that they tell us is world-beating, but one that is. I am one of the people that my hon. Friend Wendy Chamberlain talked about who jump from one app to the other when they travel. I worry that I may be on the wrong app when I need to be traced; how will they find me? A circuit breaker must be used to ensure that test and trace can and does deliver. The Government also have to provide the support for a sustained and fast economic kickstart when the circuit breaker period is over.

Let us be clear: it is not the virus that is solely responsible or to blame for where we are. It is the Government’s incompetence and inability to use the time they had over the summer effectively. We need a strategy that sets out not only the support available but a plan for recovery—a route map out of this—to provide the certainty that every sector of the economy craves. That brings me back to the extension of furlough. The Chancellor said that we need to take responsibility, and he is right, but the Government are not leading; they are responding. There is no strategy or consistency. There is no improvement. What we have instead is an astonishing chop and change, knee-jerk reaction to support for business.

We were understanding in March—we had not faced this before—but seven months down the line, enough is enough, with 635,000 cases, more than 43,000 deaths and the mourning, the job losses and the suffering that people have already had to face. Unprecedented does not have to mean impossible. The Chancellor asked us to look at the numbers. We learned this week that the economy has grown by less than half the amount expected, and the Bank of England has warned of 3 million unemployed, which will only be exacerbated by leaving the EU without a trade deal. Just in case those on the Government Front Bench think that, because I am Scottish, I am nationalist, I am not. This is not about saying that the Scottish Government are wonderful, because they are not, even though they say so. It is about asking for what the country needs—