Additional Covid-19 Restrictions: Fair Economic Support

– in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 21st October 2020.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means 1:33 pm, 21st October 2020

I should inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the manuscript amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. He has done this because the motion was tabled only shortly before the moment of interruption yesterday, and because one of his predecessors selected a manuscript amendment to an Opposition day motion in comparable circumstances on Monday 3 December 2001, thus creating a precedent.

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party 1:41 pm, 21st October 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
calls on the Government to publish clear and fair national criteria for financial support for jobs and businesses in areas facing additional restrictions, to be voted on in Parliament;
and calls on the Government to make good on its claim that workers faced with hardship who are subject to the Job Support Scheme extension will receive at least 80 percent of their previous incomes.

I start by placing on record my thanks to the staff at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport who recently cared for my aunt, who died of coronavirus last week. I speak today not just as a Member of this House, or just as a Mancunian, but as someone like the many others across our city and our country who have in the past few weeks lost loved ones to this terrible virus. That, more than anything, is why I come here wanting the Government not to fail but to succeed, because lives literally depend on it.

We know that a public health response will save lives only if it is supported by a fair economic settlement. The British people want to do the right thing, and they will do the right thing, but we need to support them in doing so. That is why I was so appalled by what I witnessed yesterday. I was with fellow Greater Manchester MPs on a Zoom call with the Health Secretary, who was handing us scraps from the Prime Minister, while our elected Mayor found out from Twitter. The Government then tried to blame it all on our Mayor for not doing what he was ordered to do from Whitehall. I have heard of power without accountability, but apparently the Government’s idea of devolution is accountability without the power.

We were offered £8 per head—or, to put it another way, 30 seconds of work for a consultant working on the collapsed test and trace system. Let me say this: £8 per person is an insult. And now the Government are attempting to play us off against each other across GM. Well, let me tell the Prime Minister: our Mayor stood up for Greater Manchester, but he spoke for Great Britain. Indeed, his call for Parliament to have a say and a vote on these measures is one that so many Government Members have made.

Photo of Gary Sambrook Gary Sambrook Conservative, Birmingham, Northfield

On the point about votes in Parliament, many of us called for votes in this place on national restrictions a couple of weeks ago but, unfortunately, near enough all Opposition Members did not bother to turn up for those votes, including the one on the rule of six. If the Opposition get their way and have votes on localised restrictions, will they even turn up?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

As the hon. Member has turned up today, I hope he will do the right thing and support people with an economic package so that they can do the right thing and we can save people’s lives across Greater Manchester and the whole of this country. I hope he will do the right thing and support us in the Lobby tonight.

The Government have not given us the chance to have our say, so today we are giving the House the chance to do so. Our motion calls for the Government to bring forward fair national criteria for financial support in areas facing additional restrictions, and it provides for Members to have a vote on the criteria.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on making some excellent points in her speech. Given that the Government’s strategy to deal with the pandemic is not working, does she agree that, rather than using divisive tactics and treating the regions of our nation with utter contempt, the Prime Minister needs to adopt a united, one nation approach? Does she also agree that, if we want to impose stricter measures, we need to provide support to individuals and businesses, and that we cannot have lockdown on the cheap?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Over the past 24 hours, the people of Greater Manchester, regardless of their political persuasions or colours, have been absolutely dismayed by the way in which our democratically elected Mayor has been treated, but this is about the treatment not just of our Mayor but of the people of Greater Manchester. This is not some spiteful little game; this is about people’s lives, people’s loved ones and people’s jobs. They have spent years building up our economy in Greater Manchester. This Government choosing the path that they have chosen has done one thing for Greater Manchester: it has completely brought us together in saying that this Government and Prime Minister must do the right thing by the whole of our nation and support everywhere, not pick us off one by one.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

What advice would the hon. Lady offer my constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan, where the infection rates are exceptionally low, given that a one-size-fits-all approach has been taken across the whole of Wales? Retailers, hairdressers, personal service providers, beauticians and all those sorts of businesses have been closed, irrespective of the exceptionally low rate. Does that make sense? What does she have to say to those businesses that have invested all their time, effort, money and innovation in creating employment and wealth?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

The right hon. Member makes a point about what the Welsh Government are doing. What they are doing is putting people, business and lives first. They are working with local government and with businesses to bring the R number down. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has said that the plan for Greater Manchester as it currently stands will not bring the R rate down and that it will lead us into poverty and destitution. When I speak to the experts, they tell me that poverty and destitution have a link to how deadly this virus is. In parts of areas such as Oldham in my constituency that have faced restrictions since July—I have not been able to see my granddaughter because of those restrictions—the rates have gone up. We do not want to plunge our businesses into destitution. I am proud of the Welsh Government’s defence of the people and their support for the people of Wales. I just wish we had a better Government here in Parliament.

Our motion calls on the Government to implement their own promise that workers on the job support scheme extension will receive at least 80% of their previous income. I remember the promises the Prime Minister made, not just in this crisis but before it. He offered levelling up for communities such as mine, but he is not levelling us up; he is letting us down. Under Thatcher, we were consigned to managed decline, but now it feels like mismanaged decline. And it is not just a conflict between the north and the south, or between London and the rest. The elected leaders of our nation’s cities, regions and countries have been treated with the same contempt, from Wales to Wigan.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I pass on the condolences of the Scottish National party to the hon. Lady and her family on the loss of her aunt.

We are not in a position to field a Front-Bench spokesperson today—that might have been easier if the Government had allowed us virtual participation—but I can confirm that we will support the official Opposition in the Lobby this evening, precisely because of the hon. Lady’s point about the need for support across the UK. Any enhanced package that is provided to Liverpool, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire must attract consequentials above what has already been guaranteed to Scotland. Scottish businesses are looking at the additional package of support that the Government have found for these English regions, and expect additional funding to be delivered to Scotland. Does she agree that that should happen for Scotland and the other devolved Administrations?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

I thank the hon. Member for his contribution. I absolutely agree. All our nations and regions —the whole of Great Britain—have to come together, because this virus is a challenge for us all. We cannot treat people in different parts of the country and in our nations disproportionately and disgracefully.

In Greater Manchester, we were promised a powerhouse, but what we have at the moment is a power grab. Even here in London, just this week, the Government have threatened to seize control of the tube. We now have a Prime Minister so determined to punish a Labour Mayor that he wants to whack a transport tax on his own constituents, yet the Government still refuse to take the decisive national action that is needed. Instead, they have tried to play people off against each other—divide and misrule.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s aunt.

Will the hon. Lady she be straight and honest with British citizens when she talks about a national lockdown? Is it not the reality that the SAGE paper says that it might take multiple circuit breakers to keep this virus at low levels? Will she be clear about the impact that that would have on jobs and businesses in this country?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

The hon. Member invites me to be clear and honest, and the one thing that probably most people know is that I tell it how it is and I always have. I can be clear and honest with him: the Prime Minister’s plan, as it currently stands, will not protect the people of Greater Manchester and will plunge us into more poverty. We have seen the evidence that says that. I promise him and other hon. Members across the House that the Labour party will always put the people, and the protection and security of the people, first. I ask the hon. Member to get the Prime Minister to do the same thing, instead of playing party politics with people’s lives and livelihoods.

Today this House can vote for a fair deal for all and to end these political games. No more will the Health Secretary have to tour the country like a pound shop Noel Edmonds, announcing “Deal or no deal?”. The Government can honour their own promises that every worker facing hardship on the job support scheme will get at least 80% of their previous income, because what is good enough for the office worker in the City of London is good enough for the caterer in the city of Manchester, and what was good enough for the whole country in March is good enough for the midlands and the north today. We are trying to hold the Government to their own promises. Businesses need consistency, and they need that promise honoured.

The Prime Minister told the House on 14 October that

“whatever happens, a combination of the job support scheme and universal credit will mean that nobody gets less than 93% of their current income.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2020;
Vol. 682, c. 368.]

He then said that those on low incomes will get at least 80% of their income. Perhaps he can tell that to the waitress in my constituency who earned £9 an hour on a 32-hour week, serving in a central Manchester bar that has now closed. The Resolution Foundation has shown that she will end up with less than 70% of that wage under the Government’s current plan. So the Government are telling my constituents to survive on less than the minimum wage for months, because the Government cannot tell us when an area will leave tier 3 and how those restrictions will be lifted.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and thank her for the case that she is making. Is she interested, as I am, that not a single one of the interventions that she has faced from the Conservative side has been relevant to the motion that we are debating? They all seem to be dragging us back on to Labour party policy, rather than standing up for the financial settlement that they are offering to Manchester, and that we know will be going to so many other areas. So can she help me in inviting them to actually speak about the 80% that we are trying to ensure gets into some of the most impoverished people’s—some of the most impoverished workers’—pockets, rather than trying to change the debate into the one they want to have?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. I will go a little bit further and compliment some of the Tory Members who have stood up as part of Greater Manchester, and I will be incredibly disappointed if what I have seen over the past 24 hours results in this becoming a party political fight. Because in Greater Manchester, despite what the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary were trying to suggest, we were united in trying to support our citizens across the conurbation in doing the right thing, bringing the virus rate down and supporting our economy. I hope we can continue to do that. I hope we do not get distracted by messages that are not in the motion, and I absolutely hope the Prime Minister does the right thing, because this is not just about Greater Manchester—this is coming to a town near you. In so many areas now, the R number is increasing. So many areas are in tier 2; so many areas are going to go into tier 3. This is a marker to ensure that our economy survives through those problems.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

On that point about coming to a town near you: it is indeed coming to cities and towns in the Sheffield city region, it was announced today. The package of assistance is totally inadequate. It is nothing like what the leaders and the Mayor asked for. It is exactly the same as has been offered to other areas—the standard package. It is not locally negotiated; it is the standard package. As the leader of Rotherham said, “They put lots of civil servants into a room with us to tell us what we couldn’t have.” That is actually what has been happening in the negotiations.

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

I thank my hon. Friend for his insight. Many of the local leaders I have heard from have said that it felt like they had been blackmailed and pressurised into taking a deal. Greater Manchester and the Mayor were not just trying arbitrarily to get more than somewhere else. We put a package together based on the needs of our city, our conurbation, our lowest-paid and the businesses that needed the support. It was not a bargaining chip to get this or that; it was about making sure that there was a floor that meant people were given the support that, by the way, this Government promised. They promised that support, and we are just asking them to keep to their promise.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is grossly unfair that while the Prime Minister, reportedly, is complaining about not being able to live off £150 k a year, he is expecting my constituents in Nottingham, and all the constituents of every one of us in this House, to live off two thirds of the minimum wage unless a proper economic settlement is provided?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. People on the Government Benches might grunt, but my hon. Friend was a care worker before coming into Parliament, like myself, and knows exactly how people on the minimum wage feel, and I commend her for standing up for her constituents, not leaving them behind like many Members on those Benches seem to be doing now.

Even the two-thirds wage support under the job support scheme extension is only available to businesses legally required to close. Someone who works for a firm that is not required to close, but whose business is severely impacted as a result of the restrictions—such as a brewery supplying pubs that have to close—gets absolutely nothing.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent contribution, which highlights the points. Does she agree that much of the debate is around tier 3 support, not to say that tier 2 areas have no support whatsoever, which emphasises the point that she makes?

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I say to Steve Brine who keeps chuntering: you had your chance, mate. Let other people in.

For hundreds of years, Mancunians have been told to know our place, but we have never listened—from the People’s History Museum to the Mechanics Institute, from our science and industry to women’s suffrage. We will not be told what our place is, and we will not be bullied into taking it. We are proud of our history and proud of our collective contribution to our great country and determined to build a great future together.

This is not just about Greater Manchester; this is about all of us. We will not be picked off one by one. We will not be offered the crumbs when we helped bake the loaf. We deserve a fair slice and our people deserve a Government willing to protect them and to do as the Chancellor promised—“Whatever it takes”. In recent days, it has been Lancashire, Liverpool and Greater Manchester. Next week, and in the weeks ahead, it will be communities in other parts of the country that find themselves in tier 3. If the Government are prepared to wilfully inflict so much harm on their own people in the middle of a pandemic in one part of the country, they will do it to people elsewhere as well.

We are staring down the barrel of a bleak winter, because the Government have lost control of the virus: infections are rising; hospital admissions are rising; and deaths, tragically, are rising. The testing system has collapsed. People and businesses across the country will be anxious that they will not be able to make ends meet and put food on the table. Our motion today will ensure a fair national deal for the country, a vote of this House on it and the Government’s own promises to workers kept. Madam Deputy Speaker, I commend this motion to the House.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. [Interruption.] Do not heckle me while I am on my feet. I call Steve Barclay to move the manuscript amendment.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:02 pm, 21st October 2020

I beg to move a manuscript amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

“recognises the virus is spreading differently across the country which supports the need for a regional and local approach;
acknowledges the fact that repeated national lockdowns should be avoided given the cost they have on mental wellbeing, access to NHS treatment, and jobs in the economy;
supports the Government’s Job Support Scheme which protects the jobs and incomes of those in affected businesses;
recognises the extra financial support provided to Local Authorities for enforcement, local contact tracing and businesses, and approves of Government trying to work with local representatives to improve enforcement and Test and Trace.”.

May I begin by expressing my condolences, and the condolences of colleagues on these Benches, to Angela Rayner on the loss of her aunt?

The hon. Lady was right in her opening speech to talk about the shared desire of the British people whom we represent to do the right thing. That is why all Members of this House want to protect the lives not just of our family members, but of our constituents and to balance the actions that are needed to do so with protecting jobs and businesses. The best way to make good for the workers whom she referenced in her motion is to reduce the spread of the virus through targeted action. That is why the Prime Minister was right to outline a balanced approach, taking the difficult decisions to save lives and keep the R rate down while doing everything in our power to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people. Indeed, the deputy chief medical officer said just yesterday, when supporting the tiered regional approach, that it would be “inappropriate” to enforce a national circuit breaker as it is not

“consistent with the epidemiological picture.”

In fact, to be fair, the shadow Health Secretary was right also to talk about the wider damage of a national lockdown on our economy and society.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The evidence from the deputy chief medical officer in England is quite stark, and the statements really make people pay attention. Has my right hon. Friend seen any counter-evidence from the Welsh Government to suggest that one size fits all? My constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan have to face the lockdown of all businesses, as we did in March, in spite of the area having exceptionally low infection rates.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

What was clear from what the deputy chief medical officer said was the importance of targeted action. There has been concern in respect of the Welsh Government, but I recognise that all leaders are balancing these difficult decisions. That is why I pay tribute to the leadership in Liverpool, Lancashire and South Yorkshire, who have worked constructively with the Government.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

Today is the anniversary of the terrible events at Aberfan, and none of us will ever forget in Wales. I am enormously grateful to the Minister for providing £2.5 million for the moving of the tip in Tylorstown; I hope that that is just a down-payment on the rest of the money that will come. Will the Barnett formula be applied to all the financial awards that have been made to Manchester, Lancashire and other parts of England, so that additional money comes to Wales? My biggest fear is that there are so many businesses and individual tradespeople who simply cannot afford to take a fortnight off to self-isolate unless there is financial support for them.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

First, the hon. Gentleman is right to recognise the importance of today, the anniversary of a national tragedy that unites us all. As I said to him last time, I am keen to work with him constructively, as I know he is, to take that work forward. Later today, I have a call with the Finance Ministers in the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations, so I will be able to talk further about that. As a fellow Unionist, he will know that one of the advantages we have had throughout this pandemic is the broad shoulders we have been able to provide as a United Kingdom to the various business support and job support measures. What is announced for England is subject to the usual Barnett process, and I will discuss that. One of the concerns of Members across the House is about decisions taken in Wales that have an economic impact. It is important that these decisions are co-ordinated through the Joint Biosecurity Centre, in order that we have a consistent, scientific approach. That is a key issue that a number of Members have concerns about.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister suggested a moment ago that the Mayor of Manchester had not been constructive; he praised how constructive the Mayors who had come to an agreement with him were. The Mayor of Manchester made a request for £90 million and was willing to be negotiated all the way down to £65 million, which sounds incredibly constructive to me. In the spirit of trying to bring everyone back together, would it not be better for him to recognise that the Mayor of Manchester is doing what he thinks is right—as are other Mayors and council leaders in other areas, whether or not they agree with the position that the Prime Minister and the Government come up with—and to say that everyone in this is attempting to be constructive?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I was making a factual point that picked up on the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne. The Mayor of Manchester, in his discussions with Government, expressly said that Manchester should be treated differently from other areas. The hon. Lady said that the Mayor of Manchester “spoke for Great Britain”. That does a disservice to other local leaders, who have also spoken for their areas and have worked constructively with Government. I do not think it is the case that the Mayor of Manchester, unlike the Mayor of Liverpool, speaks for Great Britain in the way that the hon. Lady suggested.

The Mayor of Manchester’s position is not deliverable operationally, because local authorities do not have access to welfare payments for the dynamic aspect of joint job support—I can come on to that in my remarks—and it was at odds with the tiering approach that we set out. There is a difference, I am sorry to say, between the approach taken by the Mayor of Manchester and the constructive approach taken by other local leaders. I do not accept the premise from the hon. Lady that the Mayor of Manchester alone speaks for Great Britain, and other local leaders in Liverpool, Lancashire, South Yorkshire and elsewhere do not, or that businesses in those areas should in some way be treated worse than the businesses in Manchester—that seems a remarkable position for the Opposition to take.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I will make a little progress and then of course I will give way.

In taking forward the targeted action plan that the Prime Minister has set out, we recognise that there will be significant local economic impacts, particularly for the areas in tier 3. That is why the Government have set out a package of support, and indeed why, as I say, the Mayors in other areas have worked constructively with it. This package has a number of parts. I heard reference in the shadow Minister’s opening remarks to £8 per head. That is just one component of a much wider package. It may therefore be helpful to take the House through the full suite of funding that is available.

First, local authorities are absolutely critical to the tier 3 restrictions. That is why, in addition to the £3.7 billion of un-ring-fenced grants that were announced earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced a further £1 billion of support, so that is agreed funding for local authorities that will be allocated to them shortly. In addition to that, local authorities in tier 3 will receive a further £8 per head in respect of public health measures specifically linked to enforcement within the outbreak management fund. That goes alongside other measures such as the availability of military support, which sits in addition to the infection control funding that local authorities also have access to—a further £300 million that will support localised test and trace services, specifically within tier 3—and the £1.1 billion to support infection control within the adult social care sector. Before we get on to the discussion around business support or the support for individuals through the job support scheme, it is important not to talk about local authority support just in terms of £8 per head, because that is one component of a much wider package of support that the Prime Minister has announced.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

I welcome the support for local testing, tracking and tracing. It should have been done months ago: that is the reality of the situation. As regards local negotiations—I put this to the Health Secretary last night and he did not deny it—there are not negotiations; there is a financial package that the Government have decided on that has been offered to all areas that have been put up to tier 3 status. It is a case of saying, “Take it or leave it: there’s no extra money going to be negotiated.” That is exactly what leaders in South Yorkshire have said it is: lots of civil servants in a room telling us what we cannot have. These have been the discussions, not negotiations, that have been happening in South Yorkshire in the past few days.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

There has been a framework that we have used to shape our discussions. However, is this not what the Opposition motion, in essence, is calling for—a nationalised approach? In fact, we just heard an Opposition Member calling for the exact opposite in saying that the Mayor of Manchester had a case that was supposedly better than that of the Mayors in Liverpool or South Yorkshire, so the Mayor of Manchester should be treated a preferential way to constituents elsewhere in the north-west. Yet the hon. Gentleman, who I know comes at this very constructively—I recognise that that has always been his approach in the House—says something different. There seems to be confusion among Opposition Members. Do they want a national approach or do they want the Mayor of Manchester to be able to negotiate something allegedly on behalf of Great Britain? I do not think that was his electoral mandate.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

Many individuals are not eligible for either the self-employed income grant scheme or the coronavirus job retention scheme. I have been contacted by many of my Slough constituents, particularly the self-employed, who fear that after November they will see their incomes plummet. Does the Minister agree that they cannot be ignored and that they need support, especially if they are to go into increased lockdown restrictions?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I do agree that they cannot be ignored. In the third section of my speech I will come on to the individual support that we have in place and where that stands in international comparisons. Indeed, we debated that at Treasury questions only yesterday.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The reality is that whether in Lancashire, Liverpool, South Yorkshire or Manchester, there are insufficiencies in the package that the Government are putting on the table. I know from my own constituents in York Central, now in tier 2, that our economy is collapsing. We need to have the proper underpinning, and that is why we need the dialogue. Different economies across the country have different complexities and different needs, and that is what the Minister really needs to get a grip of.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Sure, but for much of the passage of dealing with the pandemic, Opposition Members have often cited international comparisons. Now, when we point out that the scheme we have brought forward does stand very strong comparison internationally—in fact, the furlough scheme for eight months at 80% was way above what most international comparators offered—they say, “Actually, we do not want to apply international standards anymore. We want to apply a purely bespoke approach.”

The hon. Lady is right to point to the fact that businesses are facing real pain. There is huge pressure on jobs, and that is why the Chancellor set out, in the summer economic update, the acceleration of infrastructure schemes—I think she and I would agree on them—such as the green jobs for decarbonising public sector buildings and how we will meet our net zero obligations. I suspect we share the desire to create jobs through moving that forward and the acceleration of infrastructure through Project Speed.

The Chancellor set out his plan for jobs—the doubling of work coaches, the tripling of traineeships, the £2,000 for apprenticeships—because, as the hon. Lady rightly identifies, those businesses are under significant pressure. That is why, alongside the package of measures for local authorities, we have also applied business grant support of over £11 billion, including funding of leisure and hospitality grants of between £10,000 and £25,000. Further to that, the Government have allocated discretionary business support to mayors, in the case of Liverpool and Lancashire, of a further £30 million. To help businesses with their fixed costs, such as rent and bills, we have also introduced a new business grant scheme in England, and any business legally required to close can now claim up to £3,000 depending on the rateable value of their property. They can claim grant payments of up to £1,500 per fortnight and keep claiming that as long as their businesses are required to close. That is money that does not need to be repaid.

While the grants are England-only, we are the Government for the whole United Kingdom. To address the point made by Chris Bryant, who is no longer in his place, about what that means for the UK’s ability to support businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—which we are committed to doing as the United Kingdom Government —it means we have guaranteed a further £1.3 billion for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should they choose to follow suit.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Does the Minister agree that the most important thing we can do for businesses is to allow them to stay open and to keep trading? Where we are requiring businesses to close, the schemes are good and purposeful, but there are some businesses that, because of the restrictions—for example, in hospitality with the one household rule—are effectively unviable as it is restricting their business to such a significant degree. Will he consider widening the job support scheme, for example, to those businesses that are just not viable in tier 2 and tier 3 for that reason?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we debated this yesterday. Much of the debate is about tier 3, but there are businesses that are feeling the impact in tier 2, and we are acutely aware of that and we are discussing that with business leaders. The key issue there is that we have taken toggling measures, for example, the cut in VAT and the extension of the loans. |As he knows, as a senior business figure himself, cash flow is a huge issue for businesses, and the Chancellor has been very keen to work constructively with all business leaders, the trade unions and others, and to consult widely. We have been willing to listen and to extend, for example, the loans that were available in order to pick up exactly the point my hon. Friend makes in terms of businesses in tier 3.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

We have a long-standing and established methodology in terms of support across the United Kingdom through the Barnett process that allows the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] I suspect that Patrick Grady wants to come in on that point, so I will give way. It will be done through the Barnett process, but there are some specific issues raised, such as the guarantee, which we have discussed previously.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

When the Minister meets the Finance Ministers this afternoon, he will hopefully be able to answer the points that the Scottish Finance Secretary raised in her letter to the Chancellor this morning asking for clarification about precisely this issue. We welcome the £700 million for support, but it is not clear whether that is purely for business support or whether it is supposed to cover all the additional consequences and costs that come from covid, including for the health service. It is important that devolved Administrations are given the support they need and any consequences that come from additional funding to the city regions.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I was reading that very letter at my desk this morning ahead of the meeting, and I know exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman refers to. We recognise—I think this was behind the constructive discussions we have had with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments—that we all need to display flexibility, given the unprecedented nature of covid. The volatility of the size of additional payments for covid is why we gave the guarantee, which I think the hon. Gentleman would equally concede was welcomed by the Scottish Government, as it allowed clearer planning in their response to covid. However, I would also make the point—on this we may disagree—that it is the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom that allow the scale of the UK Government’s response, which has protected so many jobs and businesses in Scotland.

The third area of the Government’s response, which speaks directly to the motion before the House, concerns individual support. Businesses that have been legally required to close, whether in tier 3 areas or elsewhere, will be able to claim a direct wage subsidy. For people unable to work for one week or more, their employer will still pay two thirds of their normal salary and the UK Government will cover the cost. The existing furlough scheme continues throughout October, with the new job support scheme available from November, so there will be no break in support for employees. To give businesses and people certainty, the scheme will run for six months through to the spring. The job support scheme is in line with schemes in most other major European countries, and to support the lowest paid through the crisis, we have also made our welfare system more generous and more responsive, with an additional £9 billion of funding.

Let me give the House some examples of how the job support scheme will work and interact with universal credit. A single person aged over 25 working full time on the national living wage and living in a one-bed, privately rented flat in Manchester will still receive 92% of their original net income. Likewise, thanks to the combination of the job support scheme and universal credit, a couple with one child living in a two-bedroom privately rented house, where one works part time and the other full time on the national living wage, will receive 90% of their original net income.

The question that was never answered by the Mayor of Manchester was how he would administer a top-up of the job support scheme, when he does not operationally have access to the information required to dynamically make the interactions of those payments work. It is not only that he wanted Manchester to be treated differently from Liverpool and Lancashire; he was also changing the purpose of the business support payments from one that was directed at supporting businesses in tier 3 areas to one that was about changes to our welfare provision across the entire United Kingdom.

I know that many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have been engaging constructively with the Government during these challenging times. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), for Leigh (James Grundy), for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) and for Southport (Damien Moore). Despite being relatively new to this House, they have shown real leadership in their communities, supporting families, businesses and the vulnerable, and a determination to put their constituents first and do all we can to stop the spread of this dreadful virus.

This Government are always willing to listen and to work with local leaders. The critical point is that none of these policies exists in isolation. Taken together as a package, the economic support that we are providing for areas facing higher restrictions is broad, deep and consistent, and of course all that is on top of the £200 billion of support that we have already provided through our plan for jobs. I urge anyone who questions the support that we are providing to look at the whole plan that we have set out: half a billion pounds for local enforcement; over a billion pounds for local business support; grants of half a billion pounds for businesses ordered to close every month; billions of pounds to support jobs and incomes; and billions more to strengthen our welfare safety net. This Government will continue to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people in every region of our country, while also taking targeted action to reduce the spread of the virus.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

It will be obvious to everyone in the Chamber and those who wish to take part but cannot get in because it is very nearly full—I appreciate why they cannot be here—that this debate is very over-subscribed. From the very beginning, the time limit will have to be four minutes.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:25 pm, 21st October 2020

Not since the Peterloo massacre of 1819 has the state displayed such coercive power over the people of Greater Manchester. Oh, the irony of those talking about one nation Conservatism. It was Mayor Burnham who stood on almost exactly the same spot as Disraeli did in 1872 and spoke for a nation about what you are doing to our cities through this tiered system.

What we have seen this week has been nothing short of chaotic and incompetent. On Monday last week, the Secretary of State for Health told Greater Manchester MPs that we would be going into tier 2 lockdown—we had been there for 12 weeks, since July, without any support. Do you know what? He had unanimity in that room—he had our full support. Do you know what else? That night, The Times leaked that we were going into tier 3. That was leaked to the national press. Seven days of negotiation follows—we are just seven days older—and, to make it worse, The Guardian then leaked that we were running out of intensive care unit capacity. What the Government have forgotten is that the former Chancellor, the former right hon. Member for Tatton, gave us devolved function over some of our NHS services, so we know exactly what is going on in the hospitals. I am looking up at the Press Gallery—the Manchester Guardian should have known better than to be leaking against the city where it was founded after the massacre. This makes us so angry, up in the north.

The Government came to power on the promise of levelling up; those watching from Greater Manchester today will be reflecting on the emptiness of that promise. Tier 3 restrictions will hasten a tsunami of mental health problems already being reported to me by local general practitioners. Along with protecting people’s incomes, the Government need to prevent a mental health crisis.

We in this place are asking so much of the British people, who have gone through so much for us. The coronavirus has them at their wits’ end. Another local Wythenshawe hero from my constituency, Marcus Rashford, will be the subject of the next debate in this House. We are going to heap poverty upon the poverty of the people who go into tier 3 restrictions. The Prime Minister does not know how an area gets out of tier 3 restrictions —he did not know the answer today when challenged by the Leader of the Opposition. Not only will we face further poverty in areas that go into tier 3 restrictions, but we are now cutting off the food supply of the youngest people. Marcus Rashford is teaching the Prime Minister a thing or two about how to bring people along when tackling such an important issue.

This week, the city of Manchester has had a 17% reduction in reported coronavirus cases. The conurbation as a whole has flattened off, yet we have been in these measures for 12 weeks—since July—and now the Government want to shut us down altogether for the next 28 days, with no end in sight.

When I was a young councillor in the early ’90s, Manchester was a dying industrial mill town, after over a decade of Thatcherism. We have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps to regenerate our airport and our city and to bring back the jobs that we lost in the lost ’80s. We are now an international cosmopolitan city, and you are drawing that away from us. You are pulling the rug from under our feet by making our citizens materially worse off. This has to stop.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh 2:29 pm, 21st October 2020

First, since so many colleagues wish to speak on this subject and the time available is so limited, I hope the House will understand if I do not take interventions. Secondly, I declare an interest as a sitting member of Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council since it has been a party to the negotiations regarding Greater Manchester moving to tier 3 yesterday.

I regret deeply the fact that negotiations collapsed yesterday in Greater Manchester, but it is imperative that negotiations continue even if one of the local leaders has left the negotiating table. I am glad to hear that the Government share this view and that negotiations are ongoing with other local leaders. My understanding is that, as well as the base grant of £22 million, the additional £60 million is still on the table for a total settlement of £82 million. I hope the Minister and other right hon. Friends will meet me, other Greater Manchester MPs and council leaders to achieve a settlement as soon as possible, given the urgency of the situation.

Concerns very much remain about support for those on the minimum wage and the self-employed. I know the Minister referred to this, but I do hope a mechanism can be found so that we can address this. I am keen to see those concerns resolved. I am also keen to keep sectors open that might consist of only a single business in my constituency—such as the Treetops soft play facility in Golborne or BJ’s Bingo hall in Leigh—which I believe may still be able to operate in a covid-secure manner. It is vital that those businesses assessed as safe to remain open are allowed to do so. The fewer businesses that close, the more generous we can be to those that have no choice but to close. I would refer to the example of how Lancashire successfully negotiated to keep gym facilities open.

Additionally, I would like to ask that the Government offer some hope to my constituents with regard to tier 3. Should infection rates fall by a suitable level after the initial 28-day period has expired, I would ask that the Government consider lifting the tier 3 restrictions.

Finally, we know that a vaccine appears to be on the horizon. I hope the Government will prioritise those areas suffering from the burden of tier 3 restrictions for the roll-out of any such a vaccine so that our lives can, at last, begin to return to normal.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield 2:32 pm, 21st October 2020

Like my hon. Friends, I am deeply disappointed and angry with the Government’s approach to the negotiations, if indeed they can be called that. Negotiations, I believe, involve listening with time allocated so that all can make their views heard, but this has not been the case with the calls I have been on or the reports I have heard from local leaders. Putting an amount of money on the table and saying “This is what you’re going to get” is not negotiating. What did Ministers expect—that Manchester would say, “Oh, we don’t want quite that much, thank you very much”?

Now we are going to be placed in tier 3, with the Government wanting to divide and rule and to talk to local leaders individually, not through the democratically elected Mayor of Manchester. It is probably worth reminding Conservative Members that it was a Conservative Government who insisted on a Greater Manchester Mayor and that Andy Burnham was overwhelmingly elected to do that role. However, when he does the job he was elected to do—stands up for the residents of Greater Manchester and refuses to allow them to be pushed into poverty—this Government brief against him and want to deal with individual leaders. This divisive strategy should not be allowed to work.

It is far too easy to call the money business support, as if it is given to faceless entities, but it is not. It is for families—the supply chain of people and families behind those businesses—and it is also for community hubs in many cases. In my constituency, sports clubs such as Highfield cricket club and the Ashton Bears are relying on bar sales to continue to provide sporting facilities. Without support, some of these clubs may no longer survive. Equally, of the more than 200 pubs in Wigan, many are wet pubs. They are not bistros and eateries serving food, but they have been an important part of the community for many years. The people who run them are worried about how they will survive another lockdown with no end in sight.

For all the people affected, the furlough payments will change from 80% to 67%. Wigan is a low-wage economy and that is a crushing blow for many people, with Christmas just around the corner. Universal credit is no replacement because of its waiting period and because most families with an average income of £20,000 would see a substantial drop in their household income.

Recovery action for debts, including bailiffs’ actions, restarted at the end of August. Families are faced with having 67% of their income—two thirds—but unfortunately, during winter, bills do not drop by a third; in fact, heating bills go up in that time. Debt charities are already experiencing a spike in calls about council tax repayment and repossessions, and they expect a rise of more than 60% in the current demand. As we move into tier 3, there needs to be a renewed package of protection for people whose income will be hit. I commend the package suggested by Citizens Advice.

I have repeatedly asked for projections of how the measures in each tier would affect the virus and what the economic impact would be. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has given me that and has suggested other ways. He has calculated how it would affect businesses and the people behind them, and how much money they would need, and nowhere have I seen those figures disproved.

Divide and rule cannot be the way forward. To control the virus and support businesses and families, I urge the Minister not to go down the damaging route of setting north against south, region against region, and local authority against local authority.

Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 2:36 pm, 21st October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Yvonne Fovargue. I pass on my condolences to Angela Rayner, whose aunt sadly passed away in the hospital that serves my constituency.

This is my first time participating in an Opposition day debate. I am told that they are good practice, akin to a sixth-form debating society, or else a means to catch the favourable eye of the Government Whips Office with a series of rhetorical flourishes against the Opposition. Indeed, a helpful sheet of interventions is, as ever, provided for members of the young thrusters club, for which I fell short of the membership requirements.

Of course, my perspective is shaped by recent events in Greater Manchester, which have been unfortunate, to say the least. Let me set out my position clearly: I do not support tier 3 measures because of their wider effects. Perversely, the closure of covid-secure premises will make it more likely that people will meet in each other’s homes, where we know there is a far higher rate of transmission.

The isolation and loneliness that people are feeling is palpable. Increasingly, I speak with distressed constituents who are not able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. There are support bubbles, but many vulnerable people are living in fear, terrified of criminalising themselves inadvertently, simply through usual human interactions.

To the wider point of restrictions on businesses, I am sure I speak for many of them in saying that they would much sooner be open and able to operate in a covid-secure way, given the significant amount of investment that they have made in measures. They want to trade, not be given aid. Too often in the debate so far, it has sounded as if the north is coming with a begging bowl. We are a perspicacious, hard-working people. We want our businesses to operate and provide livelihoods and jobs for others. We do not want to come with a begging bowl.

If it is the case that businesses must close by law, however, it is only right that their local representatives strive for every penny of support from the Government who have mandated their closure. At the same time, I am afraid that it is also right, given the circumstances, that local councils now deal with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government directly to ensure that they have funds to support the businesses and individuals who will be in desperate need.

Of course, I wish that that could have been done differently —and amicably. The House should not underestimate the anger felt by the public at that failure. I do not support Labour’s suggestion of a national lockdown, which makes little sense at all. Despite the theatrics—Mike Kane was perhaps the Henry “Orator” Hunt of our modern- day Peterloo earlier—Manchester is not yet on the brink of a Paris Commune, particularly as its politicians would make a poor cast for “Les Mis”. However, what concerns me most is the coming hardship, the rising unemployment and some people’s despair. Indeed, I cannot help but reflect that the medicine risks being worse than the disease.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton 2:40 pm, 21st October 2020

I am really pleased that the Government have listened to my representations and those of my city region colleagues about reopening gyms. That is so important to the mental and physical wellbeing of my constituents in Halton. It will also save jobs that would otherwise have been lost.

Despite the business support the Government have already put in place, there are over 2,000 more people unemployed in my constituency than there were in March, and youth unemployment has doubled. Placing Halton in tier 3, which I opposed, has hit the hospitality sector particularly hard, impacting especially badly on low-paid and young people. Even those businesses that have managed to remain open, such as restaurants and pubs that serve food, are struggling. The 10 pm curfew has been damaging and no one supports it. Then there are the restrictions on households meeting, which have also impacted those hospitality businesses that are still open. They have had to cut staff hours and lay staff off. Those businesses also need financial support from the Government.

Tier 3 restrictions will massively impact the supply chain that serves the hospitality industry, with the loss of more jobs. Taxi drivers are also impacted by a loss of income. The Government introduced the tiered approach to restrictions and, as we have seen in Manchester, they will be imposed if local leaders do not agree. Therefore, the Government have a clear moral responsibility to provide funding that properly supports businesses affected by tier 3 restrictions.

I have been contacted by self-employed constituents who have received little or no support, often because they do not work out of a business premises. I want the Minister to listen to some of the ordinary voices of my constituency. This is from a musician and songwriter:

“Since my last gig in February 2020 I have received absolutely NO financial aid from the various schemes put in place by this govt. Although I applied for everything, I and hundreds of thousands like me who have a limited company but no permanent work premises…are unable to access any grants, furlough or indeed support from the various systems put in place.”

This is from a sound engineer:

“I work as a freelance audio engineer and rigger. I have my own Personal Service Company of which I am the only Director and contractor and I am employed on an event by event basis in the live entertainment industry. My skills and services contribute to the creative industries which include live events, TV, film, dance and theatre and which were worth £110bn to the annual economy as evidenced in the Government’s” own figures. He goes on to say:

“I do not see how I will be able to survive financially.”

This is from a fitness instructor:

“I would be grateful if you could highlight the fact that the majority of fitness instructors, who deliver the group exercise classes, and personal trainers are self employed and fall into the group that are hardest hit in the climate. The governments 3rd stage grant of 20% leaves a massive shortfall for people in this field.”

This is from another type of business—a coach travel business. Its owner says:

“Unfortunately whilst many of the schemes are welcome the coach industry doesn’t seem to have any sector support that it qualifies for despite being an industry hit the hardest. Companies that genuinely need a helping hand and would otherwise be successful are forgotten.”

People live to what they earn. Thousands of my constituents face massive cuts in their income without proper support. I remind the Minister that the package of support that the city region asked for was £709 million. The funding package given so far has not met the need. The Government need to provide a much more realistic package of funding and support for businesses and jobs in Halton.

I repeat what I said in the Chamber a couple of weeks ago: in order to get us through this unprecedented crisis in modern times, we need everybody to work together. I believe that we need a cross-party covid war Cabinet that at the very least has my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of Opposition in it. Constituents tell me that they want politicians to work together to find a way forward and do the right thing. We need to look again at the shielding policy, given that it is older and the most vulnerable people who are being admitted to hospital, and gain public consent again for the best, most common-sense measures, as well as washing our hands, wearing a mask and keeping a 2-metre distance.

I find it heartbreaking to see constituents who have no money, who are desperate and find it really difficult to pay bills. It really is time for the Government to step up to the mark and provide proper and better help to everybody in my constituency who needs it.

Photo of Nicola Richards Nicola Richards Conservative, West Bromwich East 2:44 pm, 21st October 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, because it is an important one. It is important that people understand the level of economic support available for their area. More than £200 billion has been put there to protect jobs, incomes and businesses.

The fact that the Opposition never want to talk about the unprecedented package of financial support measures that the Government have already piled into all areas of the country is extremely telling. Perhaps that is because the Government’s record on helping the most vulnerable get through this epidemic is outstanding. When we look at the job retention scheme, the job support scheme, the business grants, VAT deferrals, interest-free loans, help with mortgages and much more, it is difficult to argue that this Government have not economically supported our communities, but I agree that they must continue to do so.

I am pleased that packages of financial support are being drawn up for areas hit by the toughest restrictions. If someone’s business is legally required to shut because of the tier system, it is absolutely right that they should be entitled to financial support. It is interesting to watch the Labour party now attempting to paint itself as being business-friendly. Under the Opposition’s previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, they were anything but pro-business: just look at their last manifesto. For them now to claim to be the saviours of business across the country during the epidemic is laughable.

What did the former shadow Home Secretary tell Newsnight about the Leader of the Opposition? He has moved his position on remain. He has flip-flopped on Brexit. He has flip-flopped in his support for businesses and he has flip-flopped on covid. He cannot decide whether he wants a national lockdown or whether he wants to know when lockdowns will end. The only thing he has been consistent in is his ability to use hindsight. This from the right hon. and learned Gentleman who stood at last December’s general election on a specific manifesto commitment to impose the biggest tax hikes on British businesses in living memory.

I want us to be backing businesses in West Bromwich East and across the country—the wealth creators who drive our local economies and deliver jobs and prosperity for people. The covid crisis has threatened all that, but I know that we will bounce back when we level-up communities such as mine, which has been let down by the Labour party. While we do not want people to be relying on the welfare state—we want people in jobs providing for their families—it is precisely because of the generous nature of the increased UC threshold that people have been protected during the pandemic.

I pay tribute to West Bromwich jobcentre, which has done a great job in making sure that all those in West Bromwich East who needed to access UC have been able to do so. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has done a fantastic job in securing that. I have been saying throughout the pandemic that this is the time to pull together and play our part in supporting our neighbours. I am proud that the Chancellor has so far stepped up to the challenge, and I have every faith he will continue to do so.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections) 2:47 pm, 21st October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Nicola Richards, although she may have been better spending her time talking about the debate and not historical facts that have no bearing.

While much of this debate has focused on tier 3 restrictions in the light of the Government’s shambolic handling of the deal with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, worryingly little is being said by the Government about support for those regions living under tier 2 restrictions, as Bradford and West Yorkshire currently are. Under those restrictions, our businesses may not have been told to close, but let me be clear that they still face significant downturns in trading, and our hospitality sector in particular is being savaged by those rules that tell us only one household can meet up. Many people are still on furlough in tier 2 areas, as their jobs are not expected to properly return until the country opens back up again. They face the prospect of having to survive the winter on a fraction of their normal wages.

Despite the jobs and incomes that are at risk, the Government are doing nothing for tier 2 regions. Indeed, when I asked the Prime Minister just last week whether he would guarantee that local authorities will receive the support they need to help local businesses and protect the incomes of already low-paid workers, he ducked the question, telling me about funding we already know about, with nothing concrete about support for the weeks ahead.

Between March and September, my constituents saw almost 4,000 more people left unemployed, almost 1,000 of whom are aged 16 to 24, and we already have average wages that are £100 a week lower than the rest of the country. We cannot lose any more jobs or risk a further fall in wages, and the Government must act to protect jobs and incomes, because the job support scheme will not be enough to discourage employers from letting staff go. I therefore urge Ministers to accept calls from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to give the region what it needs to protect jobs, businesses and communities and to engage constructively with West Yorkshire leaders to that end.

There must be a specific focus on the self-employed, who risk being forgotten, as they very nearly were by Ministers at the start of this crisis. Our taxi drivers, delivery drivers, tradesmen and others all deserve support, and their loss of business and income is through no fault of their own. However, if the Government force West Yorkshire into tier 3, we need to know now and be prepared. There can be no delay, and Ministers must agree to financial support packages in time. Failing to do so will leave businesses in limbo and those in low-paid employment, working fewer hours, or not working, deeply worried about how they will get by this winter.

Based on our population and the financial packages already secured by Liverpool, South Yorkshire and Lancashire, West Yorkshire will need, as a starting point, £75 million for a population of 2.5 million people if we are placed under tier 3 restrictions. Anything less would be an insult to people living in the north. In conclusion, I and other Labour Members will never stop fighting for our constituents and their jobs, businesses and communities. The Government need to step up and give regions in tiers 2 and 3 the assistance that we desperately need.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton 2:51 pm, 21st October 2020

The past few weeks have been utterly exhausting, not just for those of us who represent Greater Manchester and local authority leaders but, more importantly, for the people we represent. Areas such as my constituency have lived with restrictions for months, and there is a real sense of never having properly left the lockdown that we all endured at the start of the year. That is why today I can only express my absolute dismay at how things have gone over the past 48 hours.

None of us—I do mean none—wanted to go into tier 3. The Minister will have heard from all 27 Greater Manchester MPs at one point or another, and even the press noted our outbreak of unity. However, as the weeks dragged on and brief and counter-brief ping-ponged their way across social media and the front pages, the likelihood of getting something that works for Greater Manchester became more and more remote. I need only look at my Twitter feed today to see that Andy Burnham, consummate performer that he is, is already rewriting the past few weeks, aided by the breathless adulation of the commentariat. The important message behind all this, however, is that 2.8 million people are now in desperate need of answers.

I watched yesterday’s press conference as the Mayor donned his carefully confected outrage and gave an encore performance of his old refrain, “Nothing to do with me.” We should let local leaders, with the support of Greater Manchester’s MPs, talk to the Government about how we will be supported over the next 28 days and beyond. The people I represent are being asked to face the toughest restrictions of their lives and livelihoods since March, and I am genuinely worried—I am sure that colleagues are, too—about the future of the people and businesses in the communities we serve. I have asked the Government to ensure that their efforts are redoubled and that any settlement with individual boroughs in Greater Manchester is conducted quickly. Despite our myriad political differences, I know that the leader of Rochdale Borough Council cares deeply for the people of our borough, and I will work with him, Tony Lloyd and anyone else who wants to ensure that we have the support we need.

We have been very badly let down. Andy Burnham inserted himself into this process, and at every step of the way, he promoted himself as the leader of Greater Manchester and purported to speak for us all. Some of us—I include myself in this—were willing to give him some latitude. Not unlike the First Minister of Scotland, Mr Burnham has the same sort of reality distortion field, which allows him to shrug off every broken promise and failed initiative and to emerge squeaky clean. In all honesty, who would not want some of that stardust working for them?

I am a pragmatist. I just wanted the support package; I did not care who got credit for it. Unfortunately, the Mayor did. That is why, after a demand of £65 million was made at the negotiating table and the majority of that sum—92%—was offered, Andy got up and walked away from the table, all because he wanted to brag about having got more money than Merseyside or Lancashire. That dogma and demagoguery will cost people dearly.

I am supporter of devolution, which on the whole I think has been a positive force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but I cannot say the same for the piecemeal and patchy system that we have in England. Mayors have ill-defined and varying powers, which makes them next to impossible to scrutinise or hold to account. What this whole shabby episode has told us should be a salutary lesson for us all. Today’s last minute debate has all the hallmarks of the same opportunism that has done so much damage over the past few days, no doubt with a carefully calculated vote at the end, designed for release on social media afterwards.

I implore Opposition Members to park the opportunism. I know Kate Green thinks this is a good crisis that the Labour party should exploit, and I know she speaks for a lot of her Front Bench colleagues when she says that. We just need to see it in the support-U-turn-oppose approach that has characterised their hindsight-heavy behaviour. [Interruption.] Excuse me, did Angela Rayner just call me scum?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. We will not have remarks like that from the Front Bench: not under any circumstances, no matter how heartfelt they might be—not at all.

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner National campaign co-ordinator, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Party Chair, Labour Party

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I ask your guidance on Chris Clarkson saying things in his speech about Labour Front Benchers that are inaccurate. I ask him to withdraw them.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

It is not for the Chair to decide what is accurate or inaccurate. I cannot make such a judgment, but of course I will ask the hon. Gentleman to be reasonable in what he says and to be careful of his remarks. I am sure that if he feels he has said anything that is offensive to the hon. Lady, he will undoubtedly withdraw and apologise immediately.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton

Thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should clarify that I asked the hon. Lady whether she called me that. That is what I heard.

I implore Opposition Members to look at the damage that is being done here, to follow the example of Labour leaders in the Liverpool and Sheffield city regions who put the welfare of their constituents first and to see the debacle of Andy Burnham’s failure for the learning experience it should be.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee 2:56 pm, 21st October 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker,

“even if it feels like there is no hope, I am telling you that there is, and that the overwhelming might of the British state will be placed at your service.”

Those were the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer only two weeks ago—words that, when reflected in this Government’s actions, show themselves to be vacuous, hollow and plainly empty. Today, millions of people, sitting at home seeing a failing test and trace system and infection rates quickly increasing, are deeply worried. They are worried that, instead of the overwhelming might of the British state being placed at their service as Ministers promised them, they, like the people of Greater Manchester, will instead be on the receiving end of the chaos and incompetence of the Conservative party.

That is why, today, we in the Labour party are calling for a one nation deal that sets out clearly for all how support for businesses and workers will be applied in local lockdowns—a one nation deal that is voted for by this Parliament and that is clear for all of us to see. That is not a big ask and neither is our ask later this afternoon to extend free school meals to the poorest kids in our country. Ministers know that on both those issues their actions today have long-term consequences.

Surely, the Government have learned the lessons from their own failures? The Conservatives’ response to the last recession, to cut investment and to cut public services, not only made our economic recovery longer and slower, but undermined the resilience of our nation to respond to the crisis we now face. Surely, the Government listen to the likes of the World Bank and look to other countries around the world for support, where there is a clear call to invest now to protect our country, our people and our way of life for the future? And, surely, the Government must understand that they are obliged to engage with and listen to regional mayors—regional mayors that they created—as the voice of their communities, when they are being told that people’s livelihoods and the future of their regional economies are on the line?

The Government’s handling of the pandemic is clearly out of control, and they need to get a grip soon. The pragmatic suggestions put forward today by the Labour party provide a way forward. We know that businesses, from advanced manufacturing and food production to the vital everyday businesses on our high streets, are at an increasing loss: despondent at the chaos of the Government’s handling of local lockdowns, frustrated by the Government’s recklessness in their handling of Brexit, and now deeply concerned about the future direction of our country, when, because of the chaos and the incompetence, vitally important decisions keep going unmade.

Lastly, I say with respect to colleagues on the Government Benches that events such as these are the events that people remember. People throughout the country will be asking themselves. “Are the Government, is my Member of Parliament, on my side—yes or no?” I hope that Members will keep that question in their minds when they vote this evening.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn 3:00 pm, 21st October 2020

The attitude that I have just seen in this Chamber is what turned many of my residents against the Labour party. It is unacceptable.

Areas such as Hyndburn and Haslingden have faced more restrictions than many other parts of the country. Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have been on regular calls with members of the Government, local leaders, local public health officials and the chief medical officer. All have had serious concerns about the rise in covid cases, particularly in recent weeks. We have worked proactively with the Government to come to an early agreement on the financial package of support, which will be a lifeline for businesses and people, while doing everything to stop the rise in transmissions, stop our hospitals being overwhelmed and not leave businesses in limbo.

Lancashire came to an agreement and has received an additional £42 million since entering the very high alert level, taking the total to £157 million, including £12 million from the contained outbreak management fund, at a rate of £8 per head, and £30 million in additional business support. I will not allow the narrative to become that Lancashire leaders—across party lines—do not care about their residents as much as the Mayor of Greater Manchester. I am sorry but that is absolutely not the case. I know how hard we have all worked for our businesses and residents.

I understand that the Mayor of Greater Manchester received 92% of what he was asking for in the negotiations and walked away from the deal on the basis of around £5 million. Given all the support that they have received already, Manchester’s councils could very easily have solved the problem and used their reserves if it was really about supporting businesses. Reserves are there for a rainy day and if this is not a rainy day, I do not know what is. Even authorities such as Hyndburn Borough Council could have pulled out £5 million if it was to support businesses. That is a small local authority, but it would have done that to protect our local hospitals.

This has always been about saving lives and protecting the NHS. Lancashire put its residents and the NHS first, with staff on the wards, and made sure that there was support for businesses. Given that my local hospital has now stood up five covid wards for patients and the staff are reporting that they are exhausted, if needed I would use my reserves, take the offer on the table and then continue the negotiations. People seem to forget about the Government’s announcement of the extra £1 billion for local authorities, which will be un-ring-fenced funding so that local authorities can decide where they use the support. That approach is welcomed by my local councils and it is important to remember that.

I am sorry, but doctors and nurses would never forgive us for standing back and leaving it for a week given that the virus spreads rapidly. The offer made was fair and was acceptable to Liverpool and Lancashire. These are hard decisions, but at the end of the day Manchester’s lives are not worth a penny more than Lancashire’s lives, which is what the Mayor of Greater Manchester is currently saying. We do not agree in Lancashire and we will stand up for the people of Lancashire in this Chamber. We do not agree with what is going on.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

After the next speaker, the time limit will be reduced to three minutes.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 3:04 pm, 21st October 2020

As I have already said, I welcome the extra money for track and trace; that should have happened a long time ago. Directors of public health are the professionals—not Serco—and if we had given them the responsibility a long time ago, virus infection levels would not be as high as they are today.

Let us be clear: there have not been local negotiations; there have been discussions with local leaders about how much the Government are going to give them from a standard package, which is the same in every area. The Government have not denied that that is what has happened; it is the reality. If the standard package was sufficient to provide the help that businesses and local people need, I would welcome it wholeheartedly, but it is not.

Many businesses that are partly affected—such as the breweries mentioned by Kevin Hollinrake and the coach companies mentioned by my hon. Friend Derek Twigg—are not going to get help at all. They are going to struggle and they may have to close. If they close but are not forced to close by Government diktat, then of course help would not be forthcoming. People who are made unemployed will not get the same help that they did under the furlough scheme. How can they manage? It is a simple question, and the answer, of course, is that they cannot manage.

We know that the number of people going into isolation who should be isolating is not nearly sufficient, and the reason is that many families simply cannot afford two weeks without any income. For heaven’s sake, extend the scheme beyond the £500 for the poorest families to those who are on average or below average incomes to encourage them to isolate when necessary, knowing that they do not have to make a choice between putting food on their family’s table and paying their rent, and going into isolation. No family should have to make that choice.

Let me turn to the travel restrictions. What we have been told this morning about going into tier 3 is that my constituents cannot go on holiday in the United Kingdom. But they can go on holiday abroad to any country that will have them. What does that say about helping the UK tourism industry? It is exactly the opposite of what Government were saying to people only a few weeks ago: “Go on holiday in the UK, not abroad.” Can the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman confirm whether that is the case? The Health Minister this morning confirmed that it was.

Can the Minister also explain what will happen to a constituent of mine who emailed me? They said, “I am already on holiday in the UK. Do I have to come back, because I am not supposed to stay in another part of the United Kingdom once the tier 3 restrictions come in?” Nobody could give me any guidance this morning. This plan is half-baked and half thought-through. Other constituents of mine can walk to the pub in north-east Derbyshire, which will be in tier 2. The pubs will be open there and my constituents can go for a drink in them. They cannot go for a drink in my constituency, without a substantial meal. The Government are giving advice, but they are not actually enforcing it. What is going to happen in such cases?

The most stupid thing of all—I know that the Minister will not have an answer to this because nobody could give me an answer on the Zoom call this morning; they tried to, but it was a piece of nonsense—is that in my constituency during the last lockdown, people got great enjoyment from walking in the Moss valley, where the footpaths run between Sheffield and Derbyshire. When people walk on those footpaths, they walk between a tier 3 area and a tier 2 area, but the Government advice says that they are not supposed to leave a tier 3 area. I asked this morning whether people should stop at the boundary on those footpaths, and then turn around and come back. It is an unmarked boundary, so people would have to look at an Ordnance Survey map to find its location. I was told that that is the Government guidance now—that is, if someone is walking on a rural footpath, with no chance of giving covid to anyone, they should stop at that imaginary boundary, turn around and come back. I am sorry, but it is that sort of stupid, simplistic advice that brings the whole system into disrepute.

Finally, will the Government please tell people the measures by which tier 3 will end? No one has told us yet.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West 3:08 pm, 21st October 2020

As a country, we are in a situation that we do not want to be in, and the decisions that we make in this House will determine not only how we come out of covid-19, but what our country is going to look like for generations to come. It is on that note that I want to talk about one of the most deprived areas in my constituency, Whitmore Reans.

I love Whitmore Reans and the people there love it too. It has a diverse community and I always enjoy spending time there. My family and I have always been welcome and we have received the greatest of welcomes from the imam and shafiq at Bilal mosque. I enjoy many different culinary delights in the area, such as Kurdish cuisine, Turkish kebabs or the great British fish and chips—although I do have to run a few extra miles the next day.

People who live in Whitmore Reans have one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the region and live in one of the most deprived areas. The area has the highest proportion of children in families receiving low-income benefit anywhere in the city. Whitmore Reans has many multigenerational households which, despite working hard, just have enough to get by. There is no secondary school in the area and no local walk-in medical centres. Fly-tipping is rife and crime rates are high. But people love Whitmore Reans and they are proud of it. They have a great sense of community spirit and are always proud of the multiculturalism and diversity in this area.

It is clear that Whitmore Reans, as well as other places in Wolverhampton, have been left behind for decades. I want to see that change and I will not sit back and ignore the problem. I have pushed for investment in Wolverhampton almost every week since I became an MP. The Treasury must know me as the death-by-a-thousand-cuts MP, given the amount of times I have lobbied them. Only on Monday we sent the latest request about the support that we need in Wolverhampton. This is a regular occurrence and it will continue. I get it, however, that not all these requests are going to come back with a cheque and that the Treasury will have to make sure that we have a sustainable economic future as a country that is not a bottomless pit.

We do not know for how long we will be fighting this virus. We are in tier 2. With the rate rising, we could end up in tier 3 soon, having these same discussions. We do not know what measures we have to put in place as we move forward. We do not know how long we have got this for. I do not believe that a one-size-fits-all policy is right, and I support the generous economic measures that the Chancellor has provided during these difficult times. To level up, we need to have a sustainable economy that will see the children of Whitmore Reans and the rest of Wolverhampton growing up in a place that they will also love.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles 3:11 pm, 21st October 2020

The sums requested by Greater Manchester yesterday were a speck compared with the millions given to Serco, G4S, KPMG, Deloitte and other private firms in this pandemic. They were a tiny speck compared with the £745 billion of quantitative easing that was announced in June, supposedly to support our economy.

In Greater Manchester alone, 408,000 people have accessed furlough since its inception, unemployment doubled between March and May, and we saw an increase in universal credit claimants of 76% between March and September. Some 3 million nationally have been excluded from any support so far, from small businesses to freelancers to new starters. Tier 3 brings a very dark winter to them. It brings a dark winter to those forced to close without adequate Government support, and for those not ordered to close the Chancellor’s scheme is not enough to support them in the face of the wider economic impact. Indeed, businesses in my constituency were already having to lay off staff, and that was under tier 2, so at the very least, the Government must agree to support the motion set out today. Not only that: they must also offer a package of support for the 3 million excluded from support so far.

The Government ask my constituents to give up their civil liberties and livelihoods, but they refuse to stand beside them with the support they need, all for a plan that even the Government scientists do not believe will work. To most, this does not appear to be an exercise in infection control. It appears to be an exercise in keeping the north and other tier 3 areas away from the rest of the country to engage in our own version of “The Hunger Games”, where only the fittest and wealthiest will survive.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Labour, Salford and Eccles

No, I will not.

I say to the Minister: is it not the truth that in Greater Manchester we have been in tier 2 for months, but we have seen an increase, not a decrease, in the infection rate? Is it not the truth that the Government’s own chief medical officer said that he was “not confident”—neither was anyone else, for that matter—that tier 3 would actually work? And is it not the truth that the Government continue to ignore many of its own SAGE scientists who have advised that an immediate, short, national circuit breaker is the only way truly to bring infection rates down?

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts”.

The fact is that Government negotiations yesterday were little more than an attempt to make local authorities complicit in the Government’s mismanagement of this crisis. The people deserve better. They deserve support, and they deserve the truth.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness 3:14 pm, 21st October 2020

Coronavirus has presented a huge national challenge rarely seen at this scale outside a time of war. In tackling it, we have been forced to make accommodations that sit uncomfortably with us all. Those accommodations and compromises form part of a delicate compact that we have with the British people: that they surrender some of their civil liberties and freedoms, and in return, we keep them safe. It is a simple transaction, and it is a pure one. That bond of trust is delicate, though, and once that trust is broken, it is hard to find again. I fear that we stand on the precipice, with that bond at risk of permanent damage or even fracture.

The first national lockdown was a response to an escalating pandemic of which we knew little, except that if it went unchecked, it would be deadly in more ways than one—to lives, to the capacity of the NHS to extend its care, and to our economy and our ability to prevent people from falling into poverty. It is right to recognise that as the nature of the pandemic has changed, so should our response. The virus is spreading at different rates through our countries and communities, so a regional and local approach is needed in terms of both restrictions and an economic response. Understandably, the public have coronavirus fatigue. The tone of my mailbag has changed. People were once willing to put their faith and effort into the national sacrifice and, as the weather turns, a tone of reticence is setting in. We need to turn the tide on that.

The Government’s response to this crisis has been rooted in fairness. Over £200 billion has been made available in one of the most comprehensive economic responses in the world, protecting jobs, incomes and businesses through this pandemic. That has been provided on the principle that, just as the virus does not discriminate, nor should our resolve or response to it.

But as we move to a local approach, I fear that our core principle of fairness is at risk. Recent events risk injecting politics and division into the one part of our lives where we need it least right now. That not only threatens the compact we have with the British people but delays crucial action to protect the public. It has created an outpouring of anger and envy. Politics has its place, and I have no right at all to pontificate about an elected representative standing up for their community, but these discussions should take place with an eye to the impact they have on the national and local resolve to work as one to bear down on this virus. It is for both sides—Government and local leaders—to do that.

As local leaders elsewhere have shown, constructive talks can yield results for their areas, supporting the local economy and providing surge funding for local track and trace. While I continue to make representations to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that more can be done for hospitality and events venues in places such as Barrow, I firmly believe that these talks should take place in a spirit of co-operation rather than opposition. We have an opportunity to restore trust and regain the momentum behind this collective effort, but as the pandemic has evolved, so has our economic response to it. We must remember that our words and actions resonate far beyond this place, and if we are to retain that bond of trust with the public, we must find common ground once again.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 3:17 pm, 21st October 2020

I am sure I am not the only person in the House who is suffering from an overwhelming and frustrating sense of déjà vu. Often in this crisis, I feel like a parent dealing with a petulant teenager—it does not matter how often we say it, because even though they know in their heart of hearts that their parents are right, they do not want to admit it. Like that parent of a petulant teenager, the nagging from Opposition Members is because we care. We care about the outcome, and we care about people who are suffering across this country.

We care about businesses such as the long-established recruitment firm in my constituency that came to me because it did not qualify for support, or the company I spoke to this morning that was successful until March and now has to make people redundant—something that would have been unthinkable a year ago. This evening, I will be talking to constituents about how we can save Murrayfield ice rink, one of not only Edinburgh’s but Scotland’s most loved and used facilities. These might all be statistics to the Government; I hope they are not. But behind every single one of these cases are people—employees who are suffering and many self-employed people who have had no income for months.

Minister, this Government have to admit it, and admit it soon: what we saw yesterday in Greater Manchester is not an isolated case. People up and down this country feel abandoned and feel that the Government are not doing enough for them. They want to know why we are letting them down. They have contributed to the economy for years, and now they need something back—where is it? They face unprecedented hardship. That will only continue, and for some it will get worse.

It is an accepted fact in this country, repeated by various Conservative Governments over the years, that small businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators are the backbone of the British economy. Minister, that back is breaking, and it needs this Government’s help. We need them to bring back the original job retention scheme after the end of this month and to keep it going until June next year; to extend the business rates holiday to the end of 2021 to protect the retail, hospitality, leisure and childcare sectors; and to bring in those excluded groups who have nothing.

Einstein said that to do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result is madness. Well, Minister, I am prepared to indulge in that madness in the hope, which I hope is not a vain one, that the Government will eventually listen to the many voices in this country saying that we need to keep furlough—full furlough, the job retention scheme. We need to support more people. We need our economy to survive this, because without it we are all in deep, deep trouble.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Lady’s rhetoric, but three times during her speech she addressed the Minister. Yes, I see she gets the point. I make the point so that Members who are new to the House will not think she is correct, and I let her do it three times. The hon. Lady clearly knows, and I hope others will take note, that she should address the Chair.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley 3:21 pm, 21st October 2020

Lancashire has been hit incredibly hard by covid-19, and Burnley particularly so. Our case rate is among the highest in Lancashire and our economy is hurting, but we are also a hardy bunch. We have a “just get on with it” attitude, and that means we find industrial solutions for the future, we back our local businesses and we will come through this stronger than ever. In that vein, I thank local leaders from the county council and district councils for all their work to reach an agreement with the Government that sees our businesses and our people protected.

Today’s debate has been framed as though support is non-existent, but at every stage of this pandemic the Government have provided whatever support has been necessary. That is not because of those playing party politics; it is because of hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have fought for their constituents, working with the Chancellor and the whole Government.

I understand why the Opposition are trying to frame this debate as though they are standing up for left-behind communities, but let me remind them that it is they who left them behind. Year after year, decade after decade, they ignored the north of England, both in government and in opposition. That is why I sit here, because I promised never again to allow Burnley and Padiham, Worsthorne and Cliviger or Hapton and Dunnockshaw to languish as they allowed. I promised to level up, and that is exactly what I remain focused on.

Yes, that includes managing the covid-19 outbreak. I will never stop lobbying the Government, publicly and privately, to ensure that they understand my local economy and understand the support we need, particularly when their interventions hurt us. However, I remain convinced, just as I did at the start of this crisis, that we are doing the right thing.

Hundreds of millions of pounds have gone into Lancashire to support our businesses and our people. In the past week alone, £42 million has gone into the county to support businesses and people. That will support the landlord and landlady of the village pub and the entrepreneur who started their new business only a matter of weeks ago. There is another £12 million to support the public health response.

I say to all the businesses in Burnley that I am here to lobby for you, and I say to the Government that the support we have in place is welcome and essential, but I will never stop lobbying on behalf of the businesses that create the jobs on which local residents in Burnley rely.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:24 pm, 21st October 2020

The Government are fooling nobody. They always try to blame someone else when they walk away from a negotiation, not taking any responsibility for their failure.

Greater Manchester’s leaders produced a carefully costed plan to deliver what our region needs to support our businesses and our people, and that was £90 million. When the Government refused, our ask was reduced to £75 million and then further to £65 million, before the Government walked away from the negotiation. It is shameful for Tory MPs from Greater Manchester to blame our Mayor and our local leaders for trying to protect our economy and our residents. Our local councils cannot do this on their own. They are already on their knees because of the extra costs and the drop in revenues as a result of this crisis.

We need help, but the rationale for the Government’s offer of help has been hard to fathom. There is no consultation, and no transparency on how it has been arrived at. As far as we can see, it appears to involve a per capita figure for business support. How can that make sense when business density and business needs are different for different areas? So I ask the Minister: why can we not have a more sophisticated formula? That is perfectly possible, and it could take into account previous needs. Just as an example, when the small business grant scheme was opened, there were 22,000 applications in the Liverpool city region, 31,000 applications in Lancashire and 47,000 applications in Greater Manchester. The needs are different in different regions.

A formula could also take into account the size of our economy and the extent to which it supports the wider region, as Greater Manchester does. We could take into account the number of low-paid workers in a region, to come up with a formula and a figure that truly takes need into account. If support is per capita based on population, what happens when a rural area with residential areas but little business or industry goes into tier 3? What would happen if an area such as Bournemouth and Poole, with a high retired population, went into tier 3 ? Would it get the same business support? That would make no sense, and it would be the opposite of levelling up.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I will take a brief intervention, but I will try not to take the extra time, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Labour, Ilford South

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not about a north-south or a Manchester-London divide? Last night, Londoners were told they must accept fare rises way above inflation, a forced council tax hike and, on top of that, even more punitive measures including taking control of the Greater London Authority out of the hands of the Mayor of London. Surely this is about crushing devolution. Does my hon. Friend also agree that the Mayor of London should not be punished for standing shoulder to shoulder with our friends in the north?

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about individuals standing up for their area. The Mayor of London is doing so, and the Mayor of Greater Manchester is doing so as well.

We keep being told that the Government say the £60 million is still on the table for Greater Manchester, but now it seems to be on the table only for individual councils unless our Mayor will simply accept the Government’s take-it-or-leave-it offer. It is clear from the Secretary of State’s answers in the Chamber last night that the Government now want to deal only with individual councils. Is it not true that the Government’s policy towards Greater Manchester is no longer “We’re all in this together” but divide and rule? That is not the way a responsible Government should be behaving in a time of crisis.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 3:27 pm, 21st October 2020

Obviously, I rise today with the news that South Yorkshire, of which Rother Valley is a key part, has now entered into tier 3. This is not a decision that any of us wants and it is not something that any of us thought was going to happen, but in order to save lives, this is what we have had to do. Saving lives is what this debate is all about, and we should not get away from that fact. I am grateful for the cross-party work that we have done across South Yorkshire, and I want to thank especially my fellow Rotherham area MPs, Sarah Champion and John Healey, and the council leader, Chris Reed, for working together with the Mayor to provide cross-party support. That is how we got £41 million extra invested in our area to protect jobs and to protect lives. Throughout our negotiations, one thing we have never done is put the lives of our residents at risk, because we understand that getting the virus under control is what is important.

That is not what has been going on in Manchester, which is grandstanding. I honestly think that is a disgrace. The Mayor of Manchester is playing fast and loose with people’s lives when it comes to this virus. With every day, and every minute, that goes past without Manchester going into a proper lockdown, more people will get infected and more people may ultimately suffer the worst fate ever. It is a disgrace that Manchester is being sold out by its so-called political leadership, which is not taking the hard decision to try to save lives.

This Government are trying to save lives. If Lancashire can work together to save lives, if Liverpool can work together to save lives and if South Yorkshire can work together to save lives, why cannot Manchester work together? Why are we doing this? Why do we see in the news that the Mayor of Manchester claims that he was only told about the deal halfway through a phone interview, when in fact he was told before? That is just grandstanding. It is playing politics with people’s lives and it is a disgrace that should shame everyone. We should not be playing politics with people’s lives.

We should be helping businesses. Basically, businesses need support. Like all Members, I have great concerns about the businesses in my constituency, whether it is the pubs, the restaurants or the coach services. There are concerns, but ultimately we must work together to save lives. Nobody benefits from the Mayor of Manchester playing politics with people’s lives, and that is what it is. By not implementing procedures to save lives, the virus will run amok, and nothing—nothing; no faux negotiations—can obscure the fact that lives are being put at risk by a Mayor of Manchester who clearly wants to make a political point rather than look after his people.

I for one in South Yorkshire will never stand by and put my residents’ lives and health at risk for anything. Regardless of parties or anything else, lives must come first. I am pleased that so many people across the House have done that; it is a shame that it is not the case in Manchester.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood 3:30 pm, 21st October 2020

I have to say, I find the approach that Alexander Stafford has taken—and, indeed, that the whole Government are taking to the virus—and the remarks that he has just made so profoundly depressing. In case he or anybody else has not got the memo, the virus has already started to run amok in our country. The Government have already lost control of this virus. At a time when we all need to pull together, in the context of a global emergency, the Government are pursuing rhetoric and a narrative that is all about dividing communities from one another and sowing division, as if our country needs any more division after the last few years—we have already had quite enough of that. Why pit mayor against mayor? Why pit region against region?

The virus does not care for geographical boundaries or which local or national official is ultimately responsible for any of our policies. The virus is running wild through our country. We all need to pull together, and the Government therefore need to behave as the Government of a United Kingdom and pursue a national strategy that is comprehensible and understandable to the vast majority of us—one that is rational and does not mean careering from one type of measure to another, doing 180° turns from one day to the next. We need some rationality and a clear national strategy from the Government.

The virus has shown the absolute mess of English devolution under this Government, because it is not true devolution; it is just devolution of blame and responsibility for decisions that local people are not involved in. The Government are going to have to change course, because everything that we know about strategies that work to get the virus under control shows that we need local expertise and locally led decision making.

We also need a package of support that can protect jobs and businesses. Nothing that the Government have done since the tiers were introduced, particularly in areas such as mine, which is under tier 2 restrictions, will go far enough to protect jobs, livelihoods and businesses, which will be crucial to our economic recovery when we are through the worst of the crisis. The cost of borrowing is low at this point. I say to all those who behave as though this one change in the measures to support businesses and jobs will somehow destroy our economy: we are in unprecedented times. The cost of borrowing is low, and we should do what other nations are doing. We should provide as much support as necessary to save as many jobs and businesses as possible, so that there is a viable economy for us to regrow once we are back out of this crisis.

Finally, I urge the Minister to deal with the fact that areas in tier 2, such as Birmingham, are in the worst of all worlds, because their business base has been decimated by public health measures, but businesses are not forced to close, so they do not get any support. It is nonsensical that we should end up wishing we were in tier 3 just to get some support. The Government must change course.

Photo of Gary Sambrook Gary Sambrook Conservative, Birmingham, Northfield 3:33 pm, 21st October 2020

Unfortunately, during today’s debate and over the last couple of weeks, we have seen Opposition Members trying to have it both ways. This is a moment of national crisis, yet we have seen no attempt at being constructive and no positive ideas at all. This Government have delivered a package of £200 billion for this country, which must be seen in an international context, when we look at some of the particular measures that the Government have introduced to protect jobs and livelihoods across the country. We have seen £40 billion for furlough and 9.6 million jobs protected, over 11,000 of which were in my Birmingham, Northfield constituency. We have seen the new job support scheme and £9 billion of extra money for welfare. We have seen VAT cuts for hospitality and grants and loans for businesses across the country, which have enabled jobs and businesses to succeed, looking after people.

What have we got from the Opposition? They are complaining about the impact of these restrictions on businesses, but what would they do instead? They would close them all, causing untold misery to many millions of people across this country in terms of jobs. Would it work? They do not know. They would have circuit breaker after circuit breaker, or fire break after fire break—call it what you like; it is a lockdown—and have them multiple times. As Christine Jardine pointed out, the very definition of madness, as Einstein said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

The Opposition ask for more money for local government. Well, we have seen the consequences of that in my Birmingham, Northfield constituency. For years, the council has attempted to put a bus lane down Bristol Road South, and it has used covid response money in order to put that bus lane there because it did not have the guts to do the consultation in the first place. Instead of talking to people about what response to covid they wanted, it imposed it overnight. That is why, working with my local councillors, we have collected a petition of over 2,700 names against this ludicrous idea, which was all in the name of protecting the city against covid.

What we have seen throughout this debate is opportunism and no constructive ideas. There is no perfect response to the virus. This is not about the UK acting on its own against it; it is about the whole world’s response. Everybody is learning as we go along. I have confidence that this Government are listening and, most importantly, reacting.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 3:36 pm, 21st October 2020

My region is now under tier 3 measures, meaning that many of the industries my city relies on are facing devastation for the second time this year. The Government have suggested that the 67% job support scheme will be topped up to 80% by universal credit, but we all know that delays in receiving universal credit are one of the primary reasons for referrals to food banks. It is simply not acceptable to expect people to be able to make ends meet with so little support.

I say this speaking from my own personal experience as someone who used to be a hackney cab driver in Liverpool and is extremely proud of that fact. It absolutely breaks my heart to speak to my former colleagues about the dire situation they now find themselves in. Cab drivers, like the musicians, artists, DJs, bar workers and kitchen staff, are the beating heart of my city, and all should be treated as the hugely important jobs they are now and will be in future. They are viable. They must be supported to rebuild our communities once we get through this. If not, they are thrown under the proverbial bus. It feels like a Tory Government once more, going back to the ’80s—washing their hands of the working class when we need that support now more than ever.

I genuinely fear that the Chancellor, widely regarded as one of the richest men in Parliament, has absolutely no idea of just what he is asking of people and just what he is putting our communities through. Can he really appreciate what it means to live off £5.76 an hour? If he had walked in their shoes, maybe the strategy he is following would be different. In fact, I invite him to come to Liverpool—come to the taxi ranks and speak to the scouse cabbies—and maybe the strategy will change, because he will be given some pointers on what is required to save these industries from decimation.

The virus was nobody’s fault, so our communities should not be punished by this Government. We need to show all the communities throughout our regions that they are valued. The Chancellor has it in his power to provide the economic support that tier 3 areas like Liverpool and others mentioned today need. I urge him to implement the measures in the motion, increase the job support scheme to at least 80%, and provide fair funding for the regions and communities we all serve.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales 3:39 pm, 21st October 2020

I speak to a lot of people across the four nations of this great country, and in Derbyshire, too, and their overwhelming view is that this Government are being fair. The Government have outlined a clear and fair national criteria for supporting people under tier 3 restrictions. That comes on top of the huge national support that has historically been offered to local authorities, businesses and individuals over the past few months.

The Government are protecting 80% of the salaries of those on lower incomes through the job retention scheme and universal credit contributions, which I know is more generous than that offered by many countries in the world. In particular, it is better than that offered in France, Germany and Spain.

The long-term battle here is to defeat and manage the virus and to promote economic recovery. It is only with prosperity that we can have freedom and rights for everybody. The virus’s transmission must be thwarted, so I welcome the Government’s focus on track and trace. On money, the Government are fundamentally fair. We are not going back to the times of trade union discussions when people can shout and scream to get what they can out of the Government. This Government are consistent and fair.

I was interested to hear the Prime Minister confirm today that Manchester will be getting £60 million overall in the same fair way as other regions, so all the shouting and screaming of the petulant Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, is frankly ridiculous. The single most important way the Government can support communities is to carry on with track and trace. The delivery of more than 300,000 tests a day facilitates progress in this area to stop transmission rates in the worst-affected areas. For all their rhetoric, this achievement would have proved impossible under the Opposition, because of their refusal to support the Government’s national approach on testing, which is Europe-leading. They have an ideological fear of private enterprise and would not have been able to deliver any of this. Those people I speak to across this great nation of ours are grateful to Boris and to Rishi—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We do not refer to Members of Parliament by their Christian or other names.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

I mean the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I was also surprised to hear Angela Rayner say that the track and trace system had collapsed—she clearly reads a different dictionary from me. I was thinking back to those times when I was a child and the trade unions thought that they ran the country. Well, similarly, Andy Burnham may run his city, but we need fairer, more moderate tones in discussions as to how to get through this crisis.

In conclusion, this is not too good a crisis to go to waste. We will work together and receive—

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:42 pm, 21st October 2020

I will, if I may, take a moment to add my condolences to my good friend on the Front Bench, Angela Rayner, and her family at the loss of her aunt.

It has been a tumultuous time for communities in the north and in West Yorkshire. We know the sacrifices that people have made, losing loved ones, jobs, homes and futures. As a proud Yorkshire woman, I know that we have grit, determination and a sense of community, and I know that we will get through this. I make this request of the Minister: if West Yorkshire is placed under the same restrictions as Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, will the Government not abandon my community, my people, with the same disregard for the impact that it will have on the poorest as they have in Greater Manchester? They cannot expect a family living on £300 a week to now be living on £200 a week and not go into poverty. They cannot expect those on the minimum wage now to get two thirds of those wages and not to be living in poverty. We know that hundreds of thousands of people across this community and across the country do not even have £100 of savings.

Added to that is the sheer arrogance of the Government in the way that they have dealt with the leadership of Greater Manchester, excluding MPs from briefings, trying to set one elected Mayor against another, leaving the people of Greater Manchester anxious and concerned about how they will pay their bills. They have pitted one community against another, young against old, vulnerable against healthy, rich against poor, and city against town. I wish to put it on the record that I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Mayor of Greater Manchester and all that he is doing, working with others to get the support of his community so that they have enough to live on.

Let us not forget landlords and utility companies: they will not be interested in the argument that a worker is now getting only two thirds of their current income. This Government are happy to allocate billions for botched schemes, but it is begging bowls for the rest of us. We know that there was £108 million for private companies to make PPE they had never made before, and £12 billion for track and trace that was a complete shambles, yet £5 million was just a step too far to protect the livelihoods of millions of citizens across Greater Manchester—so many people paying an unnecessarily high price for Government chaos.

Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will make a great fanfare of speaking about the northern powerhouse, when for so many of the people I represent it is more like the northern poorhouse. It is not just Labour leaders who are exasperated at the Prime Minister’s disregard for the people of the north, but former Tory Minister Lord O’Neill, writing in the Yorkshire Post today, and he is right. With over 40 leaders across the north standing alongside Greater Manchester leaders, I add my voice to their ask of Parliament to enable us to have a vote on the motion.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The wind-ups will begin sharp at one minute to four.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South 3:45 pm, 21st October 2020

Much of the discussion in the past week has centred around support for packages in Greater Manchester, in Lancashire and in the wider Merseyside region—three areas that border my constituency. We sit, in Warrington South, at a tipping point, but still in tier 2.

It is a great shame that the political theatrics from the Mayor of Greater Manchester in the past 24 hours have been allowed to dominate the airwaves. This is not a north-south debate. All the efforts of every Member of the House should be focused on defeating the virus and protecting livelihoods, and I agree with my neighbour, Derek Twigg, who said that now is the time to pull together.

Today’s debate is about economic support packages for areas with local restrictions. Given that Warrington remains an area with tier 2 restrictions, I want to highlight some of the challenges that businesses in my constituency are telling me about, while recognising some of the fantastic steps that are already being taken by the Government.

The approach that, wherever you live, be it in the north-west or the south-east, you get the same support, is absolutely the right one nation approach to take. In this country we have seen the most comprehensive economic response in the world, backed by over £200 billion to protect jobs, incomes and businesses throughout and beyond the pandemic. As the pandemic evolves, so too must our policies, and I welcome steps to support businesses forced to close due to national or local restrictions, whereby they will now receive £3,000 a month. We are also providing a £500 payment to support those on low incomes who have been asked to self-isolate.

If I may, I want to give some feedback to the Minister from hospitality businesses in my constituency in tier 2, where a ban on mixing socially with friends in a pub is combined with a 10 pm closing time. The impact has been far greater than many may have anticipated. Daniel Benson from the Hop Co bar in Warrington wrote to me, having spent thousands on creating a covid-safe environment. He now cannot operate sustainably due to the new restrictions. I have also heard from Kerry Shadwell, landlady at the Red Lion in Stockton Heath, a traditional pub in the heart of the community, with a rateable value slightly over £51,000. They were not eligible for any grants earlier and are now facing more pressures. They have seen their capacity reduce. They had to introduce table service, incurring extra costs. Understandably, they are now asking how they can continue.

Earlier in the year, I argued for sector-specific support. Now is the time for hospitality sectors in particular, in tier 2, to get sector-specific support. I ask the Minister to take the matter back to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 3:48 pm, 21st October 2020

Covid restrictions in tiers 2 and 3 have put untold pressure on a wide range of businesses, and while some have been provided for, many have not. Our hospitality industry has taken a huge hit, but what about its supply chains? Food and drink wholesalers have seen a 70% reduction in sales, and with no financial support, many are on the brink of collapse. But it is not just hospitality venues that they serve but our schools, hospitals, prisons and care homes; and some of that is specialist food, which cannot be bought in a supermarket.

Just this weekend, I read that a Treasury spokesman had said that support for the hospitality sector “and its wider chain” was available, so I spoke to the supply sector, and they said that they certainly had not had support. Bidfood, based in my constituency, had seen an almost 50% downturn in sales, and consequently had to make redundancies. They tell me that the food supply industry has not yet been eligible for any Government financial support, despite what the Treasury says. Wholesalers such as Bidfood and Castell Howell, based in Llanelli, are fantastic supporters of community campaigns. They have helped me with my summer lunch club, the Swansea Together coronavirus response and the “Everyone Deserves a Christmas” campaign. But now they need support to help them to survive.

Food and drink wholesalers desperately need the furlough scheme to be extended, prolonged business rates relief and discretionary grants to enable them to survive the crisis. They do not know how long the uncertain times will last—we do not know and the Prime Minister and his Government do not know. But what we do know is that these areas facing additional restrictions need additional support, and they need it now.

Too many times during this pandemic, measures have been put in place too late because of this Government’s failure to be decisive. The First Minister in Wales has taken the decision to introduce a fire-break lockdown, and I have no doubt that many businesses across Wales will be disappointed to be closing their doors again. But they will understand that this has to be done. We must ensure that they get the financial support to see them through this time.

This lockdown is falling between two different Government schemes. The First Minister asked the Treasury to bring forward the job support scheme and to work with the Welsh Government—they even offered financial support to make sure that businesses in Wales would be helped. The Prime Minister constantly talks about putting his arm around the nation. Well, now is his opportunity to do that: embrace the First Minister’s suggestion and make sure that businesses in Wales can survive this pandemic and this lockdown.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South 3:51 pm, 21st October 2020

Since March, the UK Government have provided unprecedented support to Wales, including £4.4 billion in financial support to the Welsh Government and the protection of 400,000 jobs through the furlough scheme. In my constituency of Clwyd South, many people, businesses and organisations have asked me to thank the Chancellor for providing such widespread and well targeted support.

At the heart of the debate today is the issue of responsibility for economic support when areas of the UK face additional restrictions. Implicit within it is the understanding by all parties that lockdown does have an impact on businesses and jobs, even with the most generous package of support. We were therefore surprised to learn last weekend via a leaked letter that the Welsh Government were intending to lock down all of Wales for two and a half weeks from Friday, given that significant parts of the country have low infection rates.

Many people across Wales feel that the Welsh Government approach should, like the Westminster Government’s, be targeted at the areas of high infection and that the tier system should also be introduced in Wales. The national lockdown in Wales is therefore unnecessarily damaging businesses and jobs, as was implicitly agreed by Carolyn Harris. It is harming businesses in areas of low infection, which then puts a huge extra burden on the provision of economic support from the Government.

It is difficult to understand how the Welsh Government have arrived at their decision, but part of the answer lies in their reluctance to co-operate with the UK Government on covid-19 discussions and the fact that they deliberately ignored the reality explained to them by the UK Government: that the new package of financial support could not be delivered until the beginning of November. It is also due to the fact that they have been very slow to publish coronavirus infection rates district by district; such figures were available from Public Health Wales only yesterday, well after the lockdown decision had been made. The other reason is a lack of scrutiny and accountability within the Senedd, where the national lockdown was not even debated before it was announced—a sharp contrast to this House, where the level of scrutiny of ministerial decisions is rightly much higher, as this debate and many others demonstrate.

In conclusion, fair economic support is vital, but it is also closely related to making the right decisions about lockdown given that the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury’s resources are not limitless and that we need to target financial support, just as we need to target restrictions on those areas with the highest rates of infection.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 3:54 pm, 21st October 2020

It is a huge misfortune that, at the moment the entire world is grappling with this pandemic, the United Kingdom should be stuck with this Government—probably the most incompetent Government that there has ever been—at a moment when never more has there been a need for a strong and reliable Government. When the whole country is looking to the Government for leadership, for them to instead be involved in the dreadful spectacle of politicising and trying to split up areas such as Greater Manchester—trying to get people to work against each other, rather than working together—at a moment like this says everything not only about their competence, but about what motivates them.

The Government are now claiming that they had a formula all along, but that has so transparently been done after the event to justify what they offered to Greater Manchester. Surely a sensible business support formula would work on the basis of the number of workers that an area has, not the number of citizens. The deal that the Greater Manchester Mayor asked for would replace 80% of the income of those workers on low wages put out of work by the Government’s incompetence. It is an area, remember, that has been in tier 2 for months. In Chesterfield, we are just going into tier 2 and we see the appalling consequences it has for our hospitality sector, which is getting no support whatever. All the way through, the Government’s eyes have been on the political win rather than on the best interests of the people they are here to serve.

If the Government had a formula all along, why was Manchester getting only £22 million at 3 o’clock and £60 million again by 7 o’clock? Why is Sheffield city region getting £6 million less in business support than the formula says? Why was the initial offer to Manchester, of £55 million, £3 million less than what the Government now say that formula is? If there is actually a formula, it does not add up. They do not even lie well. The Government are so inept that they cannot even get their story straight when they are screwing people over.

The whole charade would not be so bad if the Government had the slightest compunction about wasting billions of pounds of public money. They are the Government who conspired to deny a cash-strapped council £50 million from Richard Desmond, and who pay consultants £7,000 a day to screw up track and trace, but when it comes to laying people off—because all the Government’s measures so far have failed—the people of Manchester are not even worth £20. What a shabby disgrace!

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge 3:57 pm, 21st October 2020

We are having this debate due to the drawn-out actions of others. The Government’s offer to support businesses in Manchester is generous and, importantly, proportionate to the support already given to Liverpool and Lancashire. I am bitterly disappointed that, after long, drawn-out negotiations, the offer of support was rejected. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have a better chance of defeating the virus if we work together. Compare that to what is happening in the west midlands. I am thankful we have Andy Street as the Mayor of the west midlands, who has already said that he will not accept a public and drawn-out negotiation with the Government. He will not put lives at risk.

Our Mayor’s aim is to agree measures alongside other local leaders on a cross-party basis well in advance of any move to a higher tier, so that we can protect businesses and livelihoods without delay. That is real leadership in the face of the biggest public health crisis we have faced in a generation. When the NHS is at risk, that is when we are at the moment of greatest danger. Those who are not willing to act collectively at the time of our country’s greatest need put the NHS and people’s lives at risk.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I apologise to the 38 Members who were not able to be called because of the constraints of time and the large number of Members who wished to participate. I call Anneliese Dodds.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 3:58 pm, 21st October 2020

I am grateful to everyone who has participated in this debate. There have been a number of fantastic contributions, particularly from Opposition Members. I am sure there would have been many more if we had had time. Running through all the contributions, including those from the Government Benches, are three questions that the Government seem absolutely determined not to answer. I hope they finally will do so in the next 10 minutes.

The first question is about this phantom framework. It is not Halloween yet, but it feels like we are already there with this phantom framework. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary said there was a framework for support for jobs and businesses in tier 3 areas, and he said that the framework offered £20 per head. If that framework is there, why have the Government not published it? Why will they not put it in front of us? Why will they not write it down anywhere so that we can see it? Why will they not let us vote on it? I know the reason why. They will not do that because they know it has not always been used—I will come back to that point later—but also because they know that it is iniquitous. There is no reason why only a per capita formula has been used. For example, we could be looking at the length of time that areas have been under restrictions. We could be looking at the number of businesses impacted, the number of workers impacted, the extent of deprivation or the extent of low pay, as my hon. Friend Jeff Smith set out so ably. Why are the Government so secretive about this phantom framework, and why are Conservative Members letting them get away with it?

Leicester, for example, was not covered by that phantom framework. It received less than half the business support that other areas have received. Here is the rub—the rub we all know about, but which Conservative Members do not seem willing to stand up to. If that phantom framework was in place all the time, why on earth have we had the spectacle of these one-sided negotiations? As my hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) and for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) have said, the Government are picking regions off one after the other. It has been an iniquitous mess over the last couple of weeks, and it is getting messier day by day. The Chief Secretary said today that Barnett consequentials are going to be used for this phantom formula. Are they? Again, is that written down anywhere? I cannot see it. He made reference to funding announced by the Prime Minister, but we still have no detail on that funding for local government, with no indication of how it will be allocated and no indication of when it will arrive. We still know nothing about what has happened to the £1.3 billion underspend on the business grants programme. That could be used right now to support businesses that are struggling, but the Government are refusing to do so. The first question—and I would be really grateful if the Government finally answered this—is: why will they not be open about the phantom framework, when will they publish it, when will they let us vote on it and when will they stop this absolute chaos?

The second big question is: why will the Government not be open about the job support scheme extension and the fact that, alongside universal credit, it often will not prevent hardship at all? The Mayor of Greater Manchester and other local leaders are absolutely right to highlight this. The Government have been all over the place on this issue. The Prime Minister actually had to correct himself because he got it wrong. Again, the Chief Secretary mentioned some examples today, but I think we all noticed that he left some critical bits out of those examples, did he not? There is the fact that people have to wait for five weeks before they get that support, that they will not get it to the same extent if they have saved above £6,000 or, indeed, that it is dependent on their partner’s circumstances as well. My hon. Friends the Members for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) ably set that out. Those exclusions can be fixed to make a reality of what Government figures have said, rather than just the rhetoric, but the Government are refusing to do this. They could switch the initial grant into a loan in universal credit, they could remove the savings threshold and they could push local housing allowance up to median rents. Why will they not?

The third question that this Government are running away from is: why do they already seem to accept the failure of JSS—not the JSS extension, but JSS—even though it has not even started? I thought it was highly instructive that, when discussion about support for businesses in tier 2 areas came up during this debate, neither the Chief Secretary nor indeed any Conservative Members mentioned the JSS. It seems as though the Government have already factored into their plans the failure of that scheme. My hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and, indeed, for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) spelled out very clearly the implications of that failure and that of the new version of the self- employment income support scheme for their constituents.

While we have all been sitting in this Chamber, we have received the news that the Chancellor is coming tomorrow—he is coming tomorrow—to make an economic statement. I say to him: seize this chance. He should seize this chance to fix the JSS so that it actually supports jobs rather than doing so little to stem the tide of unemployment, and seize this chance to support workers facing hardship under JSS-plus—the JSS extension. He should also sort out this support for tier 3 areas and end this appalling charade. Finally, in the time I have left let me just say that the last thing the Chancellor needs to do tomorrow is to get with the programme—the programme of what his Prime Minister has said—because the Prime Minister said that he would not rule out a circuit breaker as he knows that the science supports one.

We all know in our heart of hearts, as we have heard time and again from Government Members today, that the system of rolling regional restrictions is hammering our country’s economy but not doing enough to get the virus down. The only alternative is a circuit breaker. Research shows that failing to implement a circuit break to fix test, trace and isolate could cost our economy £110 billion. Tomorrow, the Chancellor must come here and act now to get a grip on this virus and save lives and livelihoods.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 4:05 pm, 21st October 2020

We have had a lively, passionate and—what should I say?—vigorous debate across the House. We have heard a wide range of arguments and a considerable amount of passion. It is clear, however, that when we cut through the air being discharged on either side of the Chamber, there is a commonality of values across the House. In fact, the House is united on the most fundamental issues that we face, which are the need to combat this terrible covid-19 virus; the need to protect public health; the need to make every effort to prevent economic harm to our businesses, jobs and people; and the need to protect the fabric of our society. We all share those ambitions.

To do that, we need to do achieve a balance, as the Chancellor discussed last week. In the words of the deputy chief medical officer last night, we are trying to walk “a very fine line” between getting the virus under control in areas where it is surging and incurring minimal damage to the daily lives and livelihoods of people across the country. It was noticeable that the deputy chief medical officer also made it explicit that he did not support a national lockdown, that he backed a local approach and that it would not be appropriate to impose the strictest restrictions across the country. I thought that was an important and telling point from an independent adviser.

For the same reasons, it is clear that no Government, in any normal circumstances, would wish to impose the restrictions that we are discussing today. I can only express my thanks and recognition to the people of Liverpool, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire for the fortitude that they have demonstrated, are demonstrating and will demonstrate.

The evidence shows that the most successful countries in combating covid-19 are those that have adopted localised measures to protect their populations. That is why we launched the three covid alert levels for England based on the prevalence of the virus in those areas. Although it is vital that we take decisive action to control the virus where it is surging, as we did yesterday in Manchester, we must also recognise that covid-19 is spreading in different ways and at different speeds across the country.

Covid-19 is a virus that we do not fully understand in epidemiological terms, or indeed in medical terms, but we know enough to say that the epidemiological evidence simply does not justify introducing a national circuit breaker. The costs of such an approach would be absolutely huge.

I vigorously support the point made by my hon. Friend Simon Baynes, who said that there were weaknesses in the Welsh Government’s decision to impose a circuit breaker because it would put tremendous strain on areas where there had been no great upsurge in the virus. That point was also made by the former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend Alun Cairns. It falls in fact into the category of being unnecessarily damaging to the economic fabric of our country.

The idea that the Welsh Government have done that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South put it, without adequate scrutiny, is a sharp contrast to here where the Opposition have been vigorous in holding the Government to account, and rightly so. Having said that, it is important to say, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said last week, that these are not virtual costs: every day that a national lockdown was in place would bring very real costs in jobs lost, businesses closed and children’s education harmed. The costs can be measured and weighed in permanent damage to the economy, which in turn undermines our ability to fund our public services.

Let me briefly remind the House of what we are doing to support, in a broad, deep and consistent way, areas that face higher restrictions. We are helping businesses with fixed costs such as rents and bills through a new business grant scheme. We are supporting local authorities in tier 2 or 3 with significant new funding. We have introduced a national funding formula of £1 per head in tier 1 areas with a high incidence, going up to £3 and £8. Of course, that is just a covid-outbreak-combat measure —it is dedicated to a small part of a much wider pattern of programmes of support totalling, as the House will know, more than £200 billion in total. To give the House a sense of scale, that means that areas in high or very high alert are receiving, or will receive, up to half a billion pounds just focused on public health activities to do with combating the virus, such as local enforcement and contact tracing. That comes on top of the £6 billion that we have already provided to local authorities since the start of the crisis.

The third element is extra support for local authorities in tier 3—

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I would but I have been given so little time and have so much material to get through. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind if I press on.

As the House will know, we have provided one-off grants to Lancashire and Liverpool and will continue to do so for other authorities. Finally, we are expanding the job support scheme: businesses that have been legally required to close, whether in tier 3 areas or elsewhere, will be able to claim a direct wage subsidy.

Let me say a couple of things on the issue more widely before I finish. Anneliese Dodds quite rightly said at the outset of this pandemic that it would be, in her words, “completely inappropriate” to engage in party politics on these desperately important issues of human life and human wellbeing. Angela Rayner said that we should not be having “political games”. I am afraid that an awful lot of what we have seen in the past 48 hours has been political games and party politics. It is a terrible, terrible shame.

Love Manchester though I do, I am afraid there is no reason why it should be treated as a special case and any differently from any other part of the country. Every country faces the potential of being struck down by covid and every part of this country should be supported in a proper way that is consistent across the piece. When the Mayor of Birmingham says, by contrast, that he will not put lives at risk, we have to recognise the sincerity and importance of his view.

Let me pick up a couple of other points that have been made. Rebecca Long Bailey spoke of Abraham Lincoln; she may also remember that Lincoln said that the gentleman he spoke of compressed the smallest amount of thought into the largest number of words. I am afraid we have seen a bit of that today.

Shabana Mahmood called for rationality and a truly national strategy; that is exactly what we are offering. That is what the Government are giving to her.

My hon. Friend Andy Carter was absolutely right to highlight the danger of theatrics and the importance of our not making this a north-south issue. It is absolutely not that. This is an issue in respect of which we are all desperately concerned to do the same thing: to protect people’s livelihoods, to protect their health and to protect the fabric of our economy and our society. What is the Labour alternative? A national firebreak? A circuit break? We should do everything that we possibly can to avoid that because of the unfairness of striking down areas that do not have high virus levels and suppressing their businesses. We all recognise the economic costs associated with that.

I do not think it is consistent with the Labour party’s commitment to avoid party politics to have descriptions from the Opposition Benches of, in one phrase, “screwing people over” heard in this Chamber, or, indeed, to hear references to a Member of this Chamber as scum from the Labour Front Bench.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

Division number 153 Additional Covid-19 Restrictions: Fair Economic Support

Aye: 260 MPs

No: 340 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 261, Noes 340.

Question accordingly negatived.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).

Resolved,

That this House recognises the virus is sa1preading differently across the country which supports the need for a regional and local approach; acknowledges the fact that repeated national lockdowns should be avoided given the cost they have on mental wellbeing, access to NHS treatment, and jobs in the economy; supports the Government’s Job Support Scheme which protects the jobs and incomes of those in affected businesses; recognises the extra financial support provided to Local Authorities for enforcement, local contact tracing and businesses, and approves of Government trying to work with local representatives to improve enforcement and Test and Trace.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As Mancunians, we agree that being fair is most important, after being proud of who we are and where we come from. Is it in order for a senior member of the Labour Front Bench, Angela Rayner, to call out repeatedly “scum” when my hon. Friend Chris Clarkson was talking, and then fail to retract it or apologise? Today, she has shamed Manchester and shamed this House. She should apologise.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of the point of order. I understand that she informed the office of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne that she was making that point of order. That is always important, by the way. The Chairman of Ways and Means dealt with this matter when the exchange to which the hon. Lady refers occurred. I will, therefore, not revisit it, but I remind hon. Members that they should use appropriate language in their contributions in the Chamber and in any sedentary contributions. I also remind the House of the words in “Erskine May”:

“Good temper and moderation are characteristics of parliamentary language.”

I was only in the chair for 45 minutes of the last debate, and I heard terminology and language that made me wince. I did not intervene then, but I will next time.

I am not going to suspend the House now, because the Dispatch Boxes were sanitised during the Division. To save time and so that at least one more Member may speak, we will move straight on to the next debate.