Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Paymaster General 6:51 pm, 18th November 2020

I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. It is a chance to remember those whom we have lost, and to share the hopes and fears of our constituents, who collectively have shown such resolve and sacrifice since the start of the pandemic and in the face of ongoing restrictions. It is also our opportunity to thank and pay tribute to the many individuals and organisations who are helping in the response. We have heard tributes to those providing PPE and scrubs, and even to pizza suppliers. Alex Norris said that he hoped the Government were in listening mode. We are. I personally am in listening mode at 10 am every single weekday, when colleagues can find me and raise any issues, particularly cases that they are struggling to get sorted out with Departments.

I want to spend a bit of time talking about procurement, which, as Fleur Anderson pointed out, it is extremely important to get right. We have followed clear processes throughout the whole pandemic. We have also issued new public procurement notes—not just for central Government, but for partner bodies. At the heart of that is value for money, and we always remember that it is not our money that we are spending. Accusations have been made about the quality of the equipment provided. I want to get it on record that 0.5% of PPE supplied turned out not to be up to spec or was faulty. That is an incredible achievement by those 500 civil servants, who have done an amazing job in this pandemic.

There have been accusations of a high priority lane. There is no such thing. As all hon. Members will know, there is a triage service for Members of Parliament. Today I have heard the scheme criticised by certain Members who actually used it, including Tim Farron, who used it twice. Several MPs placed those contact points on their websites. No special treatment was given to those companies. The same due diligence was applied—all eight checks. What it did allow was gumption to be used. There were many great offers of help out there, and there were also some not so great offers of help. We wanted to avoid good bets being parked in a system and buried under thousands of not so useful inquiries. Those businesses and MPs were not on the take or the make. All of us were working together to meet huge demand, and to keep health workers, care workers and other key workers safe.

With regard to transparency, everything is in the public domain and is independently reviewed by the National Audit Office. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, quoted the NAO report, which showed that no evidence was found that Ministers had improperly hidden interests, or had been involved in procurement decisions or contract management. If any part of Government—for example, the intelligence agencies—cannot reveal issues with procurement, there are systems to ensure that that is properly scrutinised in this place.

The National Audit Office said that we were behind in our paperwork, and that is the case, but as one civil servant said to me, “I would rather be behind in my paperwork”—and they will be catching up on that—“than care workers not have gloves.”

The 11 ministerial directions included bounce back loans, local authority grants, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, small business grants, and the leisure and retail support funds. Concerns were raised with Ministers about them, but Ministers said, “No. Crack on: people need support.”

The hon. Member for Nottingham North rightly raised the issue of Test and Trace, as many others have done. I shall not go through all the statistics, but the latest published results, for the week of 29 October to 4 November, show that where communication details were given 78.3% of contacts were reached and told to self-isolate. He made very good points both on lab capacity and on support, which I shall raise with the Department, and, of course, on the importance of locally led contact tracing. We now have 80 local authorities involved in that. It is a central system, but they are doing the contact tracing locally.

Many Members, including Opposition Front Benchers, have spoken about the exit from this particular lockdown in England and the importance of getting the right balance. Hon. Members have also spoken about data. The Treasury provides regular data. We have key performance indicators in health.

My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope mentioned the quality of answers he was getting. I am on this and have sent two of his questions back to Departments in order for them to do a better job.

I agree with the points raised by Chris Bryant with regard to risk management and what we can learn. Neale Hanvey made several points, but I say to him that, as well as the financial reasons that are often given for the Union of the United Kingdom, it is not just about head; it is also about heart. It is about our mutuality, and I think there is no greater example of that than the NHS—four devolved systems all learning from each other’s unique strengths, but working as one for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom.

Many Members spoke about the fact that covid has stamped on the fault lines of inequality in our country. Jon Trickett, who is no longer in his place, mentioned the Marmot curve, and he was right to do so. However, although we have had a lot of cross-party co-operation, it is quite wrong for people to revert to the default setting of claiming that the motives of Government Members are a result of their being either evil or stupid. Those are ridiculous stereotypes, but they still persist in our politics. The idea that people who were on free school meals as children or who grew up in deprivation or in the care system suddenly become a bunch of rotters when they get their Conservative party membership card is ridiculous.

Tulip Siddiq rightly raised important points about the BAME community and our Central Office of Information work. I shall write to her at length. The Central Office of Information does an incredible job in outreach and uses surrogate spokesmen, as she suggested.

My hon. Friend Mark Eastwood raised very important points about workforce resilience, and I will take them up. Many Members raised issues about additional support and paid tribute to their constituents. Feryal Clark and my hon. Friend Christian Wakeford raised issues about care home visits. Their points were well made. Pilots are taking place for fast testing and improving all that. My hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart raised excellent points about parking, which I shall take up. I shall also ensure that we publish on the parliamentary website clarity around exams, because there have been statements made about that.

In the 10 seconds that I have left, I would like to thank all hon. Members for their contributions. When I spoke before, I mentioned that although we were in darkness, there were many points of light.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered covid-19.