Health Measures at UK Borders

– in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 27th January 2021.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:48 pm, 27th January 2021

With permission, I would like to make a statement. First, I want to begin by echoing the Prime Minister’s remarks. The scale of the suffering that this virus has inflicted is truly heart-breaking, and my thoughts are with those who have tragically lost loved ones.

Yesterday, when I addressed the House, I said that the Government’s focus was on protecting the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme—a programme that we should be proud of—and reducing the risk of the new strain of the virus being transmitted from someone coming into the UK. Yesterday, the Foreign Office announced support for more countries to access the UK’s world-leading gene sequencing capabilities to increase early identification of any new strains of the virus. This is a vital step forward to support the global response to coronavirus, but it is simply not enough on its own to reduce risks to the United Kingdom.

It is clear that there are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day. Today I am announcing further action to strengthen the health measures that we already have at the border, in order to reduce passenger flow—so that only the small number of people for whom it is absolutely essential to travel are doing so—and therefore reduce the risk to our world-leading vaccine programme.

For those entering the UK, there will be a number of measures. First, the police have stepped up checks and are carrying out more physical checks at addresses to ensure that people are complying with the rules on self-isolation. Secondly, we will continue to refuse entry to non-UK residents from red list countries that are already subject to the UK travel ban. Thirdly, as the Prime Minister has said, we will introduce a new managed isolation process in hotels for those who cannot be refused entry, including those arriving home from countries where we have already imposed international travel bans. They will be required to isolate for 10 days, without exception. The Department of Health and Social Care will set out further details on this approach next week.

For those travelling out of the UK, we will also be enhancing and stepping up enforcement of the rules, because despite the stay-at-home regulations, we are still seeing people not complying with the rules. The rules are clear: people should be staying at home unless they have a valid reason to leave. Going on holiday is not a valid reason.

We will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel. This “reason for travel” will be checked by carriers prior to departure. That approach effectively mirrors the checks on arrivals that are already in place with the passenger locator form. Secondly, working with policing partners, we will increase the police presence at ports and at airports, fining those in breach of the stay-at-home regulations. Anyone who does not have a valid reason for travel will be directed to return home or they will face a fine. Thirdly, we will urgently review the list of travel exemptions to make sure that only the most important and exceptional reasons are included.

These are crucial new measures to protect us all. They also complement the robust action that we have consistently taken at the border. While these new measures are being operationalised, I would like to remind anyone seeking to enter our country to comply with the rules. This includes providing evidence of a negative covid test before entering the United Kingdom, self-isolation on arrival for 10 days and the completion of the passenger locator form. Immediately stepping up enforcement means that if someone does not follow the regulations, they will face a fine.

These new measures at the border are a necessary step to protect the public and our world-class vaccination programme. Every layer of protection that we have put in place will help to reduce the risk of transmission of this virus and any new potential strain from entering the UK. As we have done throughout this global health emergency, we will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the public and help prevent the spread of the virus. I commend the statement to the House.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Home Secretary 2:52 pm, 27th January 2021

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. We stand here today with knowledge of the terrible fact that more than 100,000 people have died as a result of this awful virus. We mourn all those lost and think of the families for whom life will never be the same again. In marking that fact, it is not enough to say, “Let us wait to find out why Britain has fared so badly.” We must learn from past mistakes and, crucially, act now. One of the key areas where the Government have clearly fallen short is on protecting our borders. I am deeply concerned that the measures outlined today are yet another example of that—too little, too late.

Yet again, the Government are lurching from one crisis to another, devoid of strategy. Limiting hotel quarantining to only the countries from which travel for non-UK residents was already banned means that the Home Secretary’s proposals do not go anywhere near far enough. Perhaps that is why it appears that there has been briefing to newspapers that the Home Secretary is personally not in support of the policy that she is now advocating to the public.

Mutations of the virus risk undermining the efficacy of the vaccines, threatening life and hope. We cannot know where these mutations will emerge from next. The truth is that the Government are once again behind the curve. Labour is calling for comprehensive hotel quarantining. Today’s announcement is too limited. It leaves huge gaps in our defences against emerging strains. We know that the strains that emerged in South Africa and Brazil have already reached these shores. That is little wonder given that controls have been so lax, with just three in every 100 people quarantining having been successfully contacted and border testing introduced only 10 months after our first lockdown—and even then the start had to be delayed, because the Government could not get the necessary systems in place.

We have seen this reluctance to be decisive from the start of crisis. From 1 January to 23 March last year, only 273 people were formally quarantined, when more than 18 million people entered the country by air. That was at a time when the Government’s chief scientific adviser said:

“A lot of the cases in the UK didn’t come from China…They actually came from European imports and the high level of travel into the UK around that time.”

In April, I wrote to the Home Secretary to ask her to learn the lessons, but by May the UK still was an international outlier, with no travel controls.

As the Home Secretary today belatedly announces very limited hotel quarantining, many questions remain, and I would appreciate it if she would address them. First, how can we be assured that travellers will not arrive with emergent strains via countries that are not on the control list? Secondly, what support is being made available to ensure improvements to quarantine compliance and the isolation assurance service? Frankly, why has it taken so long to step up checks, as the Home Secretary said today, when we know that the system has been failing for months? What discussions have taken place with hotel chains to ensure the availability of rooms? Again, for those travelling out of the UK, why is the enforcement being stepped up only now?

Will the Home Secretary ensure that sufficient support and resources are made available for these very important tasks? When will the Government announce a sector-specific support package for aviation? Getting this policy right is absolutely crucial. The Government cannot allow our border policy to continue to be the Achilles heel of the heroic efforts of the British people during this pandemic.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would like to make a number of comments before I come to the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I was here yesterday reeling off the endless measures at the border that have been put in place since January last year, including Foreign Office advice; statutory instruments, regulations and powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020; quarantine; passenger locator forms; test and release; and banning flights and travel from specific countries. It is important to recognise the incredible work we have done in this country on the vaccine, with our world-leading vaccine programme.

However, we are in a very different situation from last year because of the additional risk to public health caused by new variants. We should be focused on the new variants, because they could be less susceptible to and have implications for the vaccine. So it is important that we reduce risk by reducing the number of people who enter our country who could be a new threat in terms of the variants and mutations. We have already implemented numerous measures and protections to reduce that risk, but we are announcing today a number of new, additional levels of protection at our disposal. Some are forthcoming with regard to hotels, and I will come on to the specifics in a moment.

The hon. Gentleman made the point about travel. The fact of the matter is that there are reductions in travel already; the number of people travelling has reduced by 90% compared with the number travelling at this time last year, but obviously that number will become lower through the various travel bans that have been put in place. He has touched on enforcement measures, the isolation assurance service and police enforcement. A number of new measures—enhanced measures, I should say—will increase the checks that will take place. For example, from tomorrow the IAS will be checking more than 5,000 people and will also contact those who have arrived 10 days prior, in the way in which it has been doing and is naturally being asked to do with regards to self-isolation.

I have spoken today about an enhanced police presence at ports, borders and airports. There will be an increase of about 1,000 targeted follow-up visits a day, and that at a time when the numbers are reducing. That speaks about the stringency of these measures and speaks to the point about giving assurance on these particular enforcement measures.

It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman, naturally, is being critical of Government measures. As I said yesterday, and as I have said on a number of occasions and will say again today, from January last year we have had a layered approach to our measures at the border. That is clearly about the travel ban—a ban on travel from countries that pose a risk, or high-risk countries. Measures are in place that I have outlined, and we are building on those. For Labour Members to claim that they have been calling for tougher restrictions since the start of the pandemic is nonsense; that is simply not the case. Labour has been flip-flopping, as I said yesterday, by calling quarantine a blunt tool or a blunt instrument. The shadow Transport Secretary, Jim McMahon, said that quarantine measures should be lessened. There is clearly inconsistency in the position of the Labour party, and we have always taken an approach of managing risk.

Nick Thomas-Symonds made a point about support packages, and work is taking place with other Government Departments—we are working together on that. Discussions with hotel chains are naturally under way. It is not for me to talk about them right now, but a lot of work is taking place. Again, it is important to recognise that these measures—indeed, all measures—have logistical and operational implications as well as challenges. We will work through those practicalities with all our stakeholders and partners. My colleagues in government will come to the House, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, to provide those updates, whether that is on hotels, sectoral packages, or the dialogues that are taking place.

The British public recognise that this is a deeply challenging period for our country. No one would dispute that these are difficult times throughout the global pandemic, but there is no simple or single binary approach that can be taken. It is right that we manage risk and that we do so with this layered approach. The British public, our constituents, would like all political parties to come together at this important time, to consider how we can bring in and support these measures, so that we can protect public health.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. I welcome the evidenced and nuance-based approach that she has outlined today, as opposed to the blanket approach that seems to be advocated by the shadow Foreign Secretary, which I believe would lead to impacts on trade and those who need essential business, as well as on our ability to hotel quarantine so many people. I know that Nick Thomas-Symonds takes seriously the needs of the aviation industry, and I do not believe that a blanket approach would do anything for that. I welcome the Government’s approach.

Given that some countries may be added to or removed from the list of countries from which hotel quarantine is required, will those criteria be published? Will they be subject to further scrutiny, and perhaps to votes in this place?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend raises some important points, and he is right. I stood at the Dispatch Box yesterday, speaking about the importance of freight and the work that the Government have done over recent months, and in the run-up to Christmas, to keep freight moving, despite the various border closures that took place. Indeed, that makes my hon. Friend’s point, because we simply cannot have that approach—there are logistical and operational challenges, and the Government are working through many of those.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about changes to guidance and advice across Government, and the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Transport and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office all play an important role in public communications and assurances regarding countries and any changes that take place. Clearly, the Government will publish that information and come to the House to share it. However, current guidance is clear that people should be staying at home unless they have exceptional reasons to travel. Going on holiday is not a justifiable excuse or reason.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. My Scottish Government colleagues are concerned, as she knows, that her proposals do not go far enough; I would be grateful if she would confirm that she will listen to their representations.

It is, of course, the Home Secretary’s Department’s responsibility to control the United Kingdom’s external borders. Her Department holds the passenger data and the UK Border Force reports to her, so it is right that the Home Secretary should be the one to address the risks raised by the transmission of the virus by arrivals from abroad. I am going to repeat the questions that I asked during the exchanges on yesterday’s urgent question on this same topic, which the Home Secretary did not answer. I hope that, having had 24 hours’ notice to think about my questions and discuss them with her colleagues and advisers, she will now answer them.

In April and May of last year, I wrote to the Home Secretary asking for comprehensive health protections at the UK’s external borders, and I referred to the measures that were being introduced in other countries in Europe and around the world. Other Home Affairs Committee members were making similar requests, backed up by evidence. Last week, the Home Secretary admitted that we were right, and said that she thought that the United Kingdom should have closed its borders earlier, so why did she fail to take precautions that she knew were needed at the start of the pandemic? What stopped her from closing the borders? Was it her Cabinet colleagues? If so, why did she not resign and speak out, given the risk of increased transmission from people entering the country?

Finally, have the Government commissioned an assessment of what contribution the failure to close the borders earlier has made to the dreadful death toll across the United Kingdom? Will the Home Secretary put the results in the public domain? These questions concern not just my constituents and those of my SNP colleagues, but people throughout the four nations, so will she please answer them?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, I very much repeat what I said yesterday about working with all the devolved Administrations —clearly the Government are doing that, and the right hon. and learned Lady will be well aware of that.

With regard to everyone now going retrospective in thinking that they were the first advocates of bringing in health measures at the border, that was clearly not the case, as I recall from the Select Committee last April—I mentioned that yesterday, too. If I may, I shall reacquaint the right hon. and learned Lady with the measures that were brought in from January 2020: from the minute that self-isolation advice was given by the FCO at the time to the SAGE recommendations on self-isolation for those coming from specific countries; the new regulations and statutory instruments that were brought in on 10 February, with new powers for medical professionals and the police to detain individuals suspected of covid symptoms; the guidance to UK airports; and the travel advice put out by the FCDO—all between February and March.

Self-isolation measures were introduced for specific countries; we introduced mandatory quarantine and the passenger locator form back in June last year; we closed the border to Denmark after the first identification of a new strain—which, of course, we were able to deal with because of our genomic sequencing capacity in the UK; we introduced test and release and the ban on flights from South Africa, which clearly is still in place; and we introduced carrier liability for pre-travel testing.

Each of the measures we have introduced has added another layer of protection against transmission of the virus, and that reduces the risk of dangerous new strains being imported into the UK. The right hon. and learned Lady should reflect on the fact that there is not one single measure that mitigates risk entirely. Every measure that has been brought in helps to reduce risk, protect the vaccine and, importantly, protect the British public and public health.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

I agree with the Chairman of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman: with a million British jobs and much of British commerce dependent on aviation, the Government must be right to be taking an evidence-based approach, not a blanket approach.

We all hope we will discover that the new variants are combated just as effectively by the vaccines as the existing variants in this country, but if new countries need to be added to the red list, will the Home Secretary speak urgently to our right hon. Friend the Chancellor about the support that our aviation sector will need to prevent a massive haemorrhaging of jobs and prospects throughout much of the country?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in speaking of the sector, for which he is a powerful advocate. I know of his constituency interest in respect of Manchester Airports Group and the work that he has conducted with it. There is no question, as I said yesterday—I will emphasise it again—but that the sector is our partner. It is an operational partner with which we work every single day. My colleagues in Border Force, for example, work with the sector.

On new additional lists or travel bans to specific countries, that work is always under review. Alongside that, we continue to work with our operational partners and discuss with them the implications of this. Those discussions will always continue, and Government will always step up in whatever way they can to provide the necessary support.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome these measures, but they do not go far enough to deliver a comprehensive system. The Brazil and South Africa variants have been identified across several continents, and in the first wave, less than 1% of new cases came from China. The overwhelming majority came from European countries that the Government said were low risk at the time. May I ask the Home Secretary about the number of people likely still to be arriving who are not covered by quarantine hotels, who do not have to take further tests on arrival, and who will be able to go straight on to the public transport system from Heathrow or wherever they arrive? Can she confirm that that is likely still to be thousands of people each day, and does she think that that is wise?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. First, it is important—and I come back to this point—that every measure that has been introduced across Government has provided degrees of protection; various layers and levels of protection against transmission of the virus. She has heard me say that travel is down 90% compared with this time last year. Travel bans are in place for countries that are red-listed, and that will continue. The announcement today will reduce the number of travelling passengers—I want to emphasise that—because people should simply not be travelling.

Border Force has given me examples, and I will call out some of them. At St Pancras, people have even been turning up with their skis, which is clearly not acceptable. We see plenty of influencers on social media showing off where they are in the world—mainly sunny places. Going on holiday is not an exemption, and it is important that people stay at home.

Regarding the measures that have been announced today and quarantining, the hotel measures and package in particular are under discussion right now, including their application and administration. The right hon. Lady speaks about people getting on to public transport. We want absolutely to reduce the risk of people travelling in that way, so the Government are working through measures right now on how people can travel to hotels and how they will quarantine. I have already spoken about the checks that will be put in place for individuals who are in self-isolation.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Marjorie from Crook got in touch with me today. Like many of my North West Durham constituents, she is fed up with Labour playing politics with coronavirus. The shadow Home Secretary has criticised our border measures before as a “blunt tool”; today, he says that they do not go far enough. It is like some twisted version of “Goldilocks”, where the Government solution is never just right. Does my right hon. Friend agree with Marjorie that it is irresponsible to play politics with coronavirus, and will she ensure that if these measures need to be extended to other countries, that will be done at the earliest opportunity?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I agree with everything he says about the Opposition’s flip-flopping and their claims. I praise Marjorie for the points that she has made. She speaks for the British public, who are fed up with party politics being played at this critical time. They want to see unity, rather than the type of gripes we are hearing, or the approach of armchair generals in particular.

My hon. Friend asked an important question about rolling out travel bans to other countries. The Government will absolutely not hesitate. If new strains emerge in other countries the Government will take action, which is exactly what Marjorie and the British public would expect.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. Many of those who will be caught by these new measures will be travelling as the result of family bereavement and will already have incurred substantial costs, very often at short notice. Can she tell me if there will be some sort of financial assistance available for people of modest means who find themselves in this position at that most difficult of times?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the exceptional and sad examples of circumstances in which people travel, bereavement being a terrible case. The Government are already in discussions with regard to exemptions, support packages and things of that nature. I am unable to confirm the details right now, because this work is under way, but it is a matter of time before my colleagues notify the House and share further information on that.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I very much support and welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of restrictions at our borders as a result of the current health crisis. Would she reassure me that regional airports, such as Southend, will be tasked to strictly enforce those rules, as a number of local residents have expressed concerns that coronavirus infections may be transmitted by arrivals through the airport?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I understand why he raises the importance of regional airports throughout the pandemic. They have played an important role. All airport operators take responsibility for the way in which they work with us, but also for enforcing coronavirus measures and restrictions, such as social distancing and keeping passengers apart, particularly as they go up to PCPs—primary control points—and then come across Border Force officers. It is absolutely right that airports, who are our operational partners, work with us to take responsibility—that shared responsibility I have spoken about so frequently—in terms of checking with the carriers that the passenger locator form is completed, but also to ensure that they themselves put those protective measures in place to stop the spread of the virus.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

I am very concerned about the continued threat of covid-19 to frontline Border Force staff at Heathrow, as the new draconian fixed-team working rosters have made social distancing difficult at the same time as covid transmission rates have been at their highest. Can the Home Secretary confirm reports that covid-secure bubbles have repeatedly been breached due to understaffing and the new fixed rosters, and specifically outline what assessment she has made of the adequacy of all Border Force staff’s working conditions?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Lady for her important question. Border Force staff are on the frontline day in, day out trying to protect the public from the spread of the virus. They are doing exceptional work, and yesterday I thanked them for the work they are doing. In terms of measures that are in place to protect them, I am absolutely focused on protecting our Border Force staff. It is absolutely right that that takes place. The head of Border Force and my colleagues across the Border Force team have been working assiduously with all Border Force colleagues, particularly at Heathrow airport, because it is a busy airport as we saw that on Saturday night, when queues formed because we are enforcing 100% compliance checks. With that, of course, I come back to my point about working with Heathrow Airport Ltd on the measures it is putting in place for social distancing, keeping passengers distanced from Border Force staff and, of course, ensuring that my staff are protected. That is my No. 1 priority.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

I support the proportionate approach my right hon. Friend has adopted, but can she help me in relation to two linked matters? She said that she will be looking urgently at the exceptions. Will she particularly bear in mind the need to make provision for those who may be repatriated for urgent medical treatment? Should the extension—we hope it does not—involve any British overseas territory, will she bear in mind the need for early consultation with them? We hope it never comes to it, but we have medical and other obligations in some cases to them.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Cases of medical exemptions and emergencies have always been on the exemption list, and the exemption list is under review right now. Colleagues across all Government Departments are reviewing the exemption list. When changes are made, they will be publicised through the usual channels. Anything that would also affect overseas territories will also be under consideration, and that will also be put in the public domain.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I listened very carefully to the Home Secretary’s earlier answer to the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, and she did not answer a rather direct and important question, which she will have estimates for, because this will be a policy based on evidence. How many people does the Home Secretary expect each day to have to go into quarantine in a hotel, and how many people entering the UK each day does she estimate will not have to go into quarantine under these new measures?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, it is important to recognise that we do have numbers in terms of how many people are coming through our border every single day. These new measures—it is important to put this in context—will bring those numbers even further down. We still have a lot of British nationals who are travelling, and the advice and the guidance are clear that people should not be travelling and should be staying at home. Through the enforcement measures, that will reduce dramatically. The Government are already working out capacity in terms of hotel accommodation in the light of the period of self-isolation that will be required. The Government will happily share those figures with colleagues in due course.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

It is absolutely right that the Government take the necessary and appropriate steps to keep our country safe from these new variants of the virus that are emerging around the world, and I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but she will know that any additional restrictions on travel will further damage the aviation sector, which has been deeply impacted by this pandemic. When businesses in other sectors have been forced to close or are unable to trade because of restrictions, specific financial support has been made available, so will the Home Secretary talk to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor to see what specific support can now be provided for airlines and airports to ensure that they are in a position to help lead our recovery in the future?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I give my hon. Friend every assurance that we are working together across Transport, the Treasury and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the aviation and travel sector. Conversations and discussions are under way. As I said earlier, they are our operational partners. We work collectively with them, so those discussions are under way, and I just give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

How will the quarantine hotels be selected? Will the Home Secretary set a limit on how far such a hotel can be from the arrival airport, so as to minimise risks during transfers, for which I assume she will also be responsible?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

With regard to hotels and these measures, as I have already indicated, that work is under way in terms of looking at the procurement of hotels, who the partners are going to be and also further information around them. Government will be setting out over the coming days further information with regard to hotels and the processes around them. As I indicated earlier, discussions on logistical and operational aspects of that work are under way right now, so my colleagues will come back to the House and provide that information.

Photo of Dehenna Davison Dehenna Davison Conservative, Bishop Auckland

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Protecting the British people quite rightly has to be our priority, so it is right that our border measures have been under constant review since the pandemic began. In the light of today’s announcement, can my right hon. Friend confirm that Border Force and other frontline emergency workers will be given all the support they need to enforce these rules, so that they can keep themselves and the British public safe?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Border Force is doing incredible work on the frontline; I am seeing that and getting reports of that every single day. It is important that its staff stay safe, which is why we have strong measures in place for them. Enforcement, whether it is through policing or the IAS, has been accelerated, along with the checks. The fact of the matter is that we have clear checks: the passenger locator form must be completed, there are fines for non-compliance, and there is a requirement for self-isolation for arrivals. These measures and checks are in place, and they will be increased to protect public health.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

It has been widely reported that the Home Secretary called for tougher sanctions at the border than these somewhat reduced measures she has announced today. Has she been overruled and undermined yet again?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement and the measures that have been announced. It is important to recognise that every single measure that has been put in place, including a ban on international travel for high-risk countries, is to protect the British public. Those measures, along with all the other measures announced today, are part of the layer of protection to reduce transmission of the virus and reduce the risk of a new, dangerous variant coming into the United Kingdom.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Secretary of State said that a layered approach has been taken since January last year, but we saw rugby fans coming from Italy, and we saw football fans coming from Spain in early March. Those may not have been identified as dangerous or high-risk countries, but clearly they were. We seem to be shutting the arrivals gate after the virus has bolted. How does she suggest we will identify those nations across the globe where new variants will be developing? Clearly it is not just Brazil and South Africa. People continue to travel around the world.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I mentioned in my statement that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department of Health and Social Care are now supporting other countries around the world when it comes to gene sequencing and genomic testing capabilities, which will help to identify new strains and new variants. That is important, because it is a vital step in the global response, in terms of not just protecting our public here but identifying new and dangerous strains that could go around the world and then come to the UK.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I welcome the proportionate nature of the Home Secretary’s statement. May I take her back to the question I asked her during the urgent question yesterday? Given that these measures are to deal with the risk of a new strain of the virus coming to the United Kingdom that might not be susceptible to the vaccine, and given that the UK chief scientific adviser said that the virus will be with us forever, is this a permanent regime, with countries being added to and taken off the red list as appropriate? If it is not permanent, what is the trigger for removing it in the future?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend asks a very important question. In terms of permanency, we are living with this virus; that is a fact. In better news, we are just weeks away from seeing people who have had the vaccine develop immunity, so circumstances are changing. We have known throughout this situation that things change, so we keep all our measures under review—whether it is changes to travel bans for specific countries or other measures, they will always be under review. The Government will not hesitate to take measures when it comes to preventing a new strain from coming to the United Kingdom once it has been identified and making sure that we take the right measures to protect the public. As I have said a number of times, at every stage we will keep the House informed and, importantly, we will make sure that advice is communicated to the British public, so that when things change, including at the border, they are kept informed.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Last week, the Home Secretary told a private meeting of Conservative party members that she was calling for borders to be closed back in March 2020. If it was right then, it must apply even more so in the face of this new variant. So can she reassure the House that she has told her Cabinet colleagues that the measures that she has announced today are sufficient to protect our borders and prevent a new variant from entering the country?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the point that I made earlier that there is no single measure that mitigates risk or eradicates risk entirely. I think that is a really important point to emphasise. Every aspect, every measure that has been brought into place, since January last year and more recently, has helped to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus and protect our world-leading vaccine programme. These measures today, within the context of the vaccine that we have—measures to protect the public—are absolutely the right measures. Of course, as I have said throughout, I appreciate that his party may want to write their own history on their positions on measures at the border and action on coronavirus, but the fact of the matter is they have been wrong throughout.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

While I recognise the negative impact on businesses and individuals, I give my right hon. Friend my full support on these proposals and I am confident that that would be the overwhelming view of my constituents. Could I turn to those people who will be resident in hotels? Clearly, there will be an element of contact between them, however well policed it is. Could she give an assurance that there will be appropriate measures in place to limit mixing to the absolute minimum?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right because it is social contact—contact with people—that spreads this virus, which is why the measures in place, but also the current advice with lockdown, are to stay at home and not to travel. I just want to restate: we are working quickly across Government right now—across the whole of Government—with the industry and with partners and organisations within the sector to bring in these new measures and work on the hotel package. Of course, further detail will be put out in due course.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Last month, the World Health Organisation and the EU Transport Commissioner censured France for its border closures, which disrupted vital food, medicine and other goods, as well as causing Christmas chaos at the door of the Dover border. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK’s proportionate public health border measures continue to exempt hauliers in line with recommended international practice during the pandemic, and will she join me in calling on France to follow the UK’s lead and remove unnecessary trade restrictions on the Dover-Calais route?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend, like me, will recognise the incredible work that took place in December, and actually is still taking place when it comes to testing road hauliers to allow the flow of goods and freight, which is incredibly important. She is also right about the position of the World Health Organisation and the EU Transport Commissioner, because it is that proportionality approach that is required when it comes to the flow of goods. We have good international practice behind us now, which is something that should be commended, but also something that should be shared with other countries.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing)

My hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry wrote to the Home Secretary last April raising concerns about passengers entering the UK via airports without health checks or quarantining. Five weeks later, the Home Secretary replied to her stating that, in her view, 8 June was the right time to introduce a requirement on passengers to self-isolate for 14 days, that they could be contacted to ensure compliance, and that any breach of compliance was punishable with a £1,000 fine. Can she update the House: how many £1,000 fines were issued as a result of this, and does she regret her role in the Government’s dithering over quarantine while covid accessed our communities through airports?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

On Government health measures at the border, the hon. Gentleman will be very clear—I suggest that he reads my statement yesterday and the points that were made then—on the measures that have been brought in since January last year. The dithering is on his side in terms of actually reflecting the work that has been undertaken. On checks at the border, Border Force has checked over 3.7 million passengers and, specifically with regard to fixed penalty notices, thousands of FPNs have been issued; fines have been issued as well. As I have said repeatedly, Border Force is now enforcing 100% checks on passengers, which is absolutely the right thing to do.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

As the Home Secretary knows, more than 8,000 people entered the UK last year by crossing the channel in small vessels in order to claim asylum when they arrived. Will she say what impact her statement today will have on the system for managing quarantine for people who arrive and enter the asylum system? Given the recent major outbreak of coronavirus at Napier barracks in Folkestone, where many have been accommodated, will she confirm that the Home Office is working to reduce the number of asylum claimants at Napier and that there will be no new people arriving until the covid outbreak is under control?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak of clandestine entry. First of all, rules will apply, and testing will apply, to everyone with regard to illegal entry to the United Kingdom and those seeking to claim asylum, although our policy is clear: they should be claiming asylum in the first safe country, not risking their lives by travelling by small boat or illegally being trafficked by people traffickers.

Secondly, with regard to Napier, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have covid-compliant measures in place already, in line with Public Health England. I commend our partner, Kent County Council, for the work that it is doing with us on safeguarding people at Napier, and we are going to enhance our measures even further to prevent the spread of coronavirus and protect public health. I give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I am very happy to speak to him further if he has any other questions that he would like to raise with me about Napier.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

In the week when we have counted 100,000 dead, the Home Secretary’s announcement is, of course, welcome—better late than never—but these measures will not work without 100% compliance with isolation. Currently, only one in five people asked to self-isolate in the UK does so. Evidence that we have examined in the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus shows clearly that carrots are often very much more effective than sticks when it comes to such measures, so does she agree that if the Government ensured that there was no loss of earnings from isolation, as other countries do, that might help improve compliance with self-isolation and so cut those chains of transmission?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is important to put this into the context of travel and the measures and checks that we have put in place around compliance. I have already stated that Border Force is undertaking 100% checks at PCPs. Also, when it comes to carriers, there is now a carrier liability measure in place; they have that burden, and they will be given a fine if they do not check their travellers before they get on their planes, in particular. These are stringent measures with significant penalties and significant fines in place, and the carriers, which are also operational partners that we work with, are very clear about that. However, the hon. Lady is right about self-isolation. Self-isolation must take place, and that is why across Government—not just the Home Office but health and the isolation assurance service, along with the police—we are working collaboratively across the board to ensure that those measures are being adhered to and enforced.

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

I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Division. On the draft West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021, the Ayes were 553 and the Noes were 2, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]