All 43 Parliamentary debates on 11th Nov 2020

Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Supported Housing (Regulation)
Commons Chamber

1st reading & 1st reading & 1st reading: House of Commons
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Medicines and Medical Devices Bill
Grand Committee

Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent: Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent: Royal Assent (Hansard)
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Armistice Day

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wednesday 11 November 2020
10:58
[Prayers were said by the Chaplain of the Speaker (Rev. Tricia Hillas).]
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Approaching the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I invite you to rise and be still to remember those who have died for their country in war.
In doing so we commit ourselves to work in penitence and faith for reconciliation between the nations, that all people may, together, live in freedom, justice and peace.
We pray for all who in bereavement, disability and pain continue to suffer the consequences of fighting and terror.
We remember with thanksgiving and sorrow those whose lives, in world wars and conflicts past and present, have been given and taken away.
Almighty and eternal God, from whose love we cannot be parted, either by death or life: hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all whom we remember this day; fulfil in them the purpose of your love; and bring us all, with them, to your eternal joy. Amen.
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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We will remember them.

11:00
The House observed a two-minute silence.
00:00
[Chaplain of the Speaker]
Ever-living God, we remember those whom you have gathered from the storm of war into the peace of your presence; may that same peace calm our fears, bring justice to all peoples and establish harmony among the nations. Amen.
God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and all people, unity, peace and concord, and to us and all God’s servants, life everlasting; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

House of Commons

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Royal Assent
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020

Agriculture Act 2020.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme in Scotland.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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Today, on the 11th day of the 11th month, I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of how we support the entire country, including Scotland, through the covid crisis. The coronavirus job retention scheme has always been a UK-wide scheme, and it has now been extended until the end of March 2021, with employees across the UK receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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May I associate myself and those on the SNP Benches with the comments of the Secretary of State?

At the last Scottish questions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) raised a very serious concern about levels of poverty when the job retention scheme ended. The Minister at the Dispatch Box said that November would be the right time to look at a targeted scheme, as if he had some magical powers of poverty prediction. Imagine our surprise, Mr Speaker, when the south of England went into full lockdown and the full force of furlough came back into force. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the notion of targeted is really targeted at the south of England, with a huge disrespect to Scotland and the rest of the devolved nations?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Absolutely not. The Prime Minister was clear from the get-go, following Cabinet on the Saturday when we discussed the new economic situation in England, that it was a UK-wide scheme. It is 80% for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a simple scheme and it is for our whole country and he has been absolutely clear about that from the start.

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con)
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The UK Treasury has provided an up-front guarantee of £8.2 billion to the Scottish Government to help protect jobs and to help the Scottish Government tackle coronavirus, yet we are still to hear from the Scottish Government about where more than £2 billion of that funding is to be spent. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government need to provide details urgently about how they will use that funding to support Scots?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I agree with my hon. Friend. There has been substantial extra funding, guaranteed funding, to the Scottish Government—£8.2 billion, as he correctly identified. That is money received through the Barnett formula. The Scottish Government must not shirk their responsibility to be open and transparent about how that money is being spent. We need accountability so that the people of Scotland can judge whether it is being spent wisely.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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The Minister has recently said that the job retention scheme will last into next year, but he has also said that there will be no referendums on Scotland’s future for a generation. The Edinburgh agreement, signed by a Tory Prime Minister, provided the legal framework for the 2014 referendum, so can the Minister quote me where it says in that agreement that there cannot be another referendum?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I commend the hon. Lady for trying to get a referendum into questions about the job retention scheme. While we are all fighting this pandemic and trying to secure and support people’s jobs, it beggars belief that the SNP carries on talking about independence referendums and about separation. I find it really quite disappointing. The answer to her question is that it was mentioned many times in the White Paper that the SNP Government produced in advance of that referendum. The words “once in a generation” were mentioned on a number of pages.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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I thank the Minister for confirming that there is no legal basis for his assertion on the timing of a future referendum. Given that it was also agreed cross-party that nothing in the Smith commission prevents Scotland from becoming an independent country in the future, can he tell us whose decision is it whether Scotland has another referendum?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. The question must have some relevance. The first question got through, but you were trying to push your luck the second time. We cannot do that. The question must be relevant. Sorry about that. We had better move on.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con) [V]
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The extension of the furlough scheme demonstrated again how the UK Government continue to support jobs in all four nations of the United Kingdom, and we need that support and joint working to continue following the positive news about a potential covid-19 vaccine. Will the Secretary of State outline the work done between the Scottish Government and the UK Government to ensure that there is a seamless roll-out of this vaccine that has given us so much hope here in Scotland and across the UK.

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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We have invested more than £230 million in manufacturing any successful vaccine. The vaccines have been procured and paid for by the UK Government on behalf of everyone in the United Kingdom. Doses will be distributed fairly and across all parts of the United Kingdom according to population share.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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A business operator in my constituency contacted me four days before furlough was supposed to end. He operates two bars in my constituency. As a responsible employer, he had kept on his 44 staff and taken on the debt from bounce back loans, but he was absolutely at the end of his tether with this Government and their last-minute decisions. Will the Secretary of State apologise to that business operator in my constituency for the severe stress that the Government’s dithering has caused him and for the distress that it has caused his employees, as well as to the many people who could not keep on their staff or who lost their jobs due to this Government’s incompetence?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Lady will recognise that this is a dynamic and unprecedented situation, and we have to take decisions as we see what is in front of us. The employers of those who lost their jobs after 23 September, but were in employment and furlough up until 23 September, are allowed to bring those employees back and put them on furlough.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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What recent steps he has taken to ensure effective co-operation between the Government and the devolved Administrations.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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What recent steps his Department has taken to help ensure co-ordination between Scotland and the other nations of the UK in response to the covid-19 outbreak.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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What recent steps his Department has taken to help ensure co-ordination between Scotland and the other nations of the UK in response to the covid-19 outbreak.

Iain Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Iain Stewart)
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An effective response to covid-19 does indeed need to be a co-ordinated response across the UK. On 25 September, the UK Government and the three devolved Administrations published a joint statement on our collective approach to responding to covid-19. There are very regular meetings at both ministerial and officials levels.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now go to Allan Dorans in Scotland.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans [V]
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Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I think Allan Dorans has been cut off in his prime, so I call Jeff Smith.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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What is the Minister’s understanding of the application of the furlough scheme in Scotland and the other nations of the UK, given that Scotland is operating under a different tier system and different lockdown restrictions?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has not vaporised into thin air. The lockdown scheme extends across the UK and is available whether a part of the UK—or a part of each nation within the UK—is in lock- down or not. It is there for everyone.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones [V]
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The Scottish Affairs Committee described a deteriorating relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments on joined-up covid-19 policy making, with the main issue being trust. What work has the Secretary of State undertaken to improve awareness and understanding of devolution among Whitehall officials, so that policy makers have mutual understanding of the impact of decisions on each nation of the UK?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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The hon. Lady raises an important point. As I said in my initial answer, there are very regular discussions between all Government Departments and devolved Administrations at many levels—be that in Health, Transport or Education. I think that there is a widespread understanding of the need to balance UK-wide interventions with allowing local flexibilities where circumstances dictate.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We are going to try to return to Allan Dorans.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans [V]
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Will the Minister confirm or deny that taxpayers’ money is being used to employ consultants with the sole purpose of producing and promoting negative propaganda to encounter the increasingly successful campaign for Scottish independence? Is that not to the detriment of co-operation between the nations?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I am not quite sure what that has got to do with the response to coronavirus.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Is there anything that you can answer in that question?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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No, I do not think that it is relevant to our discussion.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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In which case, I call the shadow Secretary of State, Ian Murray.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab)
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I join the Secretary of State in recognising that it is the 11th day of the 11th month, lest we forget those who gave their lives so that we could live freely today. We will always remember them.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his wonderful election in America. Given that in a recent poll 75% of Scots said that they would vote for Joe Biden, they have eventually got the Government they would have voted for.

The announcement this week of a potential covid vaccine is incredibly positive. While it certainly does not mean, of course, that we have reached the end of this crisis, it does perhaps signal some hope for the public. If the vaccine is approved, the country will face an unprecedented logistical challenge. If mass vaccination is to be done successfully, we will need all levels of government working together. However, a poll just yesterday found that two thirds of Scots were dissatisfied that the Scottish and UK Governments do not work together and a majority wanted closer co-operation. So can the Minister inform the House: what work are the UK and Scottish Governments undertaking together to build an infrastructure that will be able to distribute and administer any future vaccines to everyone?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. Referring to his initial comments, I was delighted that President-elect Biden spoke to our Prime Minister ahead of any other European country, contrary to what some of the naysayers in the media were predicting.

The hon. Gentleman’s substantial question is a very important one and it illustrates the extent to which the UK Government and the devolved Administrations can and should work together. The vaccine—as he said, we are not quite there yet, but it gives very strong hope—is purchased by the UK Government on behalf of the whole UK. The distribution, the prioritisation of the vaccine will be a matter for the devolved Administrations. However, we are in regular contact and stand ready to assist with any logistics that will be required to make sure that it is distributed on the basis of clinical priority and not any other needs.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray
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I appreciate what the Minister said, but I think the public would look on it very unfavourably if both Governments did not work together to ensure that this vaccine is distributed.

But we also must not lose sight of today’s challenges. While the Chancellor’s latest plan to extend furlough until March is very welcome, there remain millions of people across the UK and in Scotland who have not received any support as lockdowns continue. The 3 million taxpayers excluded from Government support include countless self-employed, pay-as-you-earn freelancers, and many, many others. It is understandable that there may have been some cracks in hastily designed schemes announced in March, but not to fix those and to continue to exclude millions from any support is inexcusable. I raised this with the Secretary of State in this House on 1 July and 7 October, so, for the third time: will the Scotland Office demand that the Chancellor reconsiders and provides support to those taxpayers left without any help from this Government?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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The hon. Gentleman’s question would have greater potency if furlough was indeed the only scheme that was available, but a wide range of support is available for businesses and individuals across the UK, including bounce back loans, tax deferrals, mortgage holidays and the like. In addition, the Chancellor has provided to the Scottish Government unprecedented levels of support, going up by an additional £1 billion. It is up to the Scottish Government, if they wish to provide additional support over and above the UK-wide schemes, to ensure that they have the resources to do so.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Can I just say that I am very concerned that the question was a substantive question that was within this grouping? The problem is that the grouping is not good, but it was the Government who put the grouping together. So I think the Minister ought to try to see if he could answer the question from Allan Dorans, because it is within that section.

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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If I remember the question correctly, it was, “Are we spending taxpayers’ money on fighting the independence referendum?” My answer to that is that we do not wish another independence referendum. The last thing that the people of Scotland need, and businesses and jobs in Scotland need, is the uncertainty that another independence referendum would create.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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At least there is an answer, even if it is not the kind I wished.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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What recent discussions he has had with Scottish Government Ministers on the adequacy of funding for voluntary and community organisations in Scotland.

Iain Stewart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Iain Stewart)
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I regularly meet Scottish Ministers to discuss matters of importance to Scotland. Funding for the voluntary sector and community organisations in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the enormous work that charities and voluntary organisations do, in Scotland and the UK, to support our communities through this very challenging period.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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Charities and social enterprises are never more needed across the UK, but may I correct the Minister? The Government put forward a fund of £60 million for charities within the devolved authorities, so I would like to know how much the Scottish charities have received from that fund and what representations he has made for its extension, because charities are never more in need.

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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The funding that is given to the Scottish Government does not necessarily have to be used exactly for those purposes. They can supplement that as well out of the general funds that are transferred—the £8.2 billion. I am very happy to look into how that money is being spent, and I refer back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) made about the questions over how the £2 billion has been spent.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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I join the Minister on behalf of those on this side of the House in praising the voluntary sector and charities across Scotland, which have stepped up to support so many people right across the nation. At the same time, however, charities face an existential financial crisis. The Minister will be aware that a report earlier this year from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator found that a fifth of Scottish charities were facing uncertainty because of poor finances over the next 12 months. With new restrictions now coming in across Scotland in different phases, will the Minister commit to working with the Secretary of State, with Scottish Ministers and, importantly, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that these voluntary sector organisations get any additional funding that they may need to support the people of Scotland during the pandemic?

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right, and I have had a number of meetings with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations and they have an unprecedented leadership challenge. One of them put to me the analogy that they are trying to fix the wings of an aircraft when it is in flight. There is an enormous challenge on all of us, whether in government, in the charities themselves or in the private sector, to work closely together and for us to help them through this and for them to help us to rebuild our economy and society better than when we went into this period.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economic support available for Scottish businesses during the covid-19 outbreak.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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This question, No. 16, has been withdrawn, so the substantive question will be from David Mundell. Secretary of State to answer.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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Am I answering David Mundell’s question?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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You are answering the substantive question: No. 16.

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I did not bring that with me, sorry.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us carry on then. If the Secretary of State does not have the answer, it is easy—I call David Mundell.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con) [V]
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There are many different ways that the Government can provide economic support to Scottish businesses during covid-19. For the Scotch whisky industry, the biggest help in retaining jobs and supporting its businesses would be for the Government to resolve the US tariffs dispute, rather than escalate it by applying further retaliatory tariffs. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on this vital issue for Scottish businesses and jobs?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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From memory, question 16—it has been withdrawn altogether from the papers I was given this morning—was about transport, and I will say on that—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Secretary of State, the question is on the Order Paper, and I can assure him it is not about transport. Answer the question from David Mundell.

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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To answer my right hon. Friend’s question, the Secretary of State for International Trade last night had a Zoom call with MPs from across the House, and I know that she stressed that the UK Government are determined to settle this issue as soon as possible and to mitigate the effects for those who are impacted by it. In short, we continue to raise the issue with the highest levels of the US Administration.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy (Leigh) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to strengthen the Union.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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The good news is I did bring this answer with me. This Government have always stressed the importance of the Union. The UK is a family of nations that shares social, cultural and economic ties that together make us far safer, more secure and more prosperous. As we have seen throughout the covid crisis, it is the economic strength of the Union and our commitment to the sharing and pooling of resources that has supported jobs and businesses throughout Scotland. It is the strength of our Union that will enable us to rebuild our economy following the crisis.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
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I am delighted to hear the Secretary of State supports the Union. The Prime Minister’s review into boosting transport links across the country is very welcome. Does the Secretary of State agree that this review into quality transport links will go a long way to levelling up economic opportunity wherever we are in the UK?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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There are no flies on my hon. Friend—he spotted that I am a Unionist and he has been able to highlight the importance of improving transport links. That is why I am so disappointed that the Scottish Government are not engaging in Sir Peter Hendy’s review of connectivity across our United Kingdom. That attitude is letting down the people of Scotland, who would benefit from those improvements.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell
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My great grandfather served in the infantry regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commemorating all those Scottish servicemen who fought in the British Army for the freedom of the United Kingdom and the world, and in thanking servicemen and women today in Scotland who are engaged in our fight against the virus?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I am more than happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking today’s servicemen and women, and I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering all those who laid down their lives in defence of our country and the freedoms that we enjoy today.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp
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I represent a constituency that is geographically distant from Scotland, but I know people from Scotland who have made East Devon their home. They, like me, believe we are stronger together and cherish our precious Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK Government’s efforts during the pandemic—not least the furlough scheme and the £8.2 billion to Scottish public services—show that we have a common drive to defeat the virus, whether in Edinburgh or Exeter, and the SNP needs to focus on delivery, not division?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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In the interests of brevity, as it was a very full question, I will say: absolutely, yes.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy
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What measures is the Department taking to strengthen economic ties and promote business opportunities between Scottish communities and English communities such as those in my constituency of Leigh?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The Union connectivity review that I referred to earlier and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will both promote the economic ties that my hon. Friend refers to. They will protect vital trading links and improve transport links.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) [V]
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The Secretary of State is doing such a fantastic job of strengthening the Union that support for independence is at a historic high and has been at a sustained majority all year. Saying no to a majority in Scotland is only going to drive support for independence even higher. Apparently, he was only joking when he said that there would be no indyref for 40 years, just after John Major said that there would be two referendums in the next few years. The Secretary of State is renowned for his legendary wit and humour, but the Scottish people are not finding this democracy denial funny anymore. What is the difference between denying a majority in the Trump White House and denying a majority in the Scotland Office?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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That is quite a tenuous link, but I will answer the question. To be quite simple, my belief is that we should stick to the referendum from 2014 and respect it. It was very clear—the SNP said it at the time —that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum. I do not believe that we should go into a process of neverendums, which are divisive, unsettling and bad for jobs in Scotland. We should respect democracy, and that is what I am doing—democracy that was handed out by the Scottish people in 2014.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP) [V]
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The Prime Minister described last December’s general election as “once-in-a-generation”, but I hope the Secretary of State is not suggesting that there will not be another one for 40 years. He seems to think that the way to strengthen the Union is by forcing a hard Brexit on Scotland against our will, taking an axe to devolution with the internal market Bill and denying any democratic choice on Scotland’s future until adults like me are dead. On that basis, does he think that the best recipe for a happy marriage is to lock up the wife, take away her chequebook and just keep refusing a divorce?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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No, I think that it is quite straightforward. I think that people should respect democracy, as I said in my previous answer to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). We are respecting democracy. We are acknowledging this is once in a generation; we do not believe Scotland should be thrown on to the uncertainty of neverendums. It is very straight- forward: a generation, by any calculation, is 25 years and, frankly, SNP Members just have to accept that and focus on what matters, which is recovering from this pandemic and us all pulling together.

The Prime Minister was asked—
Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 11 November.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson)
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I know the whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who sadly passed away on Saturday. His leadership had a profound impact on our whole country and across the world. May his memory be a blessing.

This morning, I attended the service at Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the tomb of the unknown warrior. Armistice Day allows us to give thanks to all those who have served, and continue to serve, and those who have given their lives in service of this country.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury
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According to Home Office figures, just 12% of Windrush victims have received compensation and nine people have died waiting. This is two and a half years after the Windrush taskforce was set up. What will the Government do and what will the Prime Minister do both to rectify this injustice and to ensure that no others who have come to the UK to live and work suffer in the same way as the Windrush victims?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. What happened to the Windrush generation was a disgrace and a scandal, and we are doing our best collectively to make amends. I can tell her I have met members of that generation, and this Government are taking steps to accelerate the payments and to make sure that those who are in line with payments are given every opportunity and all the information they need to avail themselves of the compensation that they deserve.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks in respect of our servicemen and women, past and present, in protecting our peace? With regard to our battle against covid, senior Church leaders have this past week issued a call for prayer across our nation. The Prime Minister, I know, is very well aware of the persecution suffered by countless people of faith across the world for wanting to pray and manifest their faith. Will he join me in supporting our Church leaders’ call for prayer and in championing the universal human right of freedom of religion or belief wherever one lives?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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Yes, indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she does to champion that cause. We all know that wherever freedom of belief is under attack, other human rights are under attack as well. We will continue to work closely with like-minded partners to stand up for members of such marginalised communities.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab)
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May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Jonathan Sacks? May I also send all our thoughts to those affected by the terrible events in Saudi Arabia this morning? May I welcome the victory of President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris—a new era of decency, integrity and compassion in the White House? May I also welcome the fantastic news about a possible breakthrough in the vaccine? It is early days, but this will give hope to millions of people that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Today is Armistice Day, and I am sure the whole House will join me in praising the remarkable work of the veterans charities such as Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion. Like many other charities, Help for Heroes has seen a significant drop in its funding during this pandemic, and it is now having to take very difficult decisions about redundancies and keeping open recovery centres for veterans. So can the Prime Minister commit today that the Government will do whatever they can to make sure our armed forces charities have the support that they need so that they can carry on supporting our veterans?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I echo entirely what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says about Help for Heroes; it is a quite remarkable charity and does wonderful things for veterans. In these difficult times, many charities are, of course, finding it tough, and in addition to what the Government are doing to support charities through cutting business rates on their premises and cutting VAT on their shops, I urge everybody wherever possible to make online contributions to charities that are currently struggling.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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I thank the Prime Minister for his reply. The truth is the Chancellor’s package for forces charities was just £6 million during this pandemic, and that is just not sufficient. May I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider that support on their behalf, because at the same time we have all seen this weekend that the Government can find £670,000 for PR consultants? And that is the tip of the iceberg: new research today shows that the Government have spent at least £130 million of taxpayers’ money on PR companies, and that is in this year alone. Does the Prime Minister think that is a reasonable use of taxpayers’ money?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to the vaccines taskforce, and after days in which the Labour party has attacked the vaccines taskforce, I think it might be in order for him to pay tribute to it for securing 40 million doses. By the way, the expenditure to which he refers was to help to raise awareness of vaccines, to fight the anti-vaxxers and to persuade the people of this country—300,000—to take part in trials without which we cannot have vaccines. So I think he should take it back.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Nobody is attacking individuals—everybody is supporting the vaccine—but £130 million, Prime Minister: there is a real question about the way that contracts are being awarded and about basic transparency and accountability. I know the Prime Minister does not like that, but this is not the Prime Minister’s money; it is taxpayers’ money. The Prime Minister may well not know the value of the pound in his pocket, but the people who send us here do, and they expect us to spend it wisely.

Let me illustrate an example of the Government’s lax attitude to taxpayers’ money. Earlier this year, the Government paid about £150 million to a company called Ayanda Capital to deliver face masks. Can the Prime Minister tell the House how many usable face masks were actually provided to NHS workers on the frontline under that contract?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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We are in the middle of a global pandemic in which this Government have so far secured and delivered 32 billion items of personal protective equipment; and, yes, it is absolutely correct that it has been necessary to work with the private sector and with manufacturers who provide such equipment, some of them more effectively than others, but it is the private sector that in the end makes the PPE, it is the private sector that provides the testing equipment, and it is the private sector that, no matter how much the Labour party may hate it, provides the vaccines and the scientific breakthroughs.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The answer is none: not a single face mask—at a cost of £150 million. That is not an isolated example. We already know that consultants are being paid £7,000 a day to work on test and trace, and a company called Randox has been given a contract, without process, for £347 million; that is the same company that had to recall 750,000 unused covid tests earlier this summer on safety grounds.

There is a sharp contrast between the way the Government spray money at companies that do not deliver and their reluctance to provide long-term support to businesses and working people at the sharp end of this crisis. The Chancellor spent months saying that extending furlough was

“not the kind of certainty that British businesses or British workers need”—[Official Report, 24 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 1157]

only then to do a U-turn at the last minute. Yesterday’s unemployment figures show the cost of that delay: redundancies up by a record 181,000 in the last quarter. What is the Prime Minister’s message to those who have lost their jobs because of the Chancellor’s delay?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he knows full well that the furlough programme has continued throughout this pandemic. It went right the way through to October; it is now going through to March. It is one of the most generous programmes in the world, with 80% of income supported by this Government and an overall package of £210 billion going in to support jobs, families and livelihoods throughout this country. I think this country can be very proud of the way we have looked after the entire population, and we are going to continue to do so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind that the net effect of those furlough programmes—all the provision that we have made—is disproportionately beneficial for the poorest and neediest in society, which is what one nation Conservatism is all about.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The Prime Minister must know that because the furlough was not extended until the last minute, thousands of people were laid off. The figures tell a different story: redundancies, as I say, at a record high of 181,000; 780,000 off the payroll since March; the Office for National Statistics saying unemployment is rising sharply—so much for putting their arms around everybody. The trouble is that the British people are paying the price for the mistakes of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. If they had handed contracts to companies that could deliver, public money would have been saved. If they had extended furlough sooner, jobs would have been saved. If they had brought in a circuit breaker when the science said so, lives would have been saved.

Let me deal with another mistake. The Chancellor has repeatedly failed to close gaps in support for the self-employed. Millions are affected by this. It is bad enough to have made that mistake in March, but seven months on, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the scheme remains—its words—

“wasteful and badly targeted for the self-employed”.

The Institute of Directors says:

“Many self-employed…continue to be left out in the cold.”

After seven months and so many warnings, why are the Chancellor and the Prime Minister still failing our self-employed?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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Unquestionably, this pandemic has been hard on the people of this country, and unquestionably there are people who have suffered throughout the pandemic and people whose livelihoods have suffered, but we have done everything that we possibly can to help. As for the self-employed, 2.6 million of them have received support, at a cost of £13 billion—quite right. We have also, of course, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, uprated universal credit. That will continue until next year. He now champions universal credit, by the way, and calls for its uprating to be extended. He stood on a manifesto to abolish universal credit.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The Prime Minister just doesn’t get it. I know very well that the self-employment income support scheme has been extended, but the Prime Minister must know that that scheme simply does not apply to millions of self-employed people. They have been left out for seven months.

There is a real human cost to this. This week on LBC, I spoke to a self-employed photographer called Chris. He said to me:

“Our…industry has been devastated… Three million of us that have fallen through the cracks… Our businesses are falling—absolutely falling—and crashing each day.”

He asked me to raise that with the Chancellor. I will do the next best thing. What would the Prime Minister say to Chris and millions like him who are desperately waiting for the Chancellor to address this injustice?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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What I would say to Chris—and what I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to the whole country—is the best way to get his job working again, the best way to get this country back on its feet, is to continue on the path that we are driving the virus down. It is a week since we entered into the tough autumn measures that we are now in. I am grateful to the people of this country for the sacrifices that they are making, and I am particularly grateful to the people of Liverpool and elsewhere—tens of thousands of people in Liverpool are taking part in the mass testing work that is going on there. It is fantastic news that we now have the realistic prospect of a vaccine.

Science has given us two big boxing gloves, as it were, with which to pummel this virus, but neither of them is capable of delivering a knockout blow on its own. That is why this country needs to continue to work hard, to keep discipline and to observe the measures that we have put in. I am grateful for the support that the Labour party is now giving for those measures. That is the way to do it: hands, face, space; follow the guidance, protect the NHS and save lives.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con) [V]
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As we and all countries across the world tackle the pandemic, is it not right that we also have to secure our post-EU future? Are we not doing that by securing help for our rural communities and securing our borders?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend. I can tell him that the landmark Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill receives Royal Assent today, thanks to this House, paving the way for the fulfilling of our manifesto commitment to end free movement and have a new, fair points-based immigration system—one of the advantages of leaving the European Union that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) would of course like to reverse.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let us head up to Scotland and the leader of the SNP, Ian Blackford.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) [V]
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May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks? This being Armistice Day, we commemorate the day 102 years ago on the eleventh hour of the eleventh month when the guns fell silent and all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in conflict since then. I also want to send our best wishes to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on winning the election in north America. I look forward to the leadership they will show on the issues of climate change and fighting back against covid among other things.

The figures published by the Office for National Statistics yesterday demonstrate what the SNP has been warning about for months: that the UK faces a growing Tory unemployment crisis. It is now beyond doubt that the Chancellor’s last-minute furlough U-turn came far too late for thousands who have already lost their jobs as a result of Tory cuts, delays and dither. UK unemployment has now risen to 4.8%. Redundancies are at a record high and nearly 800,000 fewer people are in employment. To support those who have lost their incomes, will the Prime Minister now commit to making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent and to extending it to legacy benefits, so that no one—no one, Prime Minister—is left behind?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman, the leader of the Scottish nationalists is now supporting universal credit. He was opposed to it at the last election. Yes, of course that uplift continues until March. I am delighted to say that the furlough scheme is being extended right the way through to March as well. That will support people across our whole United Kingdom, protecting jobs and livelihoods across the whole UK in exactly the way that he and I would both want.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford [V]
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May I respectfully say to the Prime Minister that the idea is that he tries to answer the question that has been put to him? It is shameful that the Prime Minister still refuses to give a commitment to the £20 uprating of universal credit. The SNP will continue to demand a permanent U-turn on Tory plans to cut universal credit.

Another group who have been left behind by this Prime Minister are the 3 million people who have been completely excluded from UK Government support. Since the start of this crisis, the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to lift a finger to help those families. In the run-up to Christmas, those forgotten millions will be among those who are struggling to get by and are worried about their future. Will the Prime Minister finally fix the serious gaps in his support schemes to help the excluded, or will he make it a bitter winter for millions of families across the United Kingdom?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman knows, I hope, that we are not only continuing with the uprating of universal credit until next year, but we have invested £210 billion in jobs and livelihoods. We have also just brought forward a winter support package for the poorest and neediest: supporting young people and kids who need school meals, and supporting people throughout our society throughout the tough period of covid, as I think the entire country would expect. That is the right thing to do and we will continue to do it.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)
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As we continue to protect the NHS to help to save lives, regional airports are playing a critical role in delivering medical supplies and equipment across the UK, yet at Exeter airport in my constituency overall passenger numbers are at some 5% of normal. Regional airports are facing multibillion-pound business rates bills and they are asking for a payment holiday similar to businesses in retail and hospitality, including supermarket giants. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give East Devon’s aircraft engineers, cabin crew and pilots that the Government will look to temporarily scrap business rates, so that our regional airports can keep the country connected throughout the pandemic?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard my hon. Friend’s words. I thank him for what he said; he is quite right to champion regional airports and the aviation business. The Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility is helping to support the airlines’ current liquidity problems, with the sector drawing down £1.8 billion in support. The Department for Transport is also looking at giving bespoke support to particular regional airports to keep them going in these tough times.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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West Wales and the valleys received over €2 billion in direct EU economic investment during the 2014 to 2020 multiannual financial framework. That support will come to an end in a matter of weeks, yet the British Government have yet to publish their alternative proposals despite all the promises of “not a penny less”. When will the Prime Minister level with the people of Carmarthenshire and the rest of Wales about the British Government being about to pick our pockets?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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On the contrary, the UK Government are continuing to support all parts of the UK. We will now, as the hon. Gentleman knows, have the opportunity to fund projects with our own money, rather than siphoning it through Brussels. The quantum will be identical and, in addition, through the Barnett formula, the UK Government have already given the Welsh Government £2.4 billion in capital funding alone this year.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
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While we are rightly focused on battling covid, we should not ignore humanitarian injustices and the plight of persecuted minorities. On Remembrance Sunday, 82 year-old Mahboob Ahmad Khan was shot dead, the fourth Ahmadi recently slain in Peshawar. His crime under Pakistani law: to call himself an Ahmadi Muslim, whose creed is love for all, hatred for none. Does my right hon. Friend agree that hatred preached in Pakistan ends up on the streets of Britain and that it is in the interests of our own security that Her Majesty’s Government should make it clear to Pakistan that state-supported persecution must end?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree passionately with my hon. Friend. I can tell him that that is why the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth recently raised this very issue with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister and we urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the fundamental rights of all their citizens.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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Unfortunately, we have recently seen the largest increase in Welsh unemployment for nearly 30 years. The Prime Minister will know that the hospitality and events sectors have been dealt a heavy blow by covid-19, but we cannot forget about the businesses in their supply chains. Many have not been eligible for grant support and, although welcome, bounce-back loans and the furlough scheme do not offer them support to cover running costs through the winter months. Will the Prime Minister therefore raise this matter with the Chancellor and bring forward a package that offers businesses in the supply chain some hope of seeing the spring?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises an excellent point. One of the things that we are looking at, together with local authorities and the Welsh tourist authorities, is ways of making sure that we keep a tourist season going throughout the tough winter months.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford  (Rother Valley)  (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Christmas is a time for joy and the celebration of hope. In Rother Valley, we have a renowned Christmas scene. From the Christmas festival in Dinnington to Christmas wreath-making in Todwick, the Maltby Lions Santa sleigh ride, carols at All Saints in Aston and even my new annual Christmas card competition, there is something for everyone in Rother Valley. In the spirit of Christmas and giving, will the Prime Minister assure me that families and friends will be reunited and able to celebrate this most important, happy and holy occasion, as we usually do?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All I can say is that the more intensively we together follow the rules and the more we follow the guidance in this tough period leading up to 2 December, the bigger the chance collectively we will have of as normal a Christmas as possible and getting things open in time for Christmas as well.

James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On Sunday, a constituent emailed me about the track and trace system. Her family had received multiple calls asking for the same information and there was confusion, as the operative admitted that they were struggling with London postcodes and local school names. Last week, the former Health Secretary and Conservative Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), said:“Centralised contact tracing is always going to be less effective than a” localised model. Will the Prime Minister now admit that the current outsourced model has been a waste of time and taxpayers’ money?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are looking into the issue of repeat calls, but to say that the test and trace system has been a waste of time and money, which I think is what I heard the hon. Member say—I could not disagree more. It has enabled us to locate where the disease is surging, to take appropriate measures and to allow people in huge numbers to get tested. More people have been tested in this country than in any other country in Europe. The PCR tests that NHS Test and Trace is conducting are of real value in fighting the disease, and now we are rolling out the lateral flow rapid turnaround tests as well.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With yesterday’s positive news on the covid vaccine and the roll-out of mass testing, and as York’s virus figures continue to fall well below the level at which we were put into tier 2, can the Prime Minister give York some hope of sustaining our great city by clearly outlining the criteria under which from 2 December we can escape immediately into tier 1? Will he also urge York council to take up the Government’s offer of mass testing?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, indeed I urge York council and councils across the land to take up the offer of mass lateral flow testing—it is a very exciting possibility. It is, as I said, one of the boxing gloves we hope to wield to pummel this disease into submission—the other is the prospect of a vaccine—and that is what we will do continuously throughout the weeks and months ahead. But I must stress that the way to get ourselves in the best position to achieve that is to make the current restrictions work so that we can come out well, back into the tiers on 2 December.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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The Prime Minister will doubtless recall meeting my constituent Ronnie Norquoy on board his crab boat Carvela when he visited Stromness and Orkney in July. I know Mr Norquoy told the Prime Minister about the problems caused by the Migration Advisory Committee classing deck hands as unskilled labour. Since that conversation—which must have landed quite well, because he was allowed back on to dry land safely —the Migration Advisory Committee has changed its advice so that deck hands are now regarded as skilled labour for whom visas can be issued. The Home Secretary, unfortunately, refuses to implement that advice. Will he put the Home Secretary straight on this one, please? Get it sorted.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a subject in which I have a keen interest, because I had a wonderful morning on that crab boat where there were fantastic, prodigious quantities of crabs that, as I recollect, were being sold to China. I will make sure that the Home Secretary is immediately seized of the matter and that we take it forward. That is one of the things that we are now able to do thanks to taking back control of our immigration system, which, alas, his party opposed for so long and would reverse if it could.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I strongly welcome the introduction of the National Security and Investment Bill today. Does the Prime Minister agree that when countries trample human rights at home and threaten our allies abroad, they should not expect to be able to buy up strategically important industries in this country with no scrutiny, not least when they refuse such investments in their own countries?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. One of the many merits of the excellent conversation I had yesterday with President-elect Joe Biden was that we were strongly agreed on the need once again for the United Kingdom and the United States to stand together and stick up for our values around the world: to stick up for human rights, to stick up for global free trade, to stick up for NATO and to work together in the fight against climate change. It was refreshing, I may say, to have that conversation, and I look forward to many more.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Prime Minister spoke for many of us when he took a call yesterday to congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on their emphatic win in the US presidential election, so does the Prime Minister now have any advice for his erstwhile best friend, President Trump, whose continuing refusal to accept the result is both embarrassing for him and dangerous for American democracy?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had, and have, a good relationship with the previous President. I do not resile from that—it is the duty of all British Prime Ministers to have a good relationship with the White House—but I am delighted to find the many areas in which are the incoming Biden-Harris Administration are able to make common cause with us. In particular, it was extremely exciting to talk to President-elect Biden about what he wants to do with the COP26 summit next year, in which the UK is leading the world in driving down carbon emissions and tackling climate change.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This Armistice Day, restrictions mean that we cannot mark the occasion with services as we normally would. However, in Heywood and Middleton, veterans associations are following the guidance to mark the day in a covid-safe way. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in praising them, the Royal British Legion and, indeed, all those across the United Kingdom who are doing their best to ensure that we can pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes indeed. It was really impressive to see the way the Royal British Legion organised covid-secure memorials across the country in the way that it did. As we salute our veterans, I just want to remind the House that we have launched a new railcard for our veterans and their families that will entitle them to substantial reductions in rail fares, and that we are introducing a national insurance break for employers of veterans in their first year of employment.

Kate Hollern Portrait Kate Hollern (Blackburn) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Every day, there is a new story about dodgy contracts signed by this Government. Research by Tussell, the data provider, shows that the Government take an average of two and a half months to publish covid-related contracts, exceeding the legal limit of 30 days. Will the Prime Minister commit to publishing all contracts within the legal limit, and does he accept that the failure to address this scandal affects his Government’s awarding of public contracts?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course we publish all contracts, and quite right. I would just respectfully remind the hon. Lady, as I reminded the Leader of the Opposition earlier, that it is absolutely necessary in a massive global pandemic to work with those in the private sector, not to scorn them or despise them, and to understand that it is they who make the PPE and the tests. Indeed, it is thanks to the researches of giant conglomerates—which Labour would break up if it could—that we have the possibility of a vaccine.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On Armistice Day, as we remember those who gave their lives for our country and those who still serve, will the Prime Minister give a positive response to the “Living in our shoes: understanding the needs of UK Armed Forces families” report on making life better for our armed forces families? These wonderful people put up with more separation, moving of family homes and worry about the safety of their loved ones than anyone else, and looking after them should be a national priority.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our armed services simply could not function without the support of their families, and I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to raise this issue and for the comprehensive piece of research that he refers to. We are making good progress on increasing childcare provision for armed services families and on our support for employment of partners of members of the armed services.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for a few minutes.

12:33
Sitting suspended.

Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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12:38
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government if he will make a statement on his plans to prevent homelessness and protect rough sleepers during the second national lockdown.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Kelly Tolhurst)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we look ahead to the winter months, it is vital that we work together to prevent increases in homelessness and rough sleeping. The Government have set out unprecedented support on this issue, dedicating over £700 million to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone. Our work on rough sleeping has been shown not only to be world leading but to have saved hundreds of lives. We are dedicated to continuing to protect vulnerable people in this period of restrictions and through the winter months.

We used the summer to work with local authorities on individual local plans for the coming months. Last week, the Prime Minister announced the Protect programme —the next step in our ongoing, targeted support for rough sleepers. That will provide a further £15 million, ensuring that support is in place for areas that need it most, and addressing the housing and health challenges for rough sleepers during this period of national restrictions. That is on top of the £10 million cold weather fund, available to all councils to provide rough sleepers with safe accommodation over the coming months. That means that all local areas will be eligible for support this winter. It builds on the success of the ongoing Everyone In campaign in September. We have successfully supported over 29,000 people, with over 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. Nearly 19,000 people have been provided with settled accommodation or move-on support. We continue to help to move people on from emergency accommodation with the Next Steps accommodation programme.

On 17 September, we announced NSAP allocations to local authorities, to pay for immediate support and to ensure that people do not return to the streets, and £91.5 million was allocated to 274 councils across England. On 29 October, we announced allocations to local partners to deliver long-term move-on accommodation. More than 3,300 new long-term homes for rough sleepers across the country have been approved, subject to due diligence, backed by more than £150 million. We are committed to tackling homelessness, and firmly believe that no one should be without a roof over their head.

Throughout the pandemic, we have established an unprecedented package of support to protect renters, which remains in place. That includes legislating through the Coronavirus Act 2020 on delays as to when landlords can evict tenants and a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court. We have quickly and effectively introduced more than £9 billion of measures in 2020-21 that benefit those facing financial disruption during the current situation. The measures include increasing universal and working tax credit by £1,040 a year for 12 months and significant investment in local housing allowance of nearly £1 billion. As further support for renters this winter, we have asked bailiffs not to carry out evictions during national restrictions in England, except in the most serious of circumstances. As the pandemic evolves, we will continue working closely with local authorities, the sector and across Government to support the most vulnerable from this pandemic. These measures further demonstrate our commitment to assist the most vulnerable in society.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire [V]
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. The Minister’s words and the Prime Minister’s order last week to stay home will ring hollow for people with no home. In March, the Government told councils and charities that they should try to bring rough sleepers in, and the extraordinary effort prevented thousands of infections, more than 1,000 hospital admissions and 266 deaths. But now the Government’s rough sleeping tsar is no longer in post and she has warned that we are facing a “perfect storm of awfulness”. Many of those brought off the streets have returned and thousands more are newly homeless, with a record high 50% increase in young people sleeping rough since last year in London alone.

What has changed since March? It is colder, and the cold weather fund is lower than it was last year. So can the Minister tell the House why the Government have lowered their ambition? Their plan provides neither the leadership nor the funding to ensure all rough sleepers have a covid-secure place; £15 million in funding will be given not to all councils, but only to the 10 with the highest rough sleeping rates. Seventeen health and homelessness organisations wrote to the Prime Minister to warn against the use of night shelters as not covid-safe. Why have the Government refused to publish the Public Health England advice on this decision? The plan makes no reference to people with no recourse to public funds. Instead there is a rule change so that rough sleeping will lead to deportation. Does the Minister agree that it is immoral for people to be deported for sleeping rough?

On Armistice Day, will the Minister ensure that the Government record whether homeless people have a service record, so that we can get an accurate picture of the scale and need of those who have served our country?

Finally, the homelessness crisis is the result of 10 years of Tory failure, so will the Minister now commit to abolishing section 21 evictions, as the Government said they would, to prevent a further rise in homelessness, and invest in the support and social housing we need so that we can genuinely end rough sleeping for good?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I hope she recognises, and I think she did at the beginning, that this Government have put £700 million into homelessness and rough sleeping support this year alone. That is unprecedented support, and it is decisive action that this Government took in dealing with the covid crisis. Although I strongly object to the fact that many have returned to the streets, we were working on this plan in the summer with local authorities in order to work out what the next steps would be after the Everyone In programme. As I outlined in my opening answer, more than £266 million is being provided to local authorities in order to provide move-on and next-step accommodation, with more than £150 million of that invested in long-term support and accommodation for rough sleepers.

To pick up on the point about the winter allowance being lower than last year, this must be taken in the context of the unprecedented amount of funding that the Government have provided in this area, in order to protect those individuals who were at threat of homelessness and rough sleeping throughout the pandemic. Indeed, a £10 million winter fund is available to all local authorities throughout the country, but it is right that the £15 million fund that was announced last year—the Protect programme—is focused on the areas in which there is the most need. We are working intensively, not only with those first-wave initial boroughs with the highest level of rough sleeping but in collaboration with all local authorities throughout the United Kingdom, in order to understand the challenges they face and the needs they have.

On the point about no recourse to public funds, I would like to make the hon. Lady aware that the rules of eligibility for immigration status, including for those with no recourse to public funds, has not changed. Local authorities are able to use their judgment when assessing the support that can lawfully be provided in relation to those individuals and their individual needs: this is already happening, as it does with extreme weather and where there is a potential risk to life. Local authorities provide basic support for care needs that do not solely arise from destitution, whether for migrants who have severe health problems or for families where the wellbeing of children is involved. Also, it is just not true that we are deporting individuals who are rough sleeping.

I will also pick up on the point about veterans. I am very pleased to be standing here on Armistice Day, and am pleased that the hon. Lady has highlighted the plight of our veterans. Our veterans play a vital role in keeping our country safe, and we are committed to ensuring that we are able to provide them with the support they need to adjust back into civilian life. The duty to refer in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 states that public authorities are required to, with individual consent, refer

“former members of the regular armed forces”

to their local housing associations. There are a number of support services available, including Veterans’ Gateway and online, web and telephone resources for veterans, through which they can access a housing specialist who has up-to-date information on any vacancies that are available. In June of this year, we announced new measures to ensure that access to social housing is improved for members of our armed forces.

Mr Speaker, our Protect programme will protect vulnerable individuals from the threat of rough sleeping during the restriction process and into the winter, and tackle some of the health issues they are experiencing.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con) [V]
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The Everyone In programme ensured that homeless people and rough sleepers had a roof over their head during the pandemic, and I welcome the Protect programme initiative. However, it is vital that our solutions are also long-term and sustainable. I welcomed the roll-out of the three-year Housing First pilot in Greater Manchester, and the recent announcement of 3,300 units of move-on accommodation for rough sleepers. Would my hon. Friend also consider bringing forward future funding allocations so that local authorities, mental health charities and agencies that are able to offer wraparound support can have the certainty they need to ensure the success of these initiatives?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the wraparound services that organisations within local authorities provide to some of those individuals who are experiencing complex issues, such as substance misuse and mental health concerns. I am grateful that she highlighted the Housing First pilot projects, and we are encouraging and working with local authorities to get individuals who need such support into that programme.

I will also work hard to make sure that we are able to develop and work with local authorities to assist them to provide the local services and wraparound support that those individuals need. It is not just a home they need; they need the support services around them, and I am determined to be able to do that.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) on securing this urgent question. This feels like groundhog day, with the Government yet again in the spotlight for their decision to withdraw prematurely the protections and support for the most vulnerable people during a second wave of covid. In recent weeks, they have had to U-turn on providing free school meals and on extending furlough. I rather suspect that, quite soon, they will have to U-turn on providing more support for people who have been left homeless.

Thankfully, in Scotland, we have a Government with a bit more foresight than this bungling British Government, who reek of incompetence and chaos every single day. The SNP Government in Scotland have extended the ban on evictions until March, and we have committed to looking to extend that further to September if the evidence shows a clear need. Will the Minister do likewise?

I am appalled by the reports that the British Government plan to deport non-UK nationals who are sleeping rough. That is a totally inhumane policy, devoid of any compassion and fairness, even by this Conservative Government’s standards. Will they now urgently reinstate the pause on asylum evictions so that communities and individuals who we know are at greater risk of covid-19 are not put at increased risk?

Finally, has the Minister’s Department ever received any advice from Public Health England or, indeed, health directors about the risks to black and minority ethnic people being left homeless? If so, will she publish it? If not, why has she not commissioned it?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I respect the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but he is completely incorrect in relation to this Government’s ongoing support for rough sleepers during the pandemic. We carried out an unprecedented and world-leading programme in Everyone In, we worked with local authorities constructively and intensively to develop programmes for the continuation of that support through Next Steps and Move On, and we secured accommodation. This Protect programme is the next step within that, and it is the Government taking quick action for what is now required within the restricted period and into the winter fund.

We announced the winter fund only a couple of weeks ago, and now we are on the Protect programme, so it is absolutely incorrect and completely wrong to suggest that this Government have not been taking the issue seriously and have not put the resources where they are needed. I have been determined over recent weeks, as the Minister, to make sure we have local authority by local authority checks on what is happening, looking at the local interactions on the ground.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) is categorically incorrect to say that we are deporting EU nationals who are sleeping rough. That is not what is happening, as he knows. In actual fact, we have been working with local authorities on the support and offer they can give to immigrants with no recourse to public funds at local level. Quite rightly, my colleagues in the Home Office and I are working through many issues that affect a number of different people.

I must also point out that all these individuals are different. Every individual has specific needs, and it is right that we work intensively with local authorities to make sure those individual needs are considered.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. We have a lot of people who need to get in, and we have spent 15 minutes on the first three questions. We need to pick it up.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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I welcome the measures and the very significant funding that the Minister has announced today. Does she agree that it is important to take the same kind of approach as that taken by Rugby Borough Council through its preventing homelessness and improving lives programme? That has made a tremendous difference to local families at risk of homelessness through early intervention by a dedicated support team, working with those who are vulnerable to prepare a plan to avoid a crisis situation later.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is by the good practice of councils such as Rugby Borough Council and programmes of that nature that they are able to work with those families and individuals before there is a need for them to sleep rough or become homeless—it is prevention. We know that since we implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act, that has had a significant impact in many parts of the country. I am pleased that we are determined and committed to make sure we implement that even further and work with local authorities to get better results.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab) [V]
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First, congratulations are due on the efforts that were made to get rough sleepers off the streets from March onwards. Great work was done by councils with voluntary organisations and with good support financially from the Government as well. The real pressure on councils now, I am told by my own city of Sheffield, is from people presenting as homeless from the private rented sector. An increase has led Sheffield City Council, which is very good at dealing with these matters, to have 80 families now in hotels and another 200 in temporary accommodation. That will cost the council around £500,000 extra in this financial year. If dealing with homelessness has to be a priority for councils, which certainly it should be, will the Minister make it a priority for Government to make sure that councils have the extra resources they need directly to continue delivering the services that people in the private rented sector will need in the coming, very trying months?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank the hon. Member for his comments and articulation of the work that has been done by the Government and many local authorities and the voluntary and charitable sector in the covid-19 pandemic. He is absolutely right that we need to monitor and make sure we are working intensively with local authorities to understand the needs and the challenges. That is why we are working with local authorities to provide plans, that is why we have put in the Next Steps funding, to provide that Move On and Next Steps accommodation support. We will continue that work through the winter and evaluate any impacts that we are seeing through the covid pandemic. We need to bear in mind that we have also provided councils with over £6 billion in funding to deal with some of the issues that are coming out of the covid pandemic.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment and on attending the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness within days and answering our questions. I also congratulate the Government on a brilliant job in pulling rough sleepers off the streets and putting them into secure accommodation. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the problem now is that every case of homelessness is a unique one. Many people who have been rough sleeping have physical and mental health problems, and they are also probably addicted to drink, drugs or other substances, so it is vital that we roll out the Housing First initiative from the pilot sites throughout the country and also fully fund my Homelessness Reduction Act when the funding for it comes to an end. Will she therefore commit to rolling out Housing First across the country and to ensuring that local authorities are fully funded for their duties under my Act?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and it was a pleasure to attend the APPG. I also thank him for his work in this area, for which he is a passionate advocate. Housing First is a great pilot, and we have continued to make sure that we can get individuals through those schemes, even during the pandemic. We are working with those sites to make sure that we can maximise that funding and that pilot to get the data and information. I am very supportive of the Housing First programme, and I would very much like to extend it. That is something that we will be working on in Government. I am committed to making sure that the Homelessness Reduction Act is implemented fully, and we will have further discussions about the funding to be able to deliver on that.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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A street homelessness reduction programme is not world leading if the numbers sleeping rough on our streets are rising. It is shocking that the number of young people sleeping rough on our streets is now at a record high. What will the Minister do to ensure that homelessness prevention services offer appropriate support to young people with particular needs, such as young prison leavers?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I refute the assumption that rough sleeping numbers are increasing because of the action taken during the pandemic. If we look at the snapshot, we see that in actual fact at September there was a significant reduction in rough sleeping compared with last year. We have been working hard with local authorities in order that everyone who had been brought on to the Everyone In scheme has stayed in emergency accommodation or moved on to Next Steps accommodation. We are working hard to make sure that those numbers are reducing.

The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point about young people, their particular needs and the threat of becoming homeless. I am working with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice on how we can further support offenders. I have a particular interest in young people and care leavers, and we are investigating what other measures we can put in place to support them when they are at threat of homelessness.

Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall (Gedling) (Con)
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I welcome the Government’s commitment to £311,000 for the borough of Gedling for local secure-accommodation schemes for people at risk of sleeping on the street. Does my hon. Friend agree that this funding is a significant step forward towards fulfilling our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024? Will she join me in thanking all those in Gedling who have worked so hard to get vulnerable people into safe, secure accommodation?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comment and pay tribute to those not only in his constituency but throughout the country who are working and have worked incredibly hard over the summer and through the pandemic to make sure that those individuals have had the help and support they require. He is absolutely right that this funding is part of our next steps to reach our target and make sure that we tackle some of the issues and develop the accommodation to house some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am sure the Minister would agree that a number of homelessness charities have warned that tens of thousands of young people have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic. Many of these young people work in hospitality, so they have not had a job for many months. They are struggling to support themselves financially and make up the bulk of people in insecure accommodation. The Government’s decision to bring forward the eviction ban was welcome, but it is not working, so will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to ensure that the ban is properly enforced? The Minister said she would work with bailiffs to stop the evictions, but the reality on the ground is that that is not happening. What concrete steps will there be to protect people from enforcement?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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The hon. Lady highlights the plight of young people and the particular challenges that they face during the pandemic because of the types of work and sectors they are involved in. It is true that we have placed a ban on evictions and, before the announcement of the restrictions for this month, evictions were not taking place in areas in tier 3. That is obviously the case for this month, and we are also saying that no evictions should be taking place from 11 December into January. We are working with our colleagues in the MOJ, but I must highlight the fact that we have given a six-month stay on those proceedings and only the most egregious cases will be taken forward. We will keep that under review, as the House would imagine, and make sure that we monitor it. If the hon. Lady is referring to particular circumstances, I would be interested to see the detail and I will happily communicate with her directly in respect of any individual circumstances.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
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May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment? The Rochester by-election feels like a lifetime ago.

The Government have a golden opportunity, having supported 29,000 people this year, to achieve their ambition of ending rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament. Will my hon. Friend commit to ensuring not only that those who have been helped will continue to get support, but that anyone at risk in the coming months will have the support that they need?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said and it is a pleasure to be answering his question. He is absolutely right. Throughout the pandemic, we have been working with local authorities on an individual basis to understand the needs and challenges that are driving homelessness within those areas. I am committed to doing exactly that to make sure that we understand all those individual circumstances that are creating demands in different parts of the country. We are developing practices and policies to ensure that we can reach our commitment of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and of significantly reducing it.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Simply asking bailiffs not to physically remove desperate people who cannot afford to pay their rent until 11 January will not allow the Secretary of State to keep his promise that no one will lose their home due to a drop in income because of covid. How he could keep that promise would be, for example, to raise local housing allowance so that nobody finds that it is less than the rent they owe. Given that a third of those who are excluded are also private renters, he could also make sure that those people who have been excluded from financial support since March are no longer excluded and are given the support they need. Finally, given that the Government are in the mood for rushing through legislation, why do they not keep their manifesto promise and scrap section 21 evictions, and do it now?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but, as I have outlined, we have asked bailiffs to pause evictions over the Christmas period and that is something that we will monitor and keep under review. It is absolutely right that we have taken this action, and the Secretary of State took it quickly and swiftly. We are still committed to abolishing section 21, but legislation must be balanced and considered to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, and we will keep those under review. The Government will continue to take decisive action, as they have done at all stages of the pandemic, and as I have done today in outlining our Protect programme.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
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Our veterans have given so much in the service of this country and it is vital that we ensure that not a single one ends up on the streets. Will the Minister therefore reassure me and my constituents who care deeply about this that veterans continue to have priority need to keep them off the streets and that the funding provided by this Government means that if someone finds themselves in hard times this winter, local authorities have not only the duty, but the resources to give them the home that they deserve?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight again the vital role that our veterans have played in keeping this country safe. I am sure that everyone across this House feels, as I do, a great sadness and deep concern for those veterans who face hard times and are in very difficult circumstances. They have priority when it comes to the reduction of homelessness and will continue to do so. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that those veterans can get access to the support and services that they need to continue with their lives.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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The Children’s Commissioner has raised concern about the almost 130,000 children in England who spent the first lockdown in temporary accommodation, where poor conditions made it difficult to study, play and self-isolate. Why does the Minister think that there has been a 78% increase in homeless children since 2010?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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The hon. Lady asks about families and children in temporary accommodation.  I, too, have concerns about any families and young people having to live their lives in temporary accommodation. As I have outlined, that is why this Government are investing in the Move On programme and the Next Steps accommodation programme. We are also committed to investing long-term in our housebuilding programme, and in affordable and social rented homes. I totally understand the pressures and challenges for young people in insecure homes, and it is something that this Government and I are determined to resolve.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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On a recent visit to YMCA Lincolnshire in Gainsborough, I was briefed on the excellent work done for homeless people in Lincoln at the charity’s Nomad Centre. But when I talked to the chief executive this morning, she told me that her main worry is not so much the level of Government support, but whether it is trickling down from local government to charities quickly enough. That leads me to a wider point, which I suppose is also a Conservative one: in a pandemic we always think that the state can do everything, but we should really be empowering and supporting charities.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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We are working with local authorities to ensure that the support is trickling down to exactly where it is needed. We are working intensively with local authorities on plans for how that money will be spent, and on the impact on the ground. If my right hon. Friend has any further details, I will happily take up this issue. Indeed, if any Member across the House has any particular local issues, I will take them up and investigate further. It is true that this Government have taken unprecedented action to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness during the pandemic, and I remain committed to continuing that work.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab) [V]
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After speaking with ACORN Liverpool and local volunteers such as Councillor Sarah Morton who are out on the ground every night in Liverpool helping the homeless, I would like to ask about one of their many concerns right now. The enforced evictions guidance has no basis in law. It does not protect against bailiffs, despite the Government saying that they have asked bailiffs to hold fire, and people are living in fear of eviction during this lockdown. The only way to ban evictions is through legislation, as with the ban between March and September. Will the Minister commit to such legislation and consider increasing funding for local authority discretionary housing payments, which are a vital resource in supporting early intervention and preventing homelessness?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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The Government have invested heavily in support for homelessness, particularly through the rough sleeping initiative. Liverpool is part of Housing First, which is one of the pilot projects to help rough sleepers, who have multiple complex needs. I hope that the numbers of people moving into that pilot will soon increase in Liverpool. The hon. Gentleman mentions an important point about evictions. It is true that there is a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court to 30 September, and that only the most egregious cases will be taken forward, such as those involving antisocial behaviour and crime. We are committed to that and have made it clear that we do not expect any evictions to take place. If we need to take further action, I am sure that we will find the tools to do so.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
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Is it not just so sad when we see homelessness and rough sleeping on our streets? One reason that I was so proud to stand as a Conservative party candidate at the last general election was our commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. Homelessness is often seen as an urban issue, but it is very much a rural one as well. Conservative-led Dorset Council has reduced rough sleeping, though, by 39% up until 2019. I suggest to the shadow Secretary of State that maybe she asks the same questions of her own Labour-run Bristol City Council, where homelessness has increased by 20%—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. First, the question is too long. Secondly, it is not for the Opposition to answer the questions; it is for the Minister. Don’t take the Minister’s job away—it is not fair to her.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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You will have to excuse me, Mr Speaker; I fell down the stairs yesterday, so I am struggling to do the bobbing up and down.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would like to praise the work of Dorset Council, which has been able to continue to reduce rough sleeping. We hope that we will be able to share information with colleagues in other areas to ensure that, where there is great practice and local authorities are taking great steps to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness, the lessons are learned throughout the country. We learnt a lot through the Everyone In programme, and I hope that those lessons will help us to develop policies.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP) [V]
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As chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, I have been contacted by Dogs on the Streets, an excellent charity that cares for homeless people who have dogs and are sleeping on the streets. The charity tells me that it is often very difficult for homeless people who are sleeping rough to be admitted into accommodation if they have a pet, particularly a dog. Will the Minister meet me and Dogs on the Streets to talk about the available options? Pets are often a lifeline for people, and we must be extremely compassionate and ensure that those who are compassionate to pets are not left behind on the streets.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I will happily meet the hon. Lady to discuss that. She has highlighted an issue that affects not only people sleeping rough but those who are at threat of being made homeless. It transcends the two categories, so I would be happy to discuss it further.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
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In December 2019, a report outlined that 216 individuals were being housed in short-term shelters in the Wakefield district. Prior to covid, homelessness and rough sleeping in the district had risen sharply, raising concerns about the safety and wellbeing of those who suffer this plight. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to increase the number of homes available for people who are currently homeless as part of the Government’s ambition to end rough sleeping by 2024?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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The Government are investing more than £150 million in permanent accommodation, delivering 3,300 units, to give an asset to the country that will provide properties for individuals who are sleeping rough and who are then able to come into the system. That is an amazing step forward. It is the biggest investment in this kind of housing since the early ’90s, and I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to make that point.

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab) [V]
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The Home Office immigration rules published on 22 October make it crystal clear that among the reasons that would normally lead to a refusal of leave to remain in the United Kingdom is failure by the person to accommodate themselves or their dependants without recourse to public funds. Any provision of accommodation for the homeless would be recourse to public funds. My question for the Minister is very simple: what is the advice—be kicked out by the Home Office or freeze on the streets?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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As I have already outlined, those who have no recourse to public funds do work with local authorities. Local authorities already assess those individuals who are in need and make decisions on whether they can lawfully provide support within that area and for those individuals’ needs. It is simply not true to say that we will be removing individuals on the grounds that they are sleeping rough. It is absolutely right that we continue to work with that cohort, as well as with the charities and voluntary organisations across the country that are working with those individuals to establish pathways and provide help with regard to the EU settlement scheme. That work will continue, and I am happy to have further conversations with the hon. Gentleman about that.

Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Con)
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I commend my hon. Friend for the work she has done in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, but it has been the west midlands that has led the way in this fight, under the leadership of our Mayor, Andy Street, and his homelessness taskforce, which has seen year-on-year decreases in the number of people rough sleeping. Can she reaffirm that she will indeed work with the West Midlands Combined Authority and our Mayor, Andy Street, to ensure that the lessons they have learned during this process can be carried through to Government, so that we can finally, once and for all, fulfil that manifesto commitment and end rough sleeping?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend and, yes, I totally will. I have already met Andy Street to discuss the issues within the area. I am very grateful for the work that he and others have been leading, such as Jean Templeton from Saint Basils, who has been doing a tremendous job up there, and for the leadership of young people in that area. I look forward to continuing to work with all parts of the country to achieve this ambition.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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In 2019, one in 46 people in Redbridge, which Ilford South is part of, were homeless. That is a shocking statistic. While recent funding is obviously very welcome, I wonder if we can have a situation where I do not have to walk outside Ilford Exchange or outside my constituency office and see once again the many cardboard cities, which so miraculously disappeared, literally in a week, once the Government decided to act and house those homeless people and rough sleepers. Could the Minister ensure that, once lockdown ends, they will uphold their commitment to permanently ending rough sleeping?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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Actually, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue in his constituency. It is true, and I am sure I speak for everyone across the House, that every one of us really feels sadness and regret when we see any individual sleeping rough in a tent, a box or whatever. It is just not satisfactory. That is why this Government have committed to ending rough sleeping, and why we have put in this unprecedented level of support to achieve that goal. My challenge is to keep working with those local authorities to deliver on that promise.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I welcome the funding that my hon. Friend has outlined for councils, including over £1.6 million for Buckinghamshire Council to provide accommodation for people at risk of rough sleeping. Can she confirm how many additional such homes the Government intend to fund by the end of this Parliament?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend and I am glad that we were able to allocate funding to Buckinghamshire to deliver on those programmes. At the moment—this is our first tranche, obviously—we are delivering 3,300 homes by the end of March 2021 and that is within our commitment to deliver over 6,000. We will continue to work, as I keep repeating—I am sorry, Mr Speaker—with local authorities, because we have to be very clear that each individual area is very different. The drivers, challenges and needs in those areas are so different, as are the needs of the individuals. It is so important that, when we are announcing these things and making policy, we are making sure we are delivering policy that does actually achieve the ambitions we want to achieve.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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No one could accuse this Minister of being heartless or uncaring. I know her to be a woman of great integrity. However, I would put to her that her Government have been in power for a long time now and we still have this real problem of poverty—family poverty—stalking our land. The report by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, this morning shows the link between homelessness, rough sleeping and the dreadful way we treat children in care in this country. It is all joined up and there are some common reasons, and I think her Government and her Department should look at that too.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind comments about me. I always find him to be very compassionate as well. He makes a valid point about the impact that homelessness and poverty can have on young children and particularly children who are leaving care. This is an area that I personally am very passionate about—young people and care leavers. It is true to say that this Government are working across Government. I am working with colleagues across Departments in order to find solutions and develop policies to tackle that and deliver on our ambition.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the Minister for the outstanding work she is doing in her new portfolio. The Passage, a charity based in my constituency working with her Department on the Home for Good model, has seen many people being paired with a mentor in the community that they have been resettled in. That has had great success in sustaining tenancies and preventing a return to the streets. Does she agree that it is investment in these types of programmes for preventive work that makes lasting change in the lives of people coming off the streets and that it should continue to be supported?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this area and the passion that she has in working with me and the Department to tackle this issue. She is absolutely right. It is so important that we are working with local authorities and that money is going to organisations to develop programmes to help with prevention, to deliver support and to provide the mentoring that is so valuable. It is all very well for me as a Minister to stand here today and say what we are doing, but people who have had real-life experience and understand what the reality is are able to impart that and then hold the hand of those individuals who are affected as they navigate the system. That is so invaluable.

James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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In a letter to the Secretary of State in June about rough sleepers during covid-19, community organisations, faith leaders and Ealing Council wrote:

“Without question, the hardest group to support under the current framework is those with no recourse to public funds.”

The Secretary of State’s announcement last week made it clear that the new Protect programme funding was there to ensure that

“everyone sleeping rough on our streets”

has

“somewhere safe to go”.

Could the Minister therefore confirm whether this funding can be used to help those sleeping rough who have no recourse to public funds?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The rules on eligibility to immigration status have not changed, including those on no recourse to public funds. It is down to local authorities to use their judgment in assessing the support that they can lawfully give to the individuals. This does already happen. We were very clear to local authorities in May that, under Next Steps, they were to carry out individual assessments of people who were rough sleeping and take decisions on who they would provide support for. Part of that was providing accommodation to vulnerable people.

Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Gagan Mohindra (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Everyone In plan and last week’s announcement of the £15 million Protect programme. This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to the new chief executive of Dacorum Borough Council, Claire Hamilton, and she too welcomes the additional funding provided by this Government. However, the concern she wants me to raise with the Minister is that, in two-tier areas like mine, South West Hertfordshire, the money is given to Hertfordshire County Council. Could she use her good offices to ensure that the money is given to the frontline as quickly as possible?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I will use my position to make sure that that money is being targeted at and provided in the areas where it is actually needed. This funding and this package is all about being able to target work intensively with local authorities. This is an offer to all Members who have a particular issue at a local level. I am always happy to take that up with local authorities and to have further discussions on their behalf.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister to her post. I think she is the 12th Minister in this position in the past decade. Her enthusiasm for the efficacy of Government policy would be infectious but for the detailed work on the Government’s housing policies we have been doing on the Public Accounts Committee, which I commend to her. We are talking a lot about rough sleeping today, but I have far more families who are hidden homeless, or two households in one. They are struggling through the pandemic. It is a public health issue and it is damaging our children. Will she consider talking to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) about a housing market package to buy up hard-to-sell properties in the private sector and provide these people and rough sleepers with the Move On accommodation they so desperately need?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I am always happy to meet her to discuss particular issues affecting her area and to listen to ideas that Members think may or may not work in their local setting, but I have to reiterate that London has had significant support with the Next Steps accommodation. The exact focus of that is to move those individuals out of temporary emergency accommodation and into longer-term stability and pathways, delivering that security that those individuals and families need. I will happily meet her to discuss that further.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
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I start by thanking this Government, who have supported 29,000 people who have been rough sleeping this year alone. I have only a handful of rough sleepers in my constituency—a handful too many—but I thank the Government for finding secure accommodation for them during the pandemic, helping to protect lives and prevent the spread of the virus. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking local charities in my Stourbridge constituency such as Leslie’s Care Packages, which works tirelessly to ensure that rough sleepers have the support they need?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend, and I happily pass on my thanks to the charities and the organisation in her constituency, Leslie’s Care Packages, for the work they have been doing throughout the pandemic. Again, I extend my thanks to all in the charitable sector and the voluntary sector, who have done such a lot of work in this area, working constructively with the Government and local authorities to ensure that we are targeting support to those individuals who need the help the most.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab) [V]
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In the spring, the Everyone In programme showed that where there is the political will, it is possible to take action to provide shelter for people who need it, but that should not be done only in emergencies; it should be done all year round, guaranteeing safe and warm shelter to everyone who needs it, including those with no recourse to public funds. Rather than wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on covid contracts for friends and family of the Conservative party, will the Government instead provide permanent funding to end homelessness for good?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will know that part of our follow-on from the Everyone In programme—it is still ongoing and has not stopped—is the Next Steps funding, which delivers exactly what she is asking. It is providing not only funding for local authorities to deliver that next stage, Move On accommodation, but £150 million of investment in permanent accommodation —the largest investment in delivering homes in this area since the ’90s.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
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In Cornwall, homelessness and rough sleeping has historically been an issue. In recent years, some excellent work has been done in Cornwall to combat the issue by St Petrocs and by the local authority, particularly with the success of the recent Pydar Pop UP project in Truro. Of course more needs to be done, and I welcome the £5.5 million that the Government have provided to Cornwall Council since September to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. It is a substantial amount of money that creates a real opportunity to end rough sleeping in Cornwall. However, does my hon. Friend agree that that money needs to be spent on long-term solutions to find homes for those who are homeless and rough sleeping, not just on the short term and quick fixes?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The investment we are making as a Government in long-term secure homes is so important. That is what the Secretary of State and I are driving to achieve, within the realms of the funding, and we are seeing delivery across the country. We are committed to working with local authorities, including Cornwall, to understand the specific challenges. As I have said, every area is slightly different and sometimes there is a different solution for every area. We have to understand those things so that we can work effectively with the local authorities so that they can deliver that change and we can achieve our objectives.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June). 

Point of Order

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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13:34
Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 13 October, I submitted a named day written question to the Cabinet Office on whether contractor relief identical to that set out in procurement policy note 02/20 would be given from 31 October, given the ongoing covid outbreak. Nearly a month later, I still have not received a response, and I submitted a named day written question on 5 November asking when my initial named day written question would be answered, but I still have not had a response to that. So, Madam Deputy Speaker, please can you advise me on how I can elicit a response from the Minister for the Cabinet Office on this really important issue?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I am very concerned to hear what the hon. Lady has to say, and I suspect from my own experience as a constituency Member of Parliament that a great many Members around the House are having the same experience as the hon. Lady. [Hon. Members: “Yes.”] I see that almost everyone present in the Chamber is showing their assent. Mr Speaker has made it clear on several previous occasions that Departments must do better in answering questions from hon. Members. We all appreciate that many people are having to work from home and in rather more difficult circumstances than usual, but it should not be wrong of us to expect a certain degree of efficiency from professional civil servants, so the delay to which the hon. Lady refers is unsatisfactory.

I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench will have heard the hon. Lady’s concerns, my concerns, Mr Speaker’s concerns and the echo all around the Chamber of almost every hon. Member: this is happening far too often. The hon. Lady may wish to write to the Leader of the House, and I certainly in answering this question right now hope to draw to the attention of the Leader of the House this predicament.

The Leader of the House said in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter):

“Named day questions must be answered within the named day period…and questions should be being dealt with in timely fashion.”—[Official Report, 5 November 2020; Vol. 693, c. 495.]

I am quite sure that the Leader of the House will be cognisant of the fact that almost every Member of this place shares the experience that the hon. Lady has just described and that he will take steps to ensure that his ministerial colleagues answer their questions in a timely fashion and that those who are supposed to support them do so efficiently.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next item of business, I will suspend the House for three minutes.

13:37
Sitting suspended. 
Bill Presented
National Security and Investment Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Alok Sharma, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Dominic Raab, Secretary Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Secretary Ben Wallace, Secretary Liz Truss, Secretary Oliver Dowden and Nadhim Zahawi, presented a Bill to make provision for the making of orders in connection with national security risks arising from the acquisition of control over certain types of entities and assets; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 210) with explanatory notes (Bill 210-EN).

Supported Housing (Regulation)

1st reading & 1st reading: House of Commons
Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
13:41
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate supported housing; to make provision about local authority oversight and the enforcement of standards of accommodation and support in supported housing; to prohibit the placing of children in care in unregulated accommodation; and for connected purposes.

We quite rightly in this country have a regulatory system in place for care homes through the Care Quality Commission. In Scotland, as I understand it, the Care Commission also covers supported housing. I am calling for the same to happen in England for hostels, refuges and other accommodation for people with support needs, so that vulnerable people are housed only in decent, safe accommodation where they will get the support they need and where unscrupulous landlords will no longer be able to exploit them to make a quick buck through the housing benefit system.

I stress that there are many respectable, decent providers of supported housing out there, and I appreciate that theirs is not an easy job. In particular, I pay tribute to the work they have done during this pandemic, with local authorities, to house rough sleepers. Sadly, however, not all providers are like that. Because the local housing allowance is so low in places like Bristol, for some private landlords with an eye to profit, renting at the usual rates has little appeal when, if they convert to supported housing, they can charge much more. They only have to provide a level of support that is “more than minimal” to qualify for an exemption that can get them the enhanced rates of housing benefit that make it so attractive to them.

The situation at Wick House, a large supported housing project in my constituency, is why I got involved, in particular the death of residents—there have been seven deaths since a particular charity began running the place—and in particular the deaths of George Mahoney, whose body was found in a pool of blood in 2016, and Paul Way, who died in 2017 and whose body, despite it being supported accommodation, was not found for three days.

One former worker at the hostel shared with me emails he sent to George’s family after his death in which he describes the living conditions. He talks about visible bed bugs on residents. He said that the Salvation Army would fumigate the kit of anyone coming from Wick House. He spoke of the “employment of career criminals”, the victimisation of vulnerable residents and his concern for women living there, saying:

“there is quite a lot of sexual activity in a drunken/drugged and prostituted state.”

He described a “woeful” lack of support: a visit once a fortnight from a local drugs project and from a mental health team for certain residents, but that was it. He also said—I stress this was back in 2017—that the management

“can’t claim not to know about it—they are facilitating it. I don’t really care whether this is deliberate or accidental, it’s still happening and it needs to be stopped, not ignored.”

What many of us came to realise, however, was how little power anyone had to stop them. When a council commissions supported housing, control can be exercised through the contract, but with such an uncommissioned service, Bristol Council was really limited in what it could do. The council did refuse to refer people to Wick House, and both it and I urged prison and probation services to do likewise, but Wick House did not find it difficult to fill its rooms with self-referrals and referrals from outside the local area.

In 2017, the landlord attempted to increase the rent from £125 to £343 per tenant, resulting in tribunal proceedings in which the judge, by consent order, reduced it to £170. The management responded by expanding Wick House from 47 residents to 87, cramming them in to recoup the lost income. Even though Wick House was in breach of planning rules, the council still had to pay housing benefit for all 87 tenants regardless, and tried to enforce measures on the breach.

In September 2019, the Charity Commission published a report on Bristol Sheltered Accommodation & Support—the charity that ran Wick House. It found a failure to report serious incidents, including the death of a resident; unauthorised salary payments to trustees; poor financial controls; and unmanaged conflicts of interest. A new charity is now running Wick House. At the time, the Charity Commission warned that the investigations had brought to light wider issues around the regulation of supported housing that limited its ability to hold charities providing such accommodation to account.

It is quite clear that this is not an isolated case, and many colleagues have expressed similar concerns, particularly in cities. In September this year, The Sunday Telegraph published a piece on suburban family homes that were being converted into unlicensed bail hostels—again, the motivation was landlords wanting to get their hands on higher housing-benefit payments. The article said:

“Such family homes contain a volatile mix of ex-prisoners, drug addicts, those with severe mental health issues, refugees and women fleeing domestic abuse.”

Bail hostels that are classed as approved premises are tightly regulated, but their unregulated equivalents are not, and providers can often get away with little to no supervision or support. The West Midlands police and crime commissioner said:

“Regulation needs to come from central government. At the moment, the law is quite free and easy around these areas. Some of these landlords are actually criminals who are making money out of people’s misery.”

The Bill seeks to protect young people. The recent report, “Unregulated”, by the Children’s Commissioner, revealed that 12,800 children in care —or one in eight—spent some time in an unregulated placement that was not registered with Ofsted in 2018-19. They are usually older teens, but there are some under-16s and children with high needs. They are housed in independent or semi-independent accommodation with limited support that is not regulated by the quality inspectorate. The accommodation might be a flat, hostel or bedsit. Even worse, in some cases, it might be a caravan, tent or barge. Children who are supposedly in care are left to fend for themselves with limited support from key workers—perhaps five hours a week or fewer. Young people use words such as “disgusting”, “absolutely terrible” and “like a prison cell” to describe their living arrangements. In some instances, they end up living alongside vulnerable adults, who have their own difficulties, or in placements where they are exposed to the risk of exploitation and other negative influences. The Children’s Commissioner has called for the use of semi-independent and independent provision to be made illegal for all children in care and for the regulation of unregulated settings. That is included within the scope of the Bill.

There has been growing awareness in recent years, but little action. In May 2017, for example, in a joint report on the future of supported housing, the Committees on Communities and Local Government and on Work and Pensions recommended that the Government should establish a set of national standards to enable monitoring of quality provision in all supported housing in England and Wales. They said that all providers should be registered with a local authority, whether or not their services had been commissioned locally, and that local authorities should undertake annual inspections of all supported housing schemes in their area to ensure a minimum standard of provision.

In response, the Government committed to working with local authorities on how they might best ensure decent and appropriate standards. Very little happened until three years later. Last month, on 20 October, we suddenly saw some movement from the Government. Five pilots in priority areas—Birmingham, Hull, Blackpool, Blackburn and Bristol—will be funded to the tune of £3 million for collaborative working between local partners to test different approaches on greater oversight and enforcement of higher standards in non-commissioned provision. That has been accompanied by the publication of a statement of national expectations that focuses on accommodation.

I am pleased that Bristol was chosen for one of the pilot schemes, and that the Government recognise the good work that Bristol City Council has done. The funding will give the council the opportunity to carry out a quality check on the city’s non-commissioned sector involving a team from environmental health, safeguarding, support review officers and housing benefits to help identify the problems and take what enforcement action we can. However, for reasons I have already set out, I have my doubts about whether a voluntary approach is enough. Local authorities do not have sufficient powers to enforce standards—which are only expected standards, anyway—and while many decent providers will be happy to co-operate, those in it purely for the money will not do so.

Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness recently told The Big Issue that the new measures were “nowhere near” enough. She said that

“40% of the deaths we recorded in 2019 occurred when a person was in emergency or temporary accommodation, and our research clearly shows these tragedies will continue without real action”.

She questioned whether providers would really take time to follow recommended guidelines and was concerned that private landlords and providers, who account for 86% of the £1.1 billion temporary accommodation industry, had not even been identified as supported housing providers in the policy. I think the Government—or at least some Ministers—recognise the flaws in the voluntary approach and view the pilots, which run only for six months, as an evidence-gathering exercise, which I hope will inform future regulation.

I have had Ministers from three different Departments acknowledge in one way or another the need to address the concerns I have raised. I am meeting two more Ministers, including the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who is in her place today, before the end of the month to discuss what can be done. Across the Atlantic, we have seen a new expression of a desire for bipartisan working in difficult times and, despite our many differences across the House, people would want to see the same approach from us on an issue such as this.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Kerry McCarthy, Mr Clive Betts, Shabana Mahmood, Steve McCabe, Bob Blackman, Helen Hayes, Fleur Anderson, Tim Loughton, Andrew Selous, Mohammad Yasin, Munira Wilson and Andrew Gwynne present the Bill.

Kerry McCarthy accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time on Friday 15 January, and to be printed (Bill 212).

Remembrance, UK Armed Forces and Society

Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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[Relevant documents: e-petition 332503, entitled Enshrine the Military Covenant in UK Law; Eleventh Report of the Defence Committee, Session 2017-19, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2018, HC 1899, and the Government Response, First Special Report of the Committee, HC 162; and Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 22 April 2020 on introductory Session with the Defence Secretary, HC 295, on 7 July 2020 on work of the Chief of the Defence Staff, HC 594, and on 13 October 2020 on work of the Service Complaints Ombudsman, HC 881, and written evidence from the Service Complaints Ombudsman, HC 881.]
13:51
James Heappey Portrait The Minister for the Armed Forces (James Heappey)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered remembrance, UK armed forces and society.

It is a real honour for me to open the debate not only as the Minister for the Armed Forces in the Ministry of Defence but as someone who has served on four operational tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. I hope that, at the end of my remarks, the House will indulge me in giving some personal reflections on the meaning of remembrance.

Before that, I want to draw your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the call list for the debate, which would make for a formidable half-company, should the nation ever call for us. The number of colleagues in the House who have served underlines the affinity between this place and our nation’s armed forces. A Defence Minister can often reflect on how the partisan hullabaloo of other areas of policy rarely encroaches on how we debate defence in this place. I know, as someone who served in at least two operational theatres that caused some political disagreement, that it really matters that this place not only robustly debates how and where we use our armed forces but does so always in a tone that makes those doing this place’s bidding in dangerous and dusty places realise that everybody in this House has the interests of our armed forces at heart, even when we disagree on how best to use them. I therefore look forward to another characteristically respectful and constructive debate.

It is an honour to take part in this debate on Armistice Day. This is a particularly significant year for remembrance. We are commemorating a century on from the installation of the Cenotaph, and we are marking 100 years since the interring of the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey. That soldier represents the multitudes who gave their lives in the great war: a soldier buried

“among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward His house”.

Of course, this year we are also celebrating 75 years since the end of world war two.

Inevitably, due to covid, we have had to mark remembrance differently. On Sunday, instead of tens of thousands marching past the Cenotaph, just 26 veterans took part. Instead of people congregating on Whitehall in their thousands, the streets were quiet and still. The remembrance ceremony that I attended in my constituency this year was in Burnham-on-Sea. We attended in small numbers, I with the chairman of the Royal British Legion; at 9 am we laid our wreath, followed shortly afterwards by a group of councillors.

I actually thought it was quite poignant that things should be remembered in that way, but it also meant, for the first time in a long time for many of us, that we were at home at 11 o’clock and able to watch on television the coverage of the ceremony at the Cenotaph. It was the first time I had seen it for a number of years, and I congratulate all those who put together such a poignant and reflective ceremony worthy of the magnitude of that occasion, while respecting the constraints that we are under because of covid. For all that we bash the BBC, particularly from the Government side of the House, I thought that it got both its coverage and its commentary spot-on on Sunday.

It was also important, I thought, that we had a moment of remembrance this morning in the House. I know that the nation will have looked to us, as well as to the Cenotaph on Whitehall and to Westminster Abbey, for leadership at this important moment in the year. It was great to see that marked here in the Chamber.

There are three points that I want to make today: our appreciation of the support our armed forces receive from the public at large, from the service charities, and from the Royal British Legion in particular; our admiration for the service of those who continue to put their lives on the line in the defence of our great nation; and our reverence for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy our freedom.

When I was in Afghanistan and Iraq, every time that we received a delivery of mail, there would be all the mail from our family and friends but there would also be hundreds of letters and parcels from people with no connection to the armed forces beyond their admiration for what young men and women were willing to go away to do. I can tell the House that when we were in remote operating bases such as I was in Sangin, the fact that somebody had taken the time to write a letter to a soldier they did not know, or to send some biscuits or sweets, meant an enormous amount. It reminds our armed forces always just how close they are to our nation’s hearts.

We have seen that ourselves in our constituencies over the last few months, where soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen and marines have been delivering testing centres, delivering personal protective equipment to the local hospital or, earlier in the year, stuffing sandbags. I can tell the House how much it means to our men and women when members of the community just go up and say, “Thank you. Well done. You’re doing a great job.” People do that, unprompted, because they admire those who wear the uniform of our armed forces in the service of our nation.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister refers to what happened in Afghanistan—the letters and things that went there. Seven years ago, I had the opportunity to represent my party in Afghanistan in meeting the Royal Irish Regiment. I knew their love of Tayto potato crisps, so I took lots of them with me and gave them out to the soldiers, both male and female, who were there. That brought them close to home, and that is really important whenever they are in Afghanistan serving their Queen and country.

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member is a keen supporter of our armed forces, and I can tell him that the great pleasure of serving in his beautiful corner of the world, as I have done, is not the stunning landscape or the Bushmills, but the Tayto chips in our packed lunches on the ranges.

Beyond the support of the community are our amazing service charities. So many of them do great work for our armed forces all year round, but at this time of year it is particularly important to reflect on the contribution of the Royal British Legion and the importance of its poppy appeal. It is an amazing commitment from poppy collectors all over the country that normally they go out in all weathers, from dawn till dusk, to sell poppies wherever they can. This year, of course, they have been more limited in what they have been able to do, but again and again I have seen in my constituency, and I know colleagues will have seen likewise, that they have done everything they can—within the law—to get out and raise as much money as they can for this important cause. We are all hugely grateful to them for doing so. I know that we would all want anybody watching today’s proceedings or reflecting on the fact that today is Armistice Day and they are yet to get their poppy to know that there is still time and that their money makes a real difference, in looking after both the families of those who have given their lives in conflict and those who have been forever scarred by their service.

That leads me to the service of our armed forces and the unlimited liability that they accept in the service of our nation—to do anything, anywhere, at any time, if this House and Her Majesty’s Government will it. That is an extraordinary thing to sign up and do. Some of us have done it for a few years. Some of us have done it for entire careers. Some of us have not done it at all, but to those who continue to serve, what matters is not whether a person has served but that they pause and reflect that as they go on with their life, and as their family are leading their lives, those who serve have accepted a responsibility on behalf of the nation to drop everything and leave at any moment to go and do whatever the nation requires anywhere in the world. That is an amazing act of selflessness that we should all be grateful for.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talks about years of service. I wonder whether he would commend and congratulate my constituent, Mrs Barbara McGregor, who is due to retire in January next year after 44 years of service in the Royal Navy to Queen and country. Mrs McGregor is taking part in Armistice services this week, and she was meant to be leading the parade march in the Bridgend county borough this weekend but was not able to. Would the Minister commend her and congratulate her on her service, and on the fact that she has put everything—Queen and country—as a sole focus of her entire service in the Navy?

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituent on the longevity of her service and remark on what an amazing lifetime of commitment that is, with all the moments for her family, within her community and for her friends that she missed because she put her service of our country first. It is a quite extraordinary commitment, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for raising it in the House this afternoon.

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to see fast jet pilots serving in different corners of the European theatre, going out on missions where split-second decisions can be the difference between mission success and catastrophe. I visited helicopter crews in Mali operating in austere conditions, where it is dusty and dangerous and it is pretty hard to keep the Chinooks flying. I have seen air transport squadrons flying day after day and night after night to maintain the extraordinary efforts of our nation’s armed forces around the globe. I have seen troops operating in Estonia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and others on Salisbury plain preparing for a new deployment to Mali next month. I have seen training teams, big and small, working with our partners around the world.

The Royal Navy has had ships recently in the Barents sea, the Black sea, the eastern Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, the Gulf and the Indian ocean. Our sailors and Royal Marines right now are responding to the humanitarian disaster that has followed in the wake of recent hurricanes in the Caribbean. We are rebuilding our sovereign carrier strike capability, and yesterday, I had the enormous honour of seeing the awe-inspiring work of Her Majesty’s Submarine Service, who keep our continuous at-sea deterrent hidden from view—silent but utterly deadly, and non-stop for 51 years.

That would just be business as usual for Defence, but this year, there has been an extraordinary contribution in supporting the Government’s response to covid as well. As we emerge from the covid crisis, there is an expectation that instability will follow in its wake, so our armed forces can look forward to even more activity in even more uncertain parts of the world, reassuring our allies, deterring our adversaries, demonstrating our resolve to uphold a rules-based international system and destroying those who mean us harm when they have to.

There are also a vast number of people who have served in our nation’s armed forces and who we must now look after as veterans. I pay tribute to the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), for all the work that he does in that regard. Our veterans community matters enormously. They are an important part of the moral component of fighting power. If you are serving in the armed forces now, your confidence to act decisively on behalf of the nation is motivated by how you see the nation supporting its veterans back at home at that time. You want to know that if you get hurt, or take a decision, the Government and the nation will stand behind you for the rest of your life, and that is a commitment that this Government are proud to make.

Finally, sacrifice. Last week I was in Egypt visiting HMS Albion, which was in Alexandria after a successful deployment to the eastern Mediterranean. While I was up on the north coast of Egypt, I went to the cemetery at El Alamein. Like all Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, it was immaculately maintained. It was vast, and all over it were grouped graves, which I understand is symptomatic of an armoured battle where entire tank crews or armoured personnel carrier crews died in one go. Very often their remains were almost impossible to separate, so they were buried with four or five headstones immediately adjacent to one another. That makes one pause and reflect on the horror of a battle of that intensity.

Then, as in so many other Commonwealth war graves cemeteries around the world, there were the unmarked graves of those who we will never know exactly who they were and who lie now underneath foreign soil to be remembered anonymously for all time. Then there were the Commonwealth graves, thousands of them, reminding us that this was an effort not just from all corners of the United Kingdom but from all corners of the Commonwealth. It was pleasing, therefore, to see that in Commonwealth war graves cemeteries around the world and in our embassies and high commissions on Sunday, there were moments of remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of so many from other countries in the defence of our great nation.

This year, marking 75 years since the end of the second world war, has been a great opportunity for us to reflect not only on victory in Europe but on victory in Japan. That Pacific campaign is so often the one that is spoken about less, yet the acts of heroism and derring-do were no less important. Indeed, in many of the stories I have heard, the deprivation was far greater because of the environment in which the forces were operating. Since then, brave servicemen and women from the United Kingdom have given their lives in Korea, the Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is on those last two conflicts that I have my own personal reflections.

When you join up, you know there is a risk that the moment might come when you have to put yourself in a position where you might lose your life. When you stand there at Sandhurst, Dartmouth, Cranwell, Catterick or HMS Raleigh and the flag is there and the Queen is on the wall and the Bible is put in your hand, you are filled with confidence that you are on a career path that is worthy and great, but when you are behind a wall and the rounds are hitting the other side or an improvised explosive device has just gone off and you know that you have to stand up close with the enemy and do your duty, that is a moment when you realise a lot about yourself. It is also a moment, sadly, from which people do not always return, and their loss is something that I feel keenly every time I pause and reflect on my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I know that for the entire veterans community there will be a face that is in their minds when the Last Post is blown and the two minutes’ silence is followed. In communities across the country, there will be people who are remembered because they were there one month and then, six months later when their friends and comrades returned, there were no longer there. They were just a name on a war memorial. Those names are lives cut down in their prime and as we pause, over Remembrance Weekend and on Armistice Day today, let us never forget that they turned up at a recruiting office and embarked on their military careers, believing that what they were going to do would make a difference for our country and protect our freedom. They knew in the back of their mind that perhaps they might be called upon to give their life, but they hoped and even expected that it would never be them. Hundreds of thousands have answered our nation’s call and given their lives in doing so. We will remember them.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Before I call the spokesman for the Opposition, I thank the Minister for his brevity in his opening speech. It will be obvious that there are over 50 colleagues trying to catch my eye, and that we have only three hours for this debate. I therefore have to start with a time limit on Back Bench speeches of six minutes. That will be reduced later in the debate, and people who are further down the list must recognise the reality that they are unlikely to be called, but I am happy to call John Healey.

14:10
John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have to say that it is an honour to follow the Minister and his moving speech this afternoon, and I pay tribute to him for his four tours of duty and his decade of service in the Rifles, just as I pay tribute to the service that other hon. Members in all parts of this House have given to our armed forces. Parliament is all the better for Members who have committed service in the forces, and this House is also all the better for the service of Members who are committed to the forces. I look forward to the contributions to this afternoon’s debate of many of those hon. Members who are on the long call list.

As we did this morning in this Chamber, this is indeed the moment we commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when hostilities ceased in 1918. It is the focus of our national remembrance each year: the moment the nation comes together to honour those who have served, those who have fought to keep us safe, and above all, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives so that the rest of us may continue to enjoy the freedoms we do today. The Minister put it far more eloquently than many of the rest of us can, but the men and women who wear a British military uniform make a unique commitment to, if needed, put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us. I want this day’s debate to recall not just the lives of those lost in the two world wars, but those of the 7,190 UK service personnel who have died in operations since 1945.

I was reminded of this on Sunday, when I, like the Minister, was proud to lay a wreath alongside the president of our local British Legion branch in Rotherham. His name is Ron Moffett; he served for more than 20 years in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and he talked to me of comrades he had lost in Northern Ireland, in the Falklands, in Afghanistan, and in Germany in training. I want my relatively brief remarks in this debate to concentrate on the ordinary servicemen and women: on their extraordinary sense of duty, and on our duty, in turn, to them.

The Minister was right to say that remembrance has a particular poignancy this year. During 2020, we have marked 75 years since the end of the second world war—VE Day and VJ Day—and 80 years since the battle of Britain, and we have all been forced to find new ways to remember: ways that are perhaps more private, but no less important and no less personal. This year, we have also seen the hallmark values that have been there in generations of our forces personnel come to the fore again, as our troops have stood alongside frontline workers in the fight against the covid virus. I have said to the Defence Secretary that during this new national lockdown in England and the national vaccination challenge ahead, if the Government are willing to make further use of our forces in this fight, they will have our full support and strong backing from the public. The system that we have of military assistance to civil authorities is sound. It has been used 341 times for covid help since mid-March and 41 agreements are still in place, but people want to know now what the plan is. They have a right to know, and they also have a right to regular ministerial reporting on such decisions. I say to the Minister that I hope he and his colleagues will do this, because it will also help better understanding and better support for our military.

The Chief of the Defence Staff was right when he said recently that this should worry us all. He said that the level of understanding about our armed forces is at “an unprecedented low.” That is borne out by research that the British Forces Broadcasting Service published in June, which confirmed that 68% of the population do not know what the military actually do when they are not in combat. One third had no idea that our military play a part in thwarting terrorism or dealing with the aftermath of floods, and 53% believe that they use battle tanks to get around on a daily basis.

John Healey Portrait John Healey
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The hon. Gentleman is harking back to the days when perhaps he did use battle tanks on a daily basis, but I think we are a little short of tanks to go round these days.

On a serious point, the number of veterans in society is set to fall by a third during this decade. It is clear to me that we must do more at all levels to reinforce our country’s understanding of and commitment to our armed forces.

On cadets, community cadet numbers have been falling and we cannot just rely on private schools. We can do more to reinvest in more community cadet forces. We now rely more on the professional expertise and skills of reservists, but the numbers are still below target, and we can do more to make recruitment better and employer support stronger.

On resilience, the covid pandemic has demonstrated that national resilience is an important part of national defence, and we can do more to strengthen Britain’s total deterrence, with large-scale joint civil, corporate and military exercises. On veterans, the Office for Veterans’ Affairs was a welcome step last year, but we can do more to make the UK the best place to be a veteran by enshrining the armed forces covenant in law. I say constructively and respectfully to the Minister that if the Government are willing to take those steps, they will have our full support to do so.

In this debate, we rightly celebrate the national pride we have in our military personnel, full-time and reservist. They are respected around the world for their professionalism and their all-round excellence, but I say again constructively and respectfully that if Ministers talk up our armed forces, they must also account for the declines there have been in the past decade or two. Since 2010, our full-time forces numbers are down by 40,000. Our military has never been smaller since we fought Napoleon 200 years ago. Forces pay is down, forces recruitment is down and forces morale is down. One in four military personnel now say they plan to quit before the end of their contract.

In 2015, the strategic defence review, in 89 pages, devoted just one and a half pages to personnel. Just like the 2010 defence review, it was largely a cover for cuts, which is why our armed forces are nearly 12,000 short of the strength promised in that 2015 review. It is why essential equipment, from new tanks to the radar system to protect our new aircraft carriers, is long overdue, and it is why our defence budget has a £13 billion black hole.

The Defence Secretary has rightly said that previous reviews

“failed because they were never in step with the spending plans”.—[Official Report, 6 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 647.]

Both sides of the House recognise that the Chancellor cut the ground from under the Defence Secretary when he postponed this year’s comprehensive spending review, but we also know that our adversaries will not pause. They confront us with continuous and constantly developing threats that no longer conform to any distinction between peace and war and are no longer confined to the land, sea and air domains of conventional warfare. So the Government’s integrated review is needed now more than ever.

As we move, as the Defence Secretary has put it, from “industrial age” to “information age” warfare, we must never neglect one fact: at the heart of our defence and security remain our forces personnel. Autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence and robotics will all become more and more widespread in the years ahead, but the essential utility of the men and women of our armed forces will remain central. Whether it is the frontline forces personnel doing city-wide covid testing in Liverpool or the special forces who took back control of the Nave Andromeda in the English channel last month, these are only the most recent reminders that although high-tech systems are essential, our highly trained British troops are indispensable. When the Chief of the Defence Staff launched our important new military doctrine, the military integrated operating concept, in September, he stressed that it

“emphasises the importance of our people—who have always been, and always will be, our adaptive edge.”

We honour them and we remember them.

14:21
Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. Defence is a subject that we do not discuss enough, so I suspect that, just as the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said, we will wander away from giving gratitude to those in the past and look at some future challenges. I am pleased to see my fellow Rifleman, the Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), in his place. The whole House joins him in saying thank you to our gallant, brave warriors, who have defended our shores, skies and interests over the years. It is important that despite the pandemic, we are able to continue to say thank you.

We pay tribute to those in the past, whom we all appreciate. I recall sitting on my grandfather’s knee when he explained the first world war medals that he had been awarded. That created a bond with me that has never gone away. It perhaps influenced me in stepping forward, wanting to serve. That link between myself and those in the armed forces is different from that between society and our armed forces today, as our armed forces have shrunk. We have seen vivid illustrations of some perceptions of what they now do, so part of what we are doing today is about educating the next generation on the importance and value that we in Britain bestow on our armed forces, which is perhaps uniquely different from what happens in other countries around the world.

Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
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On the work that our armed forces do today—other Members have mentioned their immense contribution during the covid crisis—will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the British Army units based in Wiltshire, on Salisbury plain, in my constituency, which is of course the home of the British Army, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) might like to say? Would my right hon. Friend also welcome, as I would, a welcome home parade, which might be organised by the Houses of Parliament, for soldiers once the covid crisis is behind us, to honour troops who have contributed to tackling it, just as we honour the contributions of troops who have been deployed overseas?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
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I am grateful for that intervention and I was pleased to see the Minister nodding as my hon. Friend was speaking. That is exactly what we did with troops returning from Afghanistan and it is another way to engage with the public. I do not dare go down this avenue too much, but in reporting the great work being done in Liverpool the BBC had to give a health warning to say, “You are about to see images of armed forces on the streets in Liverpool. Please do not be worried.” That is a testament to how much work we need to do to change the culture that is building up in this country.

On the pandemic, I am afraid that I do concur with the view, as I said yesterday, that, while the military is doing fantastic work across the country with regard to logistics, transport and so forth, it is an under-utilised asset when it comes to emergency planning, crisis management and strategic thinking. Some of the decisions that have been made by this Government have, I am afraid, been clunky. The best decision makers and strategists that we have are in the Ministry of Defence, yet there is not a military person to be seen in the quad, the top decision-making body dealing with this pandemic.

On the issue of veterans, which came up in Prime Minister’s questions, I simply underline the pressure that our service charities are currently facing. One fifth of them may go out of business by Christmas. They are not able to raise the funds that they need. We will be breaching the armed forces covenant unless we are able to provide that support. I hope the Prime Minister is listening. It is something that I raised at the Liaison Committee. It is so important to recognise that, from their own surveys, mental health issues have increased by 75% and loneliness by 70%. These are issues that we need to embrace and recognise.

We can all see that, internationally, we are in a very interesting place. We have a United States that is now waking up to recognise that it needs to improve its global leadership. We need to be in the room as that happens, because, over the past 10 years, there has been a demise in what the west stands for, what we believe in and what we are willing to defend and our wily adversaries, not least China, have taken advantage of that. We have not even had our integrated review yet. We do not even know what we stand for, what we believe in, and where we want to go. Please, Minister, and I know you believe this yourself, get that integrated review done. We cannot even work out how many tanks or aeroplanes we will have, let alone our going over to the United States to say that our thought leadership is the best in the world, our soft power is the best in the world. It will not take us seriously unless we complete that review and it is fully funded. I make the case—Madam Deputy Speaker, I can see that you are already looking at me in that way—that this is a day when we say thank you to our armed forces for the past and a day, I hope, when all of us will be resolute in defending, supporting and urging the Ministers on to say, “Let’s invest in the future of our armed forces”, so that we can be as proud of them in the future as we have been in the past.

00:06
David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Chair of the Defence Committee. It is also an honour to speak in today’s debate on behalf of the Scottish National party. I want to start by placing on the record our grateful thanks to all service personnel for their commitment to defending these islands.

Like many other hon. Members, I marked Remembrance Sunday in my own constituency at the weekend. In Parkhead, the Eastern Necropolis includes the graves of 76 soldiers who died in the first world war and of 32 soldiers who died in the second world war. These 108 graves of soldiers serve as a reminder to me of the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to fight for us to live in a peaceful and tolerant society. Although these soldiers were laid to rest in Glasgow, many soldiers did not, of course, return home. A total of 134,712 Scottish men and women died in world war one. According to the most recent assessment, 26% of all Scots who went abroad in the war effort did not return to Scotland. We are unified in remembrance of the selflessness, heroism and the personal sacrifices endured by millions during and since world war one.

In remembering the horrors of the first and second world wars, we should reaffirm their commitment to peace, fairness and the rule of law. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) is currently stuck in Committee at the moment so cannot be here, but she wanted to place on record her thanks to the Bridgeton Cross VC memorial group to remember Private Henry May who rescued two comrades under machine gun fire as well as others lost from the local community.

 

 

While remembering the past, we must also consider what support we currently provide for our service personnel and veterans across the UK, many of whom face an array of challenges from mental health to homelessness. I am privileged to have a top-class Scottish veterans’ residence complex in my constituency in Cranhill, and it is an honour for me to be wearing their tie for today’s debate. However, as politicians, it is our responsibility to ensure that when veterans return to civilian life in our communities, they are supported through this transition. We know that service personnel are more likely to suffer from problems surrounding mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, 6% of all ex-military personnel suffer from PTSD. Mental health support must be made readily available for all, without any judgment or stigma attached—I hear that message time and again at my bespoke veterans’ surgery in Cranhill. Last year, the No Homeless Veterans campaign identified 3,500 veterans who were experiencing homelessness, either sofa-surfing, living in temporary accommodation or even sleeping rough. As the SNP spokesperson for housing in this place, I believe it is important to highlight this ever-present issue and to ensure that no veteran experiences homelessness.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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I commend what the hon. Gentleman is saying and thank the many local authorities that are putting veterans at the top of their list of people prioritised for council housing. Reading Borough Council has done so and I encourage other local authorities to do the same. It is important that we respect veterans in that way and provide them with the homes that they need once they have finished their service.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and commend the support that has been provided by Reading Borough Council. At this juncture, I also pay tribute to Phil Greene, formerly of Glasgow City Council in my own patch, who has done a sterling job on that issue as well.

Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for former servicemen and women, found that service personnel were waiting until their 60s to receive help for alcohol and substance abuse. With understandable pride deterring former service personnel, many delay seeking the help that they need.

I am proud of all the work that the SNP-led Scottish Government are doing to support ex-service personnel across Scotland, including the appointment of the Scottish Veterans Commissioner—the first person to hold such a position in the UK. The Scottish Veterans Fund has been established to support projects that provide a wide range of advice and practical support to veterans across Scotland, and to support the creation of an armed forces union to be a voice for the wide range of interests, concerns and identities within the forces community. On that note, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), who led the way with his ten-minute rule Bill on that subject.

On a personal note, I am proud to be a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, alongside the Royal Air Force. The scheme is led by Wing Commander Greg Smith and the programme has given me a unique window on the lives of service personnel and the challenges that they face as part of their service. When I went to RAF Leeming, it really struck me to see people operating drones from inside what was almost a metal tin. When I considered the intensity of the work that they were doing in there and the fact that they still go home to a normal civilian household, it really reaffirmed some of the challenges that our serving personnel face in the light of a changing landscape. It is important to understand the hardships faced by many veterans, both in service and in the return to civilian life. We should always look to ensure that every possible support is available to them.

As others have said, Remembrance Sunday has been very different this year. With covid-19 restrictions in place, we were not able to gather all together as a community to reflect and to remember all those who died in military service. However, we found ways to commemorate the fallen with private services, and landmarks across Scotland have been lit up red to raise awareness of the poppy appeal. It is right that Members put on the record their concerns about some of the funding for such organisations—indeed, Gordon Michie, head of fundraising at Poppyscotland said recently:

“This has been one of the most challenging years in the history of Poppy Scotland, but the breadth of landmarks and businesses involved in this campaign shows that Scotland still stands shoulder to shoulder with our country’s service personnel.”

During this Covid-19 public health crisis, it is important to recognise that the wars we fought decades ago did not eliminate conflict and suffering. Today, millions still suffer because of wars and atrocities, and societies are arguably more divided than ever, but we must all reflect on the lessons of the first and second world wars. In particular, Governments must remember that peace and tolerance must prevail over hatred and conflict. Everyone in this House must consider how we can use our influence to better prevent conflict from arising and better promote the compromise and dialogue that can lead to enduring peace, safety and fairness around the world.

While I laid my wreath at the Eastern Necropolis on Sunday, I thought of the thousands of other men and women who never returned home from war. The Scottish poet Neil Munro wrote:

“Sweet be their sleep now wherever they’re lying,

Far though they be from the hills of their home.”

We will remember them.

14:34
Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Ind)
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Because we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of world war two, I shall concentrate entirely on that conflict. Madam Deputy Speaker, I know that you are quietly but rightly proud of your father’s brave record of fighting in the second world war, but as the years and decades go by, fewer and fewer people have that sort of direct personal knowledge. In the limited time available, I would like to take one brief example from each year of the second world war, to try to humanise the picture a little bit for those who do not have the sort of personal connection that I just described.

Let us take, for example, November 1939. A converted passenger liner, HMS Rawalpindi, found herself trapped by two of the largest and most deadly ships in the German navy: the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. The captain of HMS Rawalpindi was Captain Edward Kennedy, who was 60 years old. He had come out of retirement after his service in the first world war and between the wars to re-enlist. Rather than surrender, he took on those two deadly ships, and the Rawalpindi, as was entirely predictable, went down with all flags flying and with few survivors. I am going to develop that theme, which is that many of these events are not necessarily successful, but that does not mean that they are not ultimately setting standards for inspiring their fellow service personnel, their comrades and future generations. They certainly inspired me.

We move forward from Captain Kennedy—who, incidentally, was father of the late Sir Ludovic Kennedy—to November 1940. In 1940, another converted passenger liner, HMS Jervis Bay, was escorting a convoy of nearly 40 ships. The Jervis Bay found herself standing between that convoy and the German pocket battleship the Admiral Scheer. The convoy was instructed to scatter, and Captain Fogarty Fegen, who was the commander of the Jervis Bay, steamed towards certain death and destruction and saved three quarters of the ships in that convoy. There was a time when the names “Rawalpindi” and “Jervis Bay” were known throughout the land, and it is important that we periodically remind ourselves of these inspirational examples where people sacrificed themselves doing the right thing, even though they knew they had little or no chance of survival.

On a happier note, we turn to May 1941, when HMS Bulldog is a member of a flotilla of anti-submarine escorts that bring to the surface the U-110. My late friend, the then 20-year-old Sub-Lieutenant David Balme, heads up a rowing boat of half a dozen sailors. They get on board the U-110 submarine, which has been forced to the surface. They go down, not knowing whether the submarine will blow up from scuttling charges or whether there are people waiting armed at the foot of the conning tower ladder as they climb down, unable to defend themselves. They recover the Enigma machine and the code books and thus make a vital contribution to the winning of the battle of the Atlantic.

Then we come back to the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. It is February 1942, and half a dozen clapped-out, obsolete Swordfish biplanes take on the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau as they sail up the English channel with enormous air cover. Of those six biplanes, all six were shot down. Five of the aircrew survived the operation and four survived the war, and one of them later became my friend: Pat Kingsmill DSO. He is typical of these people who did courageous acts that were on everyone’s lips at the time, but then went on to live quiet lives—in the case of Pat Kingsmill, as an administrator in the NHS for many years.

John Healey Portrait John Healey
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I suspect that, like me, the whole House is enjoying the right hon. Gentleman’s year-by-year exposition of the second world war. I wonder whether he would accept another minute as a result of my intervention.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Lewis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is extraordinarily generous, but quite typical of the right hon. Gentleman.

We come to September 1943, and three midget submarines attack the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord. Godfrey Place, the captain of the X7, escapes from his sinking submarine, and later becomes admiral in charge of reserves. Although he was a very important figure in the Royal Navy, he still had time to meet somebody like me—a schoolboy in Swansea, when he was there on a visit—and to autograph a book about submarine escape. These little gestures from truly great men inspire young people.

We come to the last two. The airborne assault at Arnhem in September 1944 was another disaster. But Tony Hibbert MC, who later became a friend of mine through my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), went on to work throughout many years, trying to argue for civil defence and protection for this country.

Finally, Operation Meridian—the raids on the oil refineries at Palembang in Sumatra—happened in January 1945. Norman Richardson—again, a friend of mine, who sadly passed away—was commemorated on the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in the special edition of obituaries in The Daily Telegraph. He was a telegraphist air gunner. These were people who flew on a raid in January, when people in Sumatra were not expecting it, but they did not knock out all the oil refineries so they went back a few days later, when everyone was expecting them, and they did it again. They were shot down, but three quarters of Japan’s oil refining capability was lost to the Japanese war effort.

We remember them all.

14:42
Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and a particular pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).

I represent a seat in the city of Hull, which has a strong, proud and long association with our armed forces. We were also among the hardest hit during the blitz. But today I want to speak as a commissioner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I am very pleased indeed that the Minister, in his opening remarks, talked about the commission, which commemorates 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women from the United Kingdom and all over the Commonwealth who died during the two world wars.

As hon. Members will know, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was founded as the Imperial War Graves Commission by royal charter on 21 May 1917, and was renamed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in March 1960. In March this year, the Duke of Kent celebrated 50 years of unstinting service as the commission’s president. I also pay tribute to our last director general, Victoria Wallace, who left the commission in the summer.

The commission cares for the graves and memorials at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories—on every continent except Antarctica. The commission also commemorates more than 68,000 civilians who died during the second world war, by maintaining and restoring sites such as the Tower Hill memorial. Funded by six partner Governments—the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India—the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the largest gardening organisation in the world, with a total workforce of 1,300. The vast majority—more than 850—are gardeners, who between them look after the equivalent of almost 1,000 football pitches.

Our war dead deserve the highest standards, and hon. Members will know the quality of the Portland stone graves and the monuments that the commission oversees, as well as the beautifully tended cemeteries, such as the largest commission cemetery in the world at Tyne Cot in Belgium, with almost 12,000 graves, 8,300 of which are classed as “unknown”. I encourage all hon. Members, in their own constituencies and when travelling around the country or the world, to take the opportunity to visit commission sites. Encouraging the public to visit these graves also supplements the efforts of the excellent commission staff and the trained volunteers from the commission’s Eyes On, Hands On project, helping to report on and countering the effects of weather, wear and tear and, sadly, sometimes vandalism.

One restoration project I want to mention is at Runnymede. It is the Air Forces memorial, where the commission’s new charitable arm, the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, marked International Women’s Day by launching a new interactive way to explore the story of the remarkable Noor Inayat Khan, a British woman spy whose code name was “Madeleine”. She was the first female wireless operator to be sent to occupied France in the second world war to aid the French resistance.

The commission also maintains an extensive and accessible archive of all the Commonwealth war dead on its website, and in recent years the commission has opened a new award-winning visitor centre as its French HQ near Arras. However, for this 11 November—an Armistice Day like no other, as many have said—the commission is urging the public to join with it in paying tribute to the 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead through a unique act of remembrance. We encourage everyone to take a moment at 7 pm tonight to step outside, look at the stars and remember the fallen. In a few key locations, such as Plymouth, Cardiff and Edinburgh, searchlights will beam light into the night sky.

I want to salute the work of many other organisations, including the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes, in remembering our war dead and supporting veterans from many conflicts. Can I take a moment to express eternal gratitude to the veterans of all our allies across the Commonwealth and beyond, who ensured that we did not stand alone for long, particularly in 1940? They sacrificed so much, as together we liberated Europe and the world from what Prime Minister Churchill described as sinking

“into the abyss of a new dark age”.—[Official Report, 18 June 1940; Vol. 362, c. 60.]

The United States, too, was shoulder to shoulder with us on those Normandy beaches and through the decades since—the years of the cold war and the more recent challenges of terrorism, especially since 9/11—and leading by the “power of our example”, as President-elect Biden said just this week.

To conclude, remembrance is both deeply embedded in our national consciousness and personal to all of us who had parents or grandparents in the greatest generation. We remember those who did not come back. We also remember those who did come back and helped to win the peace. I remember my dad, Eric Johnson, who joined the Navy, and my mum, Ruth, who worked in a munitions factory during world war two. In my experience, they rarely talked about what they did and what they went through as young men and women, and in enjoying peace, freedom and progress, we will always owe them everything.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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After the next speaker, the limit will be reduced to five minutes, but with six minutes, I call Colonel Bob Stewart.

14:48
Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I start by quoting a poem by “Woodbine Willie”—Padre Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy:

“There are many kinds of sorrow

In this world of love and hate

But there is no keener sorrow

Than a soldier’s for his mate.”

That is very apposite for me today because I remember all the men who were killed under my command. In particular today, may I mention those killed at Ballykelly on 6 December 1982? Seventeen people were killed: six of them were civilians and 11 were soldiers. Six of the soldiers were from my own company, A Company of the Cheshires—Steven Bagshaw, Clinton Collins, Philip McDonough, David Stitt, Steven Smith and Shaw Williamson. They all died when I was present.

I was the incident commander. As I went into the wrecked building that was the Droppin Well, almost the first person I saw was a girl lying on the ground. I was horrified. Both her legs had gone, and an arm. I knelt down—horrified, again—and spoke to her: “Are you all right, darling?” She said, “I think so.” I said, “Are you hurting?” She said, “No.” I said to her, “How are you feeling?” She said, “I don’t know. What’s happened?” I said, “There’s been a bomb.” “Oh”, she said, “am I hurt?” I said, “You’re hurt.” She said, “Am I hurt very badly?” I said, “You’re hurt very badly.” She said, “Am I going to die?” Forgive me—I said, “Yes.” I could see no other way; there was blood everywhere. She said, “Am I going to die now?”, and I said, “I think you are.” She said, “Will you hold me?” I held her and she died within two minutes. I wept. She died in a state of grace. She was one of 17 killed that day.

It took me four hours to identify my six soldiers in the morgue of Altnagelvin Hospital. I went to their funerals in Cheshire—six funerals in five days, two on the Friday. At the second funeral, as I came out of St George’s church in Stockport, there was an old lady crying on the far side of the road. I crossed over. I was in uniform. I put my arm round her and I said to her, “Don’t worry—he’s out of his pain.” She said, “You don’t understand, young man.” I said, “I do understand”, because I felt inside my brain that I did understand— I was there when he died. But she read my brain—what I was thinking. She said, “No, you don’t understand. You see, I stood here when I was a little girl and watched 6th Cheshires”—I think it was 6th Cheshires; they were Cheshires—“march into that church, 900 of them. After the battle of the Somme they filled three pews. I am crying for them.” Then I understood.

One thousand, four hundred and forty-one soldiers, sailors and airmen—service personnel—died in Northern Ireland. That is more than in all the other conflicts together since, by 50%. You have to remember that.

I remember, too, my escort driver, Wayne Edwards, killed on 13 January 1993. I had given the order to escort four women to hospital through Gornji Vakuf, and he was shot through the head as he did so. I am responsible for his death.

When I came here in 2010, I went into the Tea Room and a guy comes up to me and he says, “Nice to see you, Colonel—we haven’t met since Turbe.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I was in the Bosnian Croat army. I was a sniper.” I said, “The snipers shot Staff Sergeant Steve Bristow in the head. You were a sniper.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, that’s a turn-up for the books—you’re working in the House of Commons and I arrive here and you’re actually a sniper that’s shot one of my soldiers.” He said, “Yes.” But here is the point: he was a young man doing his duty, as he saw it. He was not a criminal; he was just doing what he thought was right.

When I think of Remembrance Day, I am not just thinking of the soldiers, sailors and airmen; I am thinking of the civilians. In my own constituency, 320 civilians were killed in the second world war—more than the servicemen from my own constituency. So I am thinking of them. I am particularly thinking of the civilians too. I am thinking of that girl—one of five killed on 6 December. It saddens me that they are not here, and that is what Remembrance Day is all about.

14:54
Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart (Upper Bann) (DUP)
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May I say what an honour it is to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)? I thank him for the way in which he served and protected the people of Northern Ireland.

At this time of national reflection, we remember all those who stood, who bravely volunteered, who served with valour, who fought bravely and heroically, and who died as heroes. They did that for all for us: for this land we call home and for the freedoms this nation has and I trust will always hold dear.

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we think particularly of the horrors of the first world war. My mind turns to the battlefields of France. As a daughter of Ulster, I pause to consider the sacrifice of those who left the factories and farmlands of my homeland, of Ulster soil, and who laid down their lives on the battlefields of the Somme. On 1 July morn, as the 36th (Ulster) Division went over the top, little did they know that 5,500 would be killed, wounded or missing within two days. Two thousand five hundred would lose their lives. In the words of Sir Wilfrid Spender:

“I am not an Ulsterman, but yesterday, the 1 July, as I followed their amazing attack I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world.”

Today, row after row of white headstones mark the sacrifice of these fathers, sons, husbands, brothers and friends. Many more headstones also stand in the Somme region and beyond Flanders fields. It is a solemn privilege to visit these bloodstained lands and to visit the iconic Ulster tower, which I might add is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year.

In today’s Northern Ireland, that sacrifice is still remembered. I have the privilege of working with a group called the Ancre Somme Association, a group of more dedicated people you will not find. Their aim locally is to ensure that our children and future generations are taught about the importance of remembrance. I think we can all take a lesson from that today.

I also want to commend the incredible work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We heard much of it from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and we thank her for that. Its work in the building and upkeep of 23,000 cemeteries across the world ensures that 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the first and second world wars will not be forgotten. It is, quite simply, remarkable. When we visit the cemeteries, they are immaculate. That is a testament to the Commission, its staff and its amazing army of gardeners. They do amazing work.

At this time of remembrance, we do, of course, remember those who have laid down their lives in all conflicts. While my focus has been the great war, the sacrifice of those in world war two, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Falklands and other conflicts is no less. Of course, as a representative of Northern Ireland, I also want to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Operation Banner.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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Touching on Operation Banner, and recognising that it was the longest continuous deployment for the British Army, it is important to recognise that this debate arose from a petition. Of the top 10 constituencies across the country who supported this debate today, five were from Northern Ireland, including my own constituency, demonstrating the strength of feeling, regard, appreciation and admiration that people from Northern Ireland have for the service given to us.

Carla Lockhart Portrait Carla Lockhart
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and for a point well made.

According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner, 722 of whom were killed in paramilitary attacks. One hundred and ninety-seven Ulster Defence Regiment officers and soldiers were killed between 1 April 1970 and 30 June 1992. A further 61 ex-soldiers were murdered after they had resigned from the regiment. Three hundred and two Royal Ulster Constabulary men and women were murdered during the troubles, all because they wore the badge of the RUC. Twenty-nine prison officers lost their lives. As recently as November 2012, prison officer David Black, in my own constituency, was murdered by the enemies of Ulster. We think of his family today as they continue to mourn his passing.

While many of those who were left behind to mourn the loss of loved ones in world wars are now gone too, the tears still flow in many homes of those taken too soon during service in Northern Ireland. My thoughts are with them today, and our gratitude is forever with those who stood as a human shield against the terrorists who, by bomb and bullet, sought to destroy my country and my community. I reiterate my call to the Government today to protect those Northern Ireland veterans from vexatious prosecutions.

15:00
Darren Henry Portrait Darren Henry (Broxtowe) (Con)
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Having served for many years in Her Majesty’s armed forces, it is an honour to have been selected to participate in this significant debate and to hear that powerful recollection from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). This year more than ever, as we reflect on those who sacrificed their lives in service to our nation, we come to recognise a familiarity whereby the very best in our community has come to the fore, demonstrating that service to others underpins our society.

Service in our constituency of Broxtowe is no new thing. We are proud to offer a home to Chetwynd barracks, a site that has played its part over the last century. In world war one, it was the site of the national shell-filling factory, operated by civilians, providing munitions in support of the western front. In July 1918, the site was levelled by a devastating explosion in which 139 people lost their lives and 250 were injured. It was the biggest loss of life in a single explosion in world war one.

I also want to take this opportunity to welcome Colonel Gavin Hatcher OBE to his position as Commander 170 Engineer Group and the Station Commander at Chetwynd. The barracks is home to the Royal Engineers of 170 Engineer Group, the Mission Training and Mobilisation Centre, Nottingham Troop, 721 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron Royal Logistic Corps, the Army and maritime reserves, 350 Squadron of 33 Engineer Regiment and HMS Sherwood.

170 Engineer Group provides technical infrastructure specialist support to defence both at home and abroad, including most recently on Op Rescript, with support to the construction of the Nightingale hospitals and the wider testing capacity. I wish those currently deployed success in their endeavours and a safe return home to their families and Chetwynd. The Mission Training and Mobilisation Centre has been responsible in the last 10 years for training those individual augmentees who have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan in a regular reserve and civilian capacity, some of whom have not returned. In this time of crisis, we have perhaps been granted a new perspective of the 75th anniversary of the second world war. To my eye, we have been awarded the opportunity to see precisely that the liberties for which they fought are more valuable than we may ordinarily appreciate and that the debt we owe them is even greater than we may have previously assumed.

These uncertain times are incredibly testing for us all and we have had to adapt quickly to ensure that we are able to continue our lives with some normality while keeping as safe as possible. It is services such as the armed forces that have been integral to allowing that to happen. So in this time of need we must show the armed forces community that we have their back, just as they have ours. I can sum it up no better than to say, “We will remember them.”

15:04
Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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It is a privilege to have time in this debate and to follow so many powerful speeches. It is a very important time to pay tribute to the men and women who served our country past and present and to their very enormous sacrifices made in defence of the freedoms we all enjoy today. It is always humbling to attend Remembrance events; I did so this weekend in Newport and across my constituency. I thank all those involved in ensuring that events could go ahead this year safely in the unique and challenging circumstances of the pandemic. While services were different on this occasion, they were no less poignant, especially with this year marking the 80th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk and the battle of Britain and the 75th anniversary of the end of the second world war. So I pay tribute to all those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We remember them today. I also thank the charities, Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes and, in Newport, Newport Veterans, for all that they do locally to support veterans.

I also pay tribute to and record our appreciation for another group that played a hugely important role in both world wars and subsequent conflicts: the merchant navy. The history of the city of Newport as a key south Wales port is intricately linked with seafaring, and the close ties with the merchant navy are part of that. Nationally, the Merchant Navy Association, led with enthusiasm and passion by its chair, John Sail, who is stepping back this year after years of service, and its president, Vivien Foster, has done tremendous work to raise awareness of the dedication of seafarers over the past century, and supports those who are still with us. Its annual commemoration, Merchant Navy Day on 3 September, is proudly observed in Newport every year. We have an active branch of the association in Newport, stemming directly from the dedication of stalwarts such as Alan Speight and the late Bert Bale, who headed the local branch with passion since its inception until his death in 2012. The Newport association’s work is helping to bring local veterans together and commemorate the sacrifices made by merchant seafarers in two world wars. On Saturday, we will meet at the merchant navy memorial to remember them.

The sacrifices were significant. At the outbreak of the first world war, 43% of the world’s merchant ships—some 20 million tonnes gross—was owned and operated by Britain. Those ships brought food and raw materials, and exported industries’ output to the world, including gold and steel from south Wales. Germany regarded the cutting-off of Britain’s trade routes as a vital means to victory, with the submarine becoming its principal weapon. The policy of unrestricted warfare meant that merchant navy ships were at constant risk of attack. The threat was not fully countered until the introduction of the convoy system in May 1917. None the less, German U-boats sank 6,924 allied ships—almost 13 million tonnes gross, with the loss of more than 14,600 merchant seafarers by the end of the war in 1918.

As we know, the role of the merchant navy was no less hazardous in the second world war, with convoys in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and elsewhere. Four thousand seven hundred British flagships were sunk, and more than 29,000 merchant seamen died, with a higher proportion of fatalities than all other services. Of those who perished, 442 were from Gwent and among them was 14-year-old Raymond Steed from Newport, who was killed onboard the SS Empire Morn when the ship was hit by a U-boat mine off the coast of Morocco. He was the youngest services recruit from Wales to die in the second world war, and the second youngest in Britain. There is no doubt that the efforts of the merchant navy in the second world war helped to keep the country going and enabled other services to operate. We should remember their bravery and importance. The hazards and risks that today’s merchant seamen and women face have changed, but they still exist.

It is important to emphasise that during times of past conflict, merchant sailors lived particularly harsh lives. They faced the terror of submarines every day, many lost close friends to torpedo attacks, and many were killed or wounded. The psychological trauma faced by merchant navy veterans cannot be understated. We have never had a full picture of the undiagnosed incidence of PTSD among merchant navy seafarers, and I hope that we can do more to look at this. I want to finish by saying how proud I am to represent a city with a rich seafaring tradition, and highlight the gratitude that we owe to them, alongside all those in our armed forces. It is a service that will remain a central part of our act of remembrance and debate.

00:05
John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Today, we remember all those who died in war.  As we peer into the gaslit world of the great war or seek to look behind the blackout curtains of 1940s Britain, we realise that we follow two generations of giants. Many families have fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, grandfathers and great grandfathers who died in battle that we might live in peace. They died in great fear of tyranny and their immediate circumstances that we might be free. They died for our country, so we can be proud of what they did. Some may seek to use powerful new search- lights of history to change the picture they want to see or to play this down, but nothing can change who they were, what they did, nor the principles they carried to victory.

Today is a day for patriotism: that quiet, confident patriotism that characterises our country at its best; the patriotism that comes from being at peace with what those generations did and with the causes they fought. Our country does not go in for brash, aggressive nationalism, asserting ourselves by doing down others.

The unknown soldier was rightly honoured by king and country all those years ago in recognition that the world war was an immense strain on all, at home or at the front. It required the most enormous super-human efforts of everyone. The whole country was at war, not just the armed forces and the politicians. The best way we can be true to their memory is to enjoy the freedoms they left us. We can best pursue the path of peace with vivid memories of how, after war ends, the talking begins to reconcile the differences. We must learn from the failure of the great war to end the European conflict. We can best uphold the sacred candle of free speech, turning conflicts into exchanges of passionate words, not bombs and bullets. We can best uphold the right of everyone to a vote and a voice in a democratic society and uphold the right of small as well as large states to self-determination.

So let us vow today that, in this precious debating Chamber we enjoy, we will work to ensure that we will seek to talk and vote our way through our differences. Let us pray our country is not called again to perform the heroic and brave tasks we remember today. Now that states have so much greater power to kill and harm people than they did even a century ago, let us trust in democracy and freedom.

We have had to fight far too many wars. Today, we need a strong defence to keep us safe and to increase the chances of peace. The great war did not turn out to be the war to end all wars, though that was the promise. That was the hope of many in our nation, so let us today vow to find a way to bring us nearer to that most crucial of ambitions.

15:13
Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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On this particularly solemn day, it is also important that we have in our thoughts and prayers the people affected by the terrible and cowardly bomb attack at a Remembrance Day service in Saudi Arabia this morning, including British diplomats there. It is a terrible and despicable act at a time of remembrance.

I attended the quieter than usual, but no less significant, remembrance service in Penarth at the weekend, when I thought not only of my constituents and my constituency’s connections to all branches of our armed forces—and indeed the merchant navy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) spoke about—but about my own family, as many of us do at the time of remembrance.

I thought of my grandfather James, who served in the 1st Airborne Division. He was shot and wounded at Arnhem and taken prisoner of war. I thought of my great grandfather Peter, who was in the Somme with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, and Ernest, who was in the Royal Field Artillery. I thought of my grandfather Harold, who served with the US army at the Bulge. It is particularly important that this week we recognise the connections between our countries at that time of war, how we fought tyranny in Europe and would do so again. I also thought of my father, who during the cold war served for 16 years with the Royal Signals in Germany, with so many others. They are a generation who perhaps we have not recognised in the way we should for their service and ultimately their willingness to put themselves on the line in what could have been a nuclear apocalypse. That is certainly what many who were serving on the frontlines in Germany during the cold war expected.

Over the past few years, I have visited the Somme, Normandy and many other locations, including some with my hon. Friend on the other side, the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). It was so powerful to hear his words. He and I have spoken many times about his experiences. I have travelled to Bosnia and to battlefields with him, and they have been some of the most moving and affecting times that I have spent while a Member of this House.

I remember the work of those fantastic veterans’ charities in my constituency. I think of the work of the Royal British Legion. I have spent time with organisations such as Woody’s Lodge, which was set up in honour of Paul Woodland, a former member of the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service who sadly lost his life on a training exercise in 2012 before he was due to be redeployed to Afghanistan. Woody’s was originally located in my constituency, but is now located in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns). It does remarkable work in our communities, as does the Welsh Veterans Partnership. David Price, a former Welsh Guard who served in the Falklands, leads the work there with other veterans to ensure pathways to housing and support in our communities. He rightly advocates powerfully on behalf of veterans, for example, on issues related to the transition from military to civilian life—he would argue that the MOD needs to look more at working with smaller veterans’ charities in that—but also the rules around housing benefit, universal credit and how our benefits and support systems often do not work for veterans. He also works on the need for more specialist attention for those who have been medically discharged and need support from the Department for Work and Pensions and others.

I think about the contribution of the armed forces overall to Wales. A number of us spoke in a debate specifically on that in February this year. I think of our Army connections through the Royal Welsh, the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, the Welsh Cavalry and the Welsh Guards and their locations locally. I think of the proud traditions they all have. It has been a privilege for me to spend time with them at commemorative and training occasions over the past few years.

I think of our Navy connections and our Royal Marines connections. HMS Cambria, our fantastic new facility located in Cardiff Bay, was previously in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan. I think of our strong connections with the Royal Air Force, particularly St Athan, just down the road, and Guy Gibson, formerly of the Dambusters, 617 Squadron, who spent time in Penarth in my constituency.

I think also of our merchant navy traditions, and someone like Harold Boudier, who served on their Arctic convoys. He is now 94, and he proudly told me how he remembers VE Day in Scapa Flow. He still has the pint glass that he drank from in celebration on that day. He takes it to the pub every Remembrance Sunday to remember those whom he served with in incredibly difficult circumstances.

Most importantly, I remember today our active armed forces personnel serving around the world, particularly those serving in the locations we often do not hear about, such as in Africa, including our service personnel in Mali, those who played a role in peacekeeping in South Sudan, those on training missions, those in Somalia and elsewhere, and those who responded to the Ebola outbreak so bravely and incredibly in Sierra Leone.

I think of those who, as has been spoken about, serve on the domestic front in our covid response. I had the honour of seeing our forces training as part of Operation Temperer a number of years ago for scenarios just like this. As was said earlier by the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood)—he is no longer in his place—they are some of the best planners, the best experts and some of the most dedicated people. They are exactly who we should have leading this response, particularly now as we roll out a vaccine. I pay tribute to all that they do.

We will remember. We will remember all those aspects of our armed forces, past and present.

15:18