Westminster Hall

Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Monday 11 January 2021
[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Hospitality Industry: Government Support

Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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I remind Members that there have been at least two sets of changes since we moved back into Westminster Hall. I will try to clarify them so that people are not confused about the procedure that is there to ensure social distancing and keep Members safe.

Members who have not arrived at the start of the debate will not be allowed to intervene or speak. Members are expected to respect the one-way system. Members should also sanitise their microphones using the cleaning materials that are provided before they use them and afterwards. Members speaking in the latter stages of the debate should use the seats in the Public Gallery if there are not enough seats in the horseshoe. Although Members are expected to stay till the end, if there simply is not enough room, it might be helpful if people leave for that purpose. Finally, Mr Speaker has asked that people wear facemasks in the main Chamber, and I think it would be sensible if Members do that in this Chamber when not speaking, to be consistent with the main Chamber.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 552201 and 329985 relating to Government support for the hospitality industry.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, in a debate on support for the UK hospitality industry and the creation of a Minister for hospitality. Before I begin my comments proper, I want to say a couple of words about participation in this debate.

On Friday, the Mayor of London declared a major incident in the capital, and it is abundantly clear that the rates of covid-19 here are incredibly worrying. In my view, that underlines why we must urgently allow virtual or hybrid proceedings in Westminster Hall debates. I know that many colleagues from across the House share the petitioners’ concerns about the future of bars, restaurants, hotels, night clubs and other hospitality businesses, but are unable to be with us today. I assure hon. Members and the petitioners that, in conjunction with cross-party colleagues, we will continue to press the Government and the House authorities urgently to allow and enable remote participation in these important debates.

We are debating a petition with more than 200,000 signatures, started by Claire Bosi, editor of Chef & Restaurant magazine, alongside a petition on general support for the hospitality industry, created by Chrissie McLaren, which has about 45,000 signatures.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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I am very grateful for an early intervention. I absolutely support the hon. Lady’s call for a hospitality Minister. I was the shadow Minister for tourism when I first came into Parliament. I wanted that job to continue when we went into government, but the size of Government restricts the number of Ministers it is possible to have, as we will no doubt hear later. In the event that we are not successful in getting a Minister for hospitality, would she support an envoy for hospitality so that we can at least have a voice for this important sector, which has been battered so hard because of covid-19, not least in my Bournemouth constituency?

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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The right hon. Gentleman makes an important argument. More than 200,000 petitioners are calling for a Minister for hospitality, and I am sure they will be pleased that there are alternative suggestions if the Minister does not agree to that today.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I mentioned wedding venues to the hon. Lady before the debate. Orange Tree House in Greyabbey in my constituency employs 60-odd people and generates turnover for the whole community with not just bed and breakfast but many other things. When we call upon the Minister to look after the hospitality sector, does the hon. Lady agree that it is important for all regions of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, to be part of that strategy so that we can work together and help one another?

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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I absolutely agree with and endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said, which adds weight to the argument for a voice at the heart of Government who can represent the interests of not only all aspects of hospitality, but all areas of the UK.

I want to put on record that my husband works in hospitality, so I live with its daily ups and downs, not to mention the huge challenges of covid-19. It is not just an interest or concern here in Parliament. The petition speaks to a concern that many hon. Members will have heard time and again from local businesses in their constituencies: that the Government lack a deep understanding of the nature of the hospitality industry and its diversity. The petitioners argue that that is why we need a Minister with responsibility for hospitality to be a voice for the sector at the heart of Government.

The hospitality industry is the third-largest UK employer. It is responsible for about 3 million jobs, generates £130 billion in activity and results in £38 billion of Government revenue through taxation. For levelling up, it is one of the few industries to reach every part of the country, and it will be crucial in our recovery from the present crisis. Unlike the arts or sport, however, it does not have a dedicated Minister.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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I support the hon. Lady’s call for a stronger voice for hospitality in Government. I do not know whether she is a coffee drinker, but I am sure that she is aware in her constituency, as I am in mine, of the clusters of caffeine seekers outside kiosks and, even worse, inside waiting for a takeaway—they are a pretty common sight. Does she agree that, although those sales are not breaking any rules, they are not essential? We might need to put our coffee culture on hold for the time being.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point; perhaps the Minister will comment on that in his response.

This is a timely debate, because although many businesses have taken a significant hit since March, hospitality, which thrives on social mixing and travel, has been crippled by repeated lockdowns and the risks posed by the virus. Local economies with a higher proportion of workers employed in such sectors have been disproportionately hit.

Many restaurants have pivoted to providing cook-at-home and takeaway offers with contact-free delivery or kerbside collection. In these strange times, Geordies can enjoy takeaways from all manner of venues across our city, from the Thyme Square café on Station Road, with its carry-out Sunday lunches, to the cook-at-home offerings from 21 and the Michelin-starred House of Tides on the quayside. None the less, the situation remains incredibly challenging for all. A recent UKHospitality study found that 41% of businesses in the sector thought that they would fail by mid-2021, and one in five thought that they would have enough cash flow to survive beyond February.

Even when restrictions were relaxed over the summer, most people could still go to restaurants or pubs only with the people they lived or bubbled with. The simultaneous closure of sports stadiums, cinemas, music venues and theatres has a knock-on impact. If the business of people catching up with family and friends over drinks, going on dates, or having a bite to eat after a match or film is lost, that is a huge chunk of revenue. Hospitality also lost out badly from the drop in tourist spend this winter. Other parts of the hospitality sector, such as nightclubs, have remained closed since the first lockdown in March. From the reaction to the recent debate on the night-time economy, I know that Newcastle’s iconic nightlife is sorely missed by visitors and locals alike.

On Friday, when I met the petition’s creator, Claire Bosi, and some of its leading supporters, including the founder and CEO of Home Grown Hotels, Robin Hutson, and chefs Tom Kerridge and Angela Hartnett, I heard powerful examples that demonstrate the Government’s lack of deep understanding of the sector. To be clear, there is enormous gratitude for the considerable support that the Government have provided through the billions spent on measures such as the job retention scheme, the business rates holiday and various grants, including those announced by the Chancellor last week. The Government would do a lot better, however, if they stopped seeing the sector as being amenable to a one-size-fits-all approach. Ministers’ main lever for controlling the virus over the last nine months has been to switch the entire sector on or off at a moment’s notice, with little consideration given to its complexity and diversity.

When restrictions were eased over the summer, we saw the reopening of large chain pubs—with customers often bunched together at outside tables—at the same time as small restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, where social distancing is easier to maintain. The curfew policy suffered from the same one-size-fits-all mindset. It was evidently drawn up with bars in mind, but unlike restaurants they do not have to turn over tables. The curfew might have been appropriate for a city centre bar—although there were many issues with large groups of customers all leaving at the same time—but it made no sense for small restaurants or rural hotels, which might have been unable to safely spread out the accommodation of all their guests for dinner as a consequence.

August’s eat out to help out scheme, although clearly popular at the time, was seemingly designed with little regard to whom it would help and the incentives that it would create. Rather than supporting those who are struggling the most, it potentially ended up being an untargeted giveaway to customers and businesses. It also made eating out much cheaper relative to takeaways and, in retrospect, helping restaurants by targeting subsidies at takeaways might have been more effective at boosting sales while maintaining the social distancing that is so required.

I understand that there are reasons why the Government have made lockdown announcements very shortly before their introduction, but that has caused some real issues for the sector. I was told of a chef in London who had two tonnes of oysters delivered just two hours after London entered tier 3, with no customers to serve them to. Yesterday, we heard reports of chickens possibly being culled due to a fall in bulk egg orders. When hotels were closed by national lockdown or entering tiers 3 and 4, hoteliers were left guessing whether they were even allowed to serve their guests breakfast in the morning. I know that these are not decisions that any Minister takes lightly, but if it is genuinely not possible to give more notice of such changes, what more can the Government do to support businesses that are caught off guard?

The repeated shutdowns of the hospitality sector have also meant that the businesses that supply it have been forced into hibernation for much of the past year. There is a whole other set of issues there that the current support measures—which are largely designed around jobs and rent, not around businesses holding large amounts of stock, often perishable—just do not reach. Little financial support has been available throughout the pandemic. With severe restrictions in place across the country since the autumn, demand for their stock has diminished seriously.

I also worry about the impact of that on-off cycle on the mental health of the staff who work in the sector. They have had to return suddenly to public-facing roles, turning on the charm and smiling at customers, when they do not know whether they will be able to hold on to their jobs for much longer. It has been great to see the widespread recognition of the strains that lockdown has put on the nation’s mental health, but we need to pay particular attention to the sectors most affected.

Thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of scientists in the UK and across the world, there is now a clear way out of this crisis. We know that the economic disruption will not be permanent. We will, no doubt, expect hospitality to play a significant part in the hoped-for bounce back of economic activity and employment, in particular among young people. We have good reason to believe that for at least the businesses that manage to survive.

The pandemic has concentrated a tremendous amount of economic pain on workers in certain sectors, predominantly insecure workers, and they deserve our utmost support. However, there has also been a build-up of savings among those more fortunate, who have been able to maintain a steady income. Many have saved the money that they used to spend on bars, hotels and restaurants, rather than splurging it on more parcels from Amazon, but there are limits to how much of that will ultimately be spent on hospitality in due course. In all likelihood, people are likely to go out to the pub two or three times a week, eventually, but that will not happen soon.

There will be a catch-up on spending in that social consumption—or we very much hope so—when things eventually return to normal. As the nation is vaccinated, the economy reopens and the rules we apply in hospitality inevitably become more nuanced and complex, it is important that we have input from the hospitality sector as to how we can design policy not to repeat the mistakes that were made in the summer of 2020 when the sector reopened.

We need to get ahead of the problems, and the petitioners have argued that splitting that representation between two crowded Departments—the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—is not working. One of the leading supporters of the petition, Robin Hutson, put it succinctly:

“I’ve long held the view that the hospitality sector requires really focused representation in government. This is about the future of our industry and the campaign and petition showcases the strength of feeling across the country on this issue. Hospitality is a sector that deserves a seat at the top table.”

That responsibility sits across two Departments, which is not a problem. Hospitality sector businesses are businesses, but they are also a creative art—in fact, much of the arts sector relies on hospitality as a source of revenue to underpin its activities. We used to have more Ministers with cross-Department briefs, out of recognition that some issues unavoidably straddle Government Departments, but that seems to be out of fashion at the moment. I worry that it creates an incentive for passing the buck between Departments, which reinforces the case for a Minister for hospitality.

It is hard to believe some of more farcical debates that we have had, such as the controversy about whether a Scotch egg constitutes a meal. If we had a dedicated hospitality Minister, we might not have ended up with that mess. If a new ministerial role is not something that the Government are open to, we must at least recognise that the sector needs a strong voice in Government, with a genuine recognition of its diversity, greater engagement with businesses and a much deeper understanding of the different ways that they are affected by lockdown measures.

The hospitality sector is an industry that has always been driven by passion and soul. It is not an industry in which businesses generally have huge amounts of cash reserves, and we know that many businesses operate at just above break-even point. The industry knows it needs to encourage more home-grown talent, now that it cannot rely on people coming over from Europe. There is a levelling-up piece here, as I have mentioned. Hospitality is one of the few industries that is represented in almost every part of the country. It is an industry that is a gateway for so many people who do not particularly enjoy the academic side of school but who have creativity and graft and can be successful, if just given the chance. If the Government understood and took the industry seriously, it could be a route to transformation in every community right across the country. We need to raise the profile of hospitality and encourage young people from the UK to do apprenticeships and to see entering the industry as a “Sky’s the limit” career. As we set out our stall on the world stage in the post-Brexit era, one of the key things that will attract people to our country—with their investment—is our culture and its offerings, and a big part of that will be the richness and quality of our hospitality.

Newcastle’s hospitality sector has something for everyone: restaurants offering everything from hearty traditional Geordie pub grub to innovative fine dining, hipster-style hang-outs for craft beer and gourmet burgers, and a thriving street food scene. Our nightlife is famous in its own right and is regularly featured in guides and magazines—Newcastle is often one of the top places for an unforgettable night out. However, my fear in the current situation is that the larger, more standardised chains will have the resources to survive into the post-pandemic era, but the smaller, heart-and-soul operations might not. We will see a hollowing out of the sector. I do not want to see my city lose any part of what makes it unique, and I am sure colleagues feel the same way about their areas.

I know there is a limit to how much heart and soul people can give when they have been hammered month after month. Even in the best-case scenario, there are several months of closure ahead. Countless smaller owner-operators are now worse off than they were when the pandemic began. Some took out personally secured loans in March. Having spent the last nine months in difficulty, they are now looking at losing not only their businesses, but their homes. It is a real tragedy, because they were good and viable businesses before this unseen crisis came along.

What does the sector need? The one-off grants announced by the Chancellor last week will of course be strongly welcomed, and they should help more businesses to stay afloat. The resource that the Government have put in through the job retention scheme has been a lifeline to sector employees, but industry representatives have made it clear that the current support is not enough to cover the costs of many businesses and will not secure their long-term viability. We need a longer-term plan to help businesses to plan their survival while the vaccine is rolled out, starting with clarity on how long the new support payments will be available. UKHospitality and others have called for an extension of the business rates holiday and a 5% VAT rate, to provide certainty in the longer term. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on whether that is under consideration.

I also urge the Government to commit to examine urgently the inadequacies of their support measures as they relate to hospitality suppliers and, as I said in our previous debate on the night-time economy, to consider introducing some flexibility to the local restrictions support grants, to give local authorities the freedom to grant and target support towards the businesses that need it and can use it best.

The petitioners do not expect to go back to dining out, dancing in nightclubs and checking into hotels straightaway; the public health situation is at a critical point, and saving lives must take precedence. However, they want there to be a greater understanding of the diverse nature of their sector and a strong voice for them in Government. Above all, and like us, they want this country’s mix of pubs, hotels, restaurants and clubs, which does so much to enrich our lives, to still be standing when this crisis is over.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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I think it would be appropriate to impose a time limit of three minutes.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to reverse roles, Mr Stringer, and to serve under your chairmanship.

Nearly 10 months ago, I asked the Chancellor in an urgent question to bring in an arrangement to reverse the usual flow of funds from businesses to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and for the nation to pay the wages of people if—and only if—their employers committed to keep employing them. At the time, I asked for that to be done for a few weeks, but 10 months later it shows how little we knew about the virus then that we should still have in place now what became the furlough scheme. I commend the Chancellor for a crucial intervention that saved millions of jobs that would otherwise have been lost. However, having come this far, and after the investment that has been made in keeping these businesses and jobs alive in the hospitality sector, we must make sure that we get through the next few weeks, so that they can continue to thrive in the future.

The furlough scheme, the business rate holiday, the hospitality grants, the discretionary grants, the VAT cut, the bounce back loans and eat out to help out have all been deployed to help hospitality businesses. However, just as the Government did not expect that this pandemic would be with us for what will soon be well over a year, neither did hospitality businesses, many of which are small, personally run and without access to resources and cash. Yet these are the pubs, cafés and restaurants that will be at the forefront of the recovery when lockdown ends—the first to give job opportunities to young people, to give business to their suppliers and to attract people back to our city centres, high streets and villages across Britain. They will also be first to pay their taxes to the Exchequer.

Last Friday, I met—virtually—several of the people who run hospitality venues in Tunbridge Wells and in Tonbridge and Malling, in a meeting arranged jointly with my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). In a survey of 36 local hospitality businesses, they established that in the year before the pandemic they had collectively paid £4.4 million in VAT and pay-as-you-earn, and that the value of grants and furlough payments to date that have been paid to them is around £3 million. So whatever the precise figures, the point is that these businesses pay their way, and if they manage to survive they will thrive in the future and help to repay the sums that have been set aside during these last few months.

The requests of the businesspeople I met are straightforward, to make sure that they can get through the next few weeks. They ask for the Government to reconsider the requirement to pay national insurance on furloughed employees, given that, at the moment, zero revenue is coming in; to extend the business rates holiday and VAT cut, to reflect the fact that the closure of businesses has been for much longer than was expected; and to extend the terms of the loan scheme, so that these businesses can finance themselves for these crucial few months and so that, at the end of that time, everyone in this Chamber can join together and look back at a pandemic that is over, raising a drink and celebrating the success of continuing businesses.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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To say that the coronavirus has been a shock to the system is an understatement. What was once a health crisis spread quickly to become an economic crisis—indeed, the biggest recession on record. The multimillion-employing hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, adding to existing, pre-covid woes over Brexit supply chains and the loss of its international workforce. Hospitality drives the health of our high streets and the viability of our suburbs and towns. A lot of these business are family run—I know: my late dad was an Indian restaurant person himself. All of these things are now facing existential threat. At the other end of the scale, the collapse of big chains such as Carluccio’s, Pizza Express and even Jamie Oliver outlets would ordinarily be big news, but these are not ordinary times, and with the worst death toll in Europe, we hear barely a whisper about them.

I never thought I would live to see the day when a Conservative Government would forcibly shut down businesses, but here we are again. A dedicated Government Minister for hospitality would give food, beverage and leisure accommodation a proper say, rather than them always being an afterthought, suffering the consequences of the latest failed experiment—the tiering system, the 10 pm curfew or whatever it is. At a time of distancing and isolation, a sector based on togetherness and sociability cannot exist on takeaway only. This sector spent a fortune on remodelling, even though social distancing slashes the number of covers available: people instituted one-way systems, enhanced cleaning, and screens to create a covid-secure environment, all seemingly now for nothing. These people are famed for hard work and resilience, but they cannot run on empty, and no one clapped when they provided meals for NHS staff or for children, outside of the Government’s initial, cruel insistence that they would not run the free school meals scheme in the holidays.

Coronageddon should not relegate hospitality to being the easiest lever to pull: first into lockdown, last out, in this zig-zag, stop-start way. These businesses need cash flow, and they need to plan for things like fresh produce orders and staffing rotas. As the MP who first spoke of a “curry crisis”, I implore the Minister: the sector is fighting for survival, and bold action is needed. Now is the time for a dedicated Minister, plus additional financial support, extending furlough and rent, rates and VAT relief, because we will all need restaurants, hotels and pubs. Some 56 pubs a week are closing at the moment; that is a matter of shame. We will all need them to get us out of the other side and build consumer confidence.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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I first declare an interest, in that my husband works for a logistics company and deals directly with the hospitality sector in his role.

Looking at hospitality as a whole, we must first recognise the level of support that has been received generally within the sector throughout the covid crisis. However, three main themes are of great concern. The first is that there are many supporting and spin-off businesses that co-exist within this sector, but that seem not to have been included in all aspects of the support offered. The second is that the prolonged period in which the sector and those spin-off businesses have had to endure no customer revenue is stretching the limits to which they can wait for the sector to reopen once more, and the third is the lack of customer confidence in when the sector will be able to trade again.

A great many businesses in Loughborough are either directly part of, or related to, the hospitality sector: pubs, restaurants, cafés, bingo halls, nightclubs, bed and breakfasts, and hotels are obvious examples, and we have 290 such businesses locally, employing 3,000 people. We also have conference organisers, wedding event organisers and venues, lighting and audio technicians, event carpet and equipment suppliers, hair and beauty technicians, florists and printers, food production plants, breweries and catering equipment suppliers. Everything from hiring a tablecloth to arranging a major corporate event in Kuala Lumpur can be obtained from businesses in Loughborough. We are a very hospitable place.

Before covid, all of these business were not only viable, but thriving. However, economic output in this sector was down 92% in April 2020 compared with February 2020. If we want a V-shaped recovery, we must plan for one and support the businesses that will deliver it. For example, I understand that 264,000 weddings were missed last year. There will be pent-up demand, but if there are no businesses to deliver the events and services when we open up once more, that demand will not be met, and tax revenues will not materialise. There are revenues to be had: 475,000 weddings are currently scheduled for 2021, getting on for double the usual amount, creating the potential for an additional £25 billion in the sector. However, a lack of confidence that events will be allowed to go ahead means that weddings for spring and summer are already starting to be postponed and cancelled. In the meantime, finances are stretched to the limit for the whole of the hospitality sector, while businesses wait for permission to operate again. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) will present a 10-minute rule Bill tomorrow, advocating the abolition and reform of business rates. That would really help pubs and other hospitality outlets, both with immediate effect, and into the future, giving pubs the chance to remain the centre of our communities. In supporting my colleague’s aim I ask that business rate relief for the hospitality and leisure sector be extended for a further year to include related businesses during the pandemic.

The best way out of this crisis, for business, is to be able to trade. For businesses to be able to do that with confidence, we need the people we are most concerned about in our communities to be vaccinated, and we are well on the way to achieving that—

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. You are a very hospitable person, but it is so cold in here—I have stood in warmer graveyards—that it is not so hospitable in terms of temperature. I hope that it will not be a political graveyard for anyone here, but it would founder ye, as we would say in Northern Ireland.

I wholly agree with the way in which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) moved the motion. I think that everyone can say a hearty “Hear, hear” to what she put on the agenda. It was a comprehensive piece of work, and I agree that all the regions of the United Kingdom need to swing behind the point she made. She made sound, good points.

To put a little perspective on the case, in Northern Ireland there are 60,000 direct jobs in the hospitality sector. In other words, one in 20 people in Northern Ireland works in the sector. We are a small economy. Before covid, I had 1 million out-of-state visitors to my constituency—principally visiting the Giant’s Causeway, a world-renowned geological site. For a place with a population of 1.7 million, getting 1 million visitors dramatically changes the local economy. We have 45,000 jobs directly in food and drink. We contribute about £88 million to the Chancellor’s purse each year in direct taxation, and we contribute about £1.1 billion to our entire economic picture; that is, for an economy of £13 billion, a sizeable piece that the hospitality sector provides.

The impact of covid has therefore been staggering and massive, but we must look forward. In the last 52 weeks the hospitality sector has probably traded for only about 13 weeks, so it has not had the benefit of the VAT cut the Government gave it. That must be extended, and I hope that the Minister will relate that to the Chancellor. We need a kick-start plan to open up businesses—to help them to open up when they start back again, probably at some time in March. Loans under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme need to be repaid, but it should be done softly, and they should be extended if possible.

I want to make an appeal in particular for the music sector, which entertains people when they come to Northern Ireland. I think of great singers such as Sir Van Morrison and others. He coined the words:

“We are not in this together.”

I hope that we get back to being in it together, and that we will be able to get benefit for our hospitality sector.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) complained that it is rather cold in Westminster Hall today. I can recommend the House of Commons Library to him. It is an absolute furnace there, where I prepared the great oration that I was going to make, 90% of which is now going to be chucked because of the time limit. However, that is a measure of the importance of the debate, because so many people want to contribute to it. That is why our time is so limited.

When I last looked, more than 206,000 people had signed the petition, and the group with the highest number was people from the New Forest. In New Forest East alone almost 300 businesses are in the food and accommodation sectors, employing 4,000 people and constituting 10.8% of the working population. The hospitality industry is the UK’s largest employer of under 25-year-olds and, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said in her able introduction, the importance, post Brexit, of our having an appealing environment for people to come and invest in cannot be overstated.

As the vaccine programme is implemented, one might reasonably expect the reintroduction of tiered restrictions on a gradually reducing basis. That is where the significance of adequate ministerial representation for the hospitality industry comes into play. For a sector of this size—the third largest in the UK—ranging from pubs through to restaurants and hotels, tourism and travel, not having a separate specialist and dedicated voice at the core of Government has led to a justified sense of disregard and discrimination.

Robin Hutson, who was mentioned earlier and who is my constituent, said, “It is our belief that we do not have a respected, truly invested senior Minister with deep sector knowledge, but who also has the power and the ear of the PM to effectively defend our corner.” It took more than four months for the Treasury to respond to one letter that I sent from a concerned constituent. Having a separate dedicated Minister would prevent that sort of delay. It would matter less that responsibilities are spread over more than one Department if only it were the same Minister who held the post in each Department. It is not uncommon to have a specialist Minister with a focused role in more than one Department. Initially, that could be on a temporary, emergency basis, as a hospitality industry recovery Minister. If it is found to work well during that phase, making it permanent might well be the logical next step.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this important debate. This discussion is not before time. Within the wider hospitality industry, I will focus on the pub trade, as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs.

We all recognise the crisis that the pandemic has caused pubs over the past year, with takings having collapsed through the floor, thousands of staff made redundant, and the closure of many pubs that may never open again. Not all of that damage was inevitable. Landlords invested many thousands each in making their establishments covid-secure during 2020, only to have rules changed or imposed on them at short notice, collapsing their trade time and again. I remain angry that many of those restrictions were put in place without any scientific evidence for them. We asked for any available, but it seems that Ministers simply thought that they should be seen to be doing something—whether enforcing pub curfews or requiring farcical definitions of substantial meals, prohibiting the trade of wet pubs.

Decisions that were not based on scientific recommendations led to public resentment and non-compliance, as well as the exasperation of the industry, which is doing its best. Now that we are in full lockdown once again we have another example. Official guidance suggests that pubs are permitted to sell alcohol only for delivery as opposed to takeaway. What is the reason for that decision, which puts them at a disadvantage to off-licences and supermarkets? I cannot believe that there is a scientific basis, so that discrimination must be because there is not a strong enough voice in Government making the case for pubs and the wider hospitality sector.

I am glad that the Government recognise the need for further support for businesses that are prevented from trading by law, but one-time £9,000 grants are a drop in the pint glass. Pubs up and down the country need the reassurance of a proper financial package that recognises what they have lost this year and what they contribute to our communities as a vital social hub. When the pandemic is over, people will want to congregate in relief to see their friends again. It will be devastating if the venues in which they can do that have died in the meantime.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Of all the different sectors that have been coping with this pandemic, the hardest hit has probably been the hospitality sector. To follow on from what the hon. Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) said, pubs are not just a business; the local is a centre of the community. It helps people. It helps their wellbeing. It quite often helps them to feel more connected to the outside world.

My resort constituency of Southport is a centre of hospitality, and has been for over 150 years. A third of all my businesses in the constituency are based around hospitality, supporting jobs. There are not only the businesses that are static in my constituency; we also have various annual shows. The flower show is the largest independent flower show in the country. We have an air show, a musical fireworks competition, a comedy festival, and a food and drink festival, and in 2017 we attracted 235,000 visitors when we hosted the Open golf championship.

This is a booming industry in my constituency in normal times. In 2015 it accounted for 24% of my local economy, and by 2020 the figure was 30%—a situation that I want to see continue. I want to see the industry not only survive the pandemic, but thrive in future.

I must say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we are very grateful for all the support that the Government have provided. Many Members will go through the menu of things—no pun intended—such as eat out to help out, furlough, business loans and so on. We all know that they have been an absolute lifeline and we are very grateful; my local businesses are very grateful for them.

Looking to the future, we have things such as the town deal that we have put in a bid for. If we get our town deal, we will then get the private finance that will help us to get a brand-new theatre and convention centre, helping all those businesses that are reliant on the one that we have at the moment, which is closed.

I point out to the Minister again that we need a clear road map. We want to work with the industry, in collaboration with the industry. The short notice that we have been giving some of these businesses has been quite wrong. We must not say it on a Thursday if the pubs have to close on the Saturday—and then throw all the beer away. Similarly, we must not ask them to open on a Thursday when they have no beer brewed. We need to work with them, staging the points at which they will open those businesses.

We want to ensure that people feel satisfied. In nearly every survey that has come back, people were satisfied with the covid security in these businesses. We need to extend the VAT support. We need to look at business rates, of course. Beer duty is something that keeps coming up and it is important. A hospitality and tourism recovery fund would help. Giving the industry a voice and a seat at the table with the decision makers is absolutely vital—it is critical.

I asked the owner of Rueters Bar what he thought of the Government’s support so far for businesses in the hospitality sector, and he said, “A dream.” I said to him, “What can we do to help it in the future?” He said, “Continue the dream.” For those who make our dreams become realities, let us ensure that we support our hospitality sector.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to speak in support of an industry that is important to Ceredigion. Taken together, hospitality businesses, such as restaurants, cafés, pubs and bars, and the events catering industry employ about 4,500 people in my constituency, equating to more than 16% of all employees, and that is without accounting for the many supply chain jobs that depend on the sector.

For these businesses, measures such as the furlough scheme have proved invaluable, with more than 7,500 workers in Ceredigion supported by it in the early months of the pandemic. Both the VAT reduction and the business rates holiday were warmly welcomed. There can be no denying that these interventions offered the sector lifelines as the pandemic hit and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right to bring forward support measures such as the furlough and the self-employment income support schemes, even though they required extraordinary public expenditure. There are strong arguments in favour of continuing this level of intervention for some time yet.

The vaccination programme offers us some hope that we will see the level of covid disruption reduce significantly this year, but hospitality businesses across Ceredigion tell me that they are deeply concerned about their immediate prospects for survival. The hoteliers, restaurateurs, café owners and landlords I speak to fully understand that the pandemic was never going to be an easy time. Their expectations have long been calibrated to focus on basic survival. Support measures have been welcomed, but much of the grant funding has long been spent to cover fixed operating costs that simply cannot be avoided. Too many owners, ineligible for the Government’s income support schemes, have had to deplete their personal savings in order to keep their businesses afloat and their employees in jobs.

The Treasury has received details from the Federation of Small Businesses of a proposal for a directors income support scheme, which I urge the Treasury to consider adopting, as it would help many of these small business owners. I also support the proposals made this afternoon, such as the one-off grant to help businesses to bounce back once restrictions have been eased, and the proposal to pause national insurance contributions for furloughed employees as a way of alleviating the burden on businesses that are still, in many instances, required to remain closed by law.

To inject some much-needed confidence into the sector, I urge the Treasury to consider extending the business rates holiday for the forthcoming financial year, as well as extending the hospitality VAT reduction scheme into 2022. I am aware, of course, that such measures would mean further significant expense for the Exchequer, but I argue that that would be money well spent. Not only would it give businesses in such an important sector the support that they require to see out the pandemic, but it would avoid a terrible situation whereby businesses that have previously received Government support are forced to close for good, leaving their employees without a job and previous Government support or investment being made in vain. In other words, do not spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this debate.

The restaurants, pubs, hotels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, attractions and other businesses that make up hospitality are a vital part of North West Norfolk’s economy, contributing around £500 million a year and making up about a fifth of the jobs, and 2019 was a record year for that sector. Of course, last year it was a record in the opposite direction. That collapse in demand and the redundancies have hit younger people disproportionately. In these challenging times, the Crown Inn, the Rose and Crown and other premises have adapted by selling takeaway meals, but not being able to sell alcohol in closed containers with those meals is unfair and is having a damaging impact. The rules should be changed. Where there are issues, enforcement should be taken rather than this blanket approach.

These businesses are at the heart of our community. We have only to look at venues such as Bank House, the Anvil Inn and many others that, unable to open, have offered their premises as vaccination centres. Given their importance, my constituents are grateful for the support that the Government put in place to help them bounce back. That has provided a lifeline, but I have been contacted by many businesses that signed the petition and which say that the new lockdown gravely threatens their future after months when they have been unable to open properly and unable to trade. The one-off grants of up to £9,000 are very welcome, but many employers have taken on considerable debt and have to cover national insurance costs for staff who are furloughed. Those businesses tell me that more help is required. It would be tragic, as others have said, if the benefits of the support to date are lost if firms are unable to hang on until the vaccination programme has had the impact that we all hope for.

In July my right hon. Friend the Chancellor responded to calls that many others and I supported to cut VAT to 5%, but the tier restrictions and national lockdown mean that businesses have not had the benefit from the cut, as had been expected, so the cost to the Treasury has been lower. I support the sector’s calls, and I hope the Chancellor will look favourably on continuing that reduction until the end of the year. Extending that and the business rates holiday will help firms to survive and be there when the reopening comes. We all look forward to that reopening as the vaccination programme rolls out to the most at-risk groups. People crave normality: meeting for a meal, going to the theatre and having a pint in a pub. We want those places to be there, so we need a road map to get there.

Finally, we need further action to help the sector. One opportunity is through the Government’s new tourism zones. Norfolk and Suffolk have developed a strong case with a proposal to be the most sustainable place for tourism in the country, with a strong skills offer for young people. The hospitality sector is crucial to our economy and our wellbeing. I urge the Government to continue their unprecedented support and ensure it is well placed to help drive the economic recovery.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I second the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on virtual participation in these proceedings. I hope that can come sooner rather than later. I also second many of her excellent comments in opening this crucial debate. It was disappointing to come to this debate after the Chancellor’s statement earlier—the first statement he has made in Parliament in 41 days. He had very little new to say. I think many of the hospitality businesses in Cardiff South and Penarth and in many of our constituencies would have hoped for something different, given the new and very difficult but necessary restrictions that they face.

I also second many of the points made by colleagues across the House about the support that will be required to ensure that businesses can come out on the other side of this when restrictions can eventually be lifted. I have had a huge number of emails from businesses in my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth and from concerned constituents who point out that turnover across the sector is down by 40%, and that 41% of businesses might fail in 2021, yet one in six new jobs in the economy were created in this sector. I know that from my own constituency.

Even during the pandemic, businesses were able to set up, particularly during the summer period, and get going, but have found themselves in new difficulties. We have to remember that the sector is much wider than it appears on the face of it. It is not just the pubs, restaurants and cafés; it is also the food supply businesses, the breweries and the laundries—I have some major laundries in my constituency. It is the wider economy and all the jobs that come with it.

I commend the approach taken by the Welsh Government. A new tranche of the economic resilience fund was announced in December—£340 million for hospitality, tourism and leisure—on top of the £1 billion they announced to support businesses through rates relief and other measures, as well as the job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme. The new measures required new support, and on 18 December, they were announced with £110 million of support.

On the situation facing pubs in particular—my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) raised many of these issues—many local independent pubs in my constituency have contacted me in significant difficulties, but primarily I want to raise the case of Brains Brewery, one of the signature brands of Wales. Tragically, it has found itself in significant difficulties.

Brains has its headquarters in my constituency and has been brewing there for many decades. It is one of the things at the very heart and soul of Welsh culture or, certainly, of Cardiff culture, as anybody who knows groups like the Hennessys will know—they refer to the importance of Brains Dark and many other fantastic brews. Now, while more than 1,000 jobs have been able to be saved through a deal with Marston’s, the tragic possibility is that Brains beer will no longer be brewed in Cardiff.

I have been speaking with the Welsh Government, Cardiff Council and others, and I urge the Minister to consider what support can be given to breweries in particular, especially those with particular cultural and historical heritage in parts of the UK. I hope that he can address some of those concerns in his remarks.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I rise to speak as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for hospitality and tourism. I thank all the petitioners who signed the petitions, in particular the 400 residents of the St Austell and Newquay constituency who put their name to a petition and whom I have the honour of representing.

I place on the record my thanks to the Minister: I believe that we have a Minister for hospitality—that may not be in his title, but I know from my work with him over the past year, he has always been available to me and colleagues across the House to address the concerns of the sector. He has also worked closely with the sector, so although I recognise the call for a Minister have “ hospitality” in his name, I do not accept the premise that we do not have a Minister for hospitality, because we very much do.

I also place on the record my thanks to, and recognition of, all hospitality businesses across the country for the way in which they have approached the past 10 months, and for the way in which they have adapted, taken a positive attitude to making their premises safe for visitors and worked together to get us through this pandemic. I thank and recognise them for all that they have done.

There is no doubt about the vital role that hospitality plays in our economy, as other colleagues have mentioned. One in six new jobs created over the past 10 years has been in this sector. It is a great vehicle for social mobility, for people from all sorts of backgrounds to get into a career and into management quickly. It impacts every community. The Government have recognised that with the unprecedented level of support that they have given to the sector. Although I would join calls for the need for more support, we should recognise the incredible support that has been put in place and is very much welcomed by the sector.

One of the key points to reinforce, which I do not think has been fully recognised in the support that the Government have made available, is the impact on hospitality of having to close quickly when decisions have been made to protect public health. Those decisions have been right, but the impact that they have had on the hospitality sector has been disproportionate. It is very different for a clothes shop having to close—six or 10 weeks later, the clothes will still be there. The food in the fridge and the beer in the seller will not last, however, and has to be thrown away. More support needs to be given to the sector to recognise that.

I join the calls made by many others: we need to extend the support for the sector. I very much look to the Chancellor, in the Budget, to extend the VAT cut—many businesses have not been able to make use of it, because they were closed for so long—and the business rates holiday. I would add that the opportunity should be taken to reform business rates in this sector. They have been unfairly impacting the sector for far too long. Let us take this opportunity to reform business rates, as well as extending the holiday.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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The fact that there are two petitions shows how important this issue is. To my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), I would say that Marston’s is an excellent brewery that really looks after the trade.

The hospitality industry is a huge driver of our economy, as many hon. Members have said. It employs millions directly and in its supply chain. It is an energetic innovator—my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) talked about how it responded to the pandemic and how businesses opened. In many small businesses, there are individuals who have invested their lives, savings and hopes in the industry and see them at grave risk.

The industry is also a vital part of our social fabric, our communities, our sense of self and our wellbeing. Our hospitality and entertainment environment is one of our big attractions to the wider world. It not only attracts tourists, but is one of the reasons why companies and workers come here, rather than go to many other countries.

Of course, the industry pays a huge amount of tax, but it is on its knees. It has been hit time and time again by Government restrictions, often brought in with notice of only a day or two. Pubs and clubs, restaurants and hotels, betting shops and casinos all put in huge effort and cash to make their premises covid secure and keep their customers safe. They were being responsible but, frankly, Ministers took precious little notice of that. They did not understand the industry and just shut it down at short notice because they wanted to be seen to be doing something.

What better example than the 10 pm curfew, which made no sense? Ministers took no notice of representations from those who work in the industry—especially pubs, restaurants and casinos. Incidentally, there was very little data to show that the industry was a major cause of the spread of disease. In fact, I talked to the public health officer in my area of Sandwell, and it was quite the contrary.

The petition for a Minister for the industry is perfectly understandable, because the industry falls between different Departments. It represents hundreds of thousands of establishments and falls between the bureaucratic cracks. It needs someone to be its champion in Whitehall.

One quick example is the coach industry. That key part of domestic tourism was left out in the cold, devastating thousands of family businesses and undermining the hospitality businesses they serve. The industry needs someone to understand the whole economic ecosystem and join the dots. A Minister might also have pointed out the chaos and waste that would occur when firms had to dump tonnes of food and barrels of beer because they were not able to plan. That was bad for the businesses and bad for the environment.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate after receiving 50 representations to do so from constituents, including from pubs—The Red Lion in Hillmorton, and The Griffin in Kingsway. I want to talk about the impact on supply, as one or two Members have already done. I spent 30 years as a supplier to the catering trade. In that regard, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

We often appreciate things when they are not there, and we are missing our pubs, cafés and restaurants right now. When they are not operating, it has a significant effect on the suppliers to the sector. Although I welcome the support that the Chancellor has spoken about—he referred to £4.5 billion today—many of the suppliers are not receiving the same level of support as the trading companies. During the pandemic, we have seen food purchases transferred from out-of-home to in-home consumption, and the beneficiaries have been supermarkets, which have done well out of the restrictions. Most have reported higher sales. For example, Tesco sales were up 11% over the Christmas period.

It is often assumed by many that suppliers and food manufacturers are able to switch production and pivot to supplying retail, but catering and retail products are very different, and as a consequence those businesses are losing out. We have heard about the switching on and off of hospitality, which has led to a great deal of stock being wasted. The food supplier, Creed Foodservice, spoke at the weekend about £6,000 of milk going out of date because of the decision to close schools. It says that it has written off £150,000-worth of food since April.

The business I ran supplied tableware items—things such as paper napkins, table covers and Christmas crackers. I have to say that an awful lot of the crackers that were bought for Christmas in 2020 were not pulled. Now, they can be held in stock and used for another year, but of course that involves tying up capital and taking up warehouse space, which are costs to those businesses.

Food service businesses continue to pay bills such as rent, electricity for chillers and loan payments for vehicles that are often standing idle. Wholesale distributors are usually high-volume, low-margin businesses, and the fixed costs mean that a relatively small fall in sales has a disproportionate impact on profitability. Too long a period without profit will cause many suppliers to fail.

In addition, the catering trade—restaurants and pubs—often use the cash sales generated in the current period to pay for goods received in the previous period when they were trading. That has led to many suppliers becoming banks and funding their customers. There is very little action that those suppliers can take if the hospitality businesses do not have the cash to pay them. I hope that the Minister in his response will show his appreciation for the supply chain, as well as for valued hospitality businesses.

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I, too, hope that we can return to virtual proceedings in Westminster Hall, so that all Members and staff can contribute safely amid rising infection rates. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for securing this important debate. I also thank the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and his night-time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, who have done so much in recent months to push the Government to provide a fair financial support package and who have set out the scale of the challenge facing my region.

The hospitality industry is a vital part of our economy and a growth industry. It is the fourth-biggest employer in the UK and contributed £133.5 billion to the economy in 2019. My constituency of Stockport is no different from many others in that a significant number of people are employed in the sector, many of whom have written to me to express their concerns about the lack of meaningful support provided by the Government. It is clear that the current measures, such as furlough payments, are little more than a drop in the ocean for many businesses struggling to keep their heads above water almost a year on from the start of the crisis. Far more needs to be done if we are to avoid the industry nosediving and hundreds of thousands across the UK ending up unemployed.

In Greater Manchester, more than two thirds of hospitality operators expect to make or have already made redundancies, 80% of which are in the restaurant sector. The failure of the Government to provide more meaningful support is perhaps why more than a third of businesses believe that they will never return to pre-covid levels, and why the hospitality sector expects to lose about 600,000 jobs by next month.

My constituents want the Government urgently to introduce more supportive measures during this period. For example, in the beer and pub sector, many businesses have called for the beer duty to be cut, for more pubs to be allowed to offer a takeaway service, and for wider financial support measures. That is even more pressing given the precarious nature of the pub industry, which in Stockport alone shrank by 25% in the decade prior to the pandemic. Publicans across my constituency, including Veronica Bell of the Sun and Castle, Pamela Clews of The Grey Horse and Ellen Davies of the Gardeners Arms have continued to go above and beyond to ensure that their businesses survive the crisis.

There is also an important point about supply chain businesses, such as Stephensons in my constituency, which supplies the catering trade across the north-west. Without their efforts, many more local jobs would have been lost and pubs would have disappeared for good from our high streets and communities. However, their hard work alone is not enough. Stockport Council recently made a successful bid for future high streets fund investment. Although that is welcome, it will do little to bring a halt to the significant decline in trade.

I therefore call on the Minister to provide assurances that the furlough scheme will be extended beyond its current deadline of the end of April and that other measures will be taken, such as the extension of business rates relief, until the hospitality sector is fully open again, as well as significant safety net measures such as Government-backed covid indemnity insurance policies like those we have seen in many European countries, including Germany.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for securing the debate and for her excellent opening speech. I fully support her comments about remote participation in Westminster Hall.

I thank the instigators of the petition and the 200,000-plus people who signed it. That is an impressive number, but it is unsurprising, given that hospitality is the hardest-hit sector, as well as associated activities such as weddings, events and live entertainment. At the heart of the petition is the fact that people are looking for leadership, which is why they want a specific Minister. They want leadership, focus and understanding. I mean no disrespect to the Minister, with whom I share a lot of these occasions, but what we have had is bits—piecemeal, sticking-plaster support offers—alongside stop-start restrictions that have sometimes felt particularly pernicious for the sector and that have often lacked evidence.

The petition reflects the idea that the Government do not get hospitality in all its forms. As we have heard, hospitality includes lots of different businesses, but at the heart of it are people who have put their life’s work, livelihoods and love into creating businesses that bring people together. Often they have used personal assets to guarantee those businesses.

We have heard that hospitality is a huge part of our economy. It was the third biggest employer before covid, generating billions in turnover and tax. Such businesses make up the heart and soul of our town centres, city centres, high streets and communities. They are a key part of the ecosystem and they bring people and places together. We saw that recently in the BBC documentary that Tom Kerridge, one of the supporters of the petition, presented—it was an excellent programme. There is a wider ecosystem, too, from the supply chain that we have heard about to taxi drivers and security, as well as hotels, events and weddings. Hospitality is a huge, interlinked and diverse sector, and it employs many young people, those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and women. It was growing before, and it will grow again.

We welcomed the support that the hospitality sector had at the start of the pandemic. It was the right thing to do then, and it is right now that that support continues. Then, however, cash grant support was worth more. The other packages brought in at the time were designed for a much shorter period of time—loans, deferrals, moratoriums and so on. They are now not fit for purpose after nearly a year and growing of closures and lost trade. That is the key issue, which I think other Members have raised: what was initially designed for three months is now not appropriate for the 12 to 18 months that we are talking about.

Supporting businesses is the right thing to do economically. The Government said they would put their arm around the shoulder of the sector, but that must be maintained. Every previously viable business that goes bust will lengthen and deepen the long tail of recovery. That is not just the Labour view, but the view of the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of England and the OECD. We cannot cut our way out of a crisis. Lots of focus early on was rightly on the furlough scheme to protect jobs, but leading businesses now warn that without further support, those jobs will no longer be able to be furloughed as businesses go bust. A survey out today says 250,000 businesses, many of them in hospitality and associated areas, will fold this year. That is a devastating warning.

Supporting businesses is also the right thing to do morally, because they have closed to keep us safe. It is only right that the Government should step in to support them and keep them going. With light at the end of the tunnel, it is now even more important that there is a proper long-term plan to help businesses survive to that point and then thrive beyond it. I am sorry to say that despite some of the early actions taken, no such plan is forthcoming. We have the sticking-plaster approach to economic support, and there is no plan or route map for reopening. Contrast that with the approach of other countries, such as Germany and elsewhere. Speak to any business and it will say that cash flow is the major issue now. Action simply cannot wait until the Budget, because many businesses will be bust by then.

The furlough extension is welcome, but contributions are now stretching balance sheets. Businesses have taken the loans, deferrals and holidays, and they have not paid the rent, yet it is still not enough. The stop-start nature of the lockdowns has damaged business confidence and liquidity, and we have heard about the costs of restocking and losing stock along the way. Businesses were expecting the job retention bonus, but they had it taken away at the last minute, despite it being priced in. That was all before hospitality lost its golden months of the pre-Christmas trade, so it is no surprise that some of the latest business surveys show that more than half of hospitality businesses have less than three months of cash reserves. Only one in five hospitality businesses has enough to survive until March.

Just this week, we heard of Mitchells and Butlers, one of the oldest and biggest players in the sector, seeking to refinance. It is losing £40 million a month just to stay closed. I do not like to say so, but it feels a little like Ministers are asleep at the wheel. I am sure the Minister will tell us about the billions of pounds that have been spent, but unless the Government set out a long-term plan and a comprehensive framework to see businesses through to the spring, there will be waves of insolvencies and job losses. As somebody asked earlier, that prompts questions about the billions that have already been spent. What was it for if, at the critical juncture, the rug is pulled, and jobs and businesses are lost anyway?

We have to be honest about the announcements that have been made this week. The £9,000 is not available to most businesses; five out of six will get a lot less than that. Even when taken together with the local restrictions grant, it is still a lot less than what was received last time around. It does not even cover businesses in the supply chain, who are again waiting to see whether discretionary grants will come to them; for many, they will not.

What about the medium-sized businesses—the hotels, the chains, the breweries and others? As somebody said earlier, £9,000 is frankly a drop in the beer glass. There is no mention of the excluded, many of whom are associated with this sector. What was an outrage for these people for three months is now economically and mentally fatal for many after nearly 12 months. We called on the Government to begin by using the £2 billion repaid by supermarkets to provide proper support to businesses and the excluded, but they have yet to do so.

I am afraid that a huge amount of business uncertainty lies ahead. The Government urgently need to get ahead of that and make sure there is a comprehensive plan. There is a massive surge of a cash-flow crisis ahead of us, with businesses going bust. In the next few months, we are going to see the end of the evictions ban, the business rates holiday and the Government-backed loans. Corporation tax payments will be due and there will be an end to the VAT cut, the VAT deferral and measures to prevent insolvencies.

Businesses will need to start repaying their VAT deferrals and business rates in April, yet we heard this weekend that hospitality businesses will not even be reopened by then. This is now urgent. Businesses looking ahead at their cash flow are taking decisions about their staff and the future of their businesses today. This cannot wait until March. Something must be done. The VAT reduction will have little benefit for most businesses, because they have been closed during that time.

The failure of the Government to set out what might happen to those deadlines is creating massive anxiety, and will lead to wave after wave of insolvency and consequential job losses, not only extending and deepening the economic crisis, but taking with them all the loans and the previous investment in keeping them going up to this point. It makes no economic sense whatsoever.

Alongside this economic spring plan for businesses, we need a clear route map to reopening, as called for by the British Beer and Pub Association, UKHospitality and others. They want proper discussion now about the route map to reopening. What levels of vaccination, hospitalisations and mortality are needed for reopening, and what does that reopening look like? No household mixing? Substantial meals again? Curfews again? These have all caused extra burden when the evidence is clear.

In conclusion, hospitality businesses and their associated ecosystem need better leadership, focus and understanding. They need cash support that matches business need and revenue loss. There will be no businesses for firms to employ people unless this is done. They need immediate action on the uncertainty created about these cliff edges. That may involve big, creative thinking on some of the big issues coming up the track, with rent deferrals and the huge debt overhang, that will need to be addressed at some point. The Government need to stop their scattergun approach, which leads to sticking-plaster solutions, and come up with a proper long-term plan for this hugely important sector in distress.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Minister, I ask you to leave two or three minutes at the end for the proposer.

Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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Thank you, Mr Stringer, I will do. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing the debate and representing the petitioners so well. They are understandably crying out for help to get across the line, after such a difficult period. Hospitality has undoubtedly been one of the hardest pressed, if not the hardest pressed, sectors over the pandemic. I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate for the way in which they have put the case for their constituents.

Since taking on responsibility for food and beverage hospitality businesses in March last year and establishing a dedicated sponsorship team within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we have worked extremely closely with representatives from across the sector, so there has always been development. I will come back to the question of a dedicated Minister in a second, but essentially, this was split across a number of Departments and we now have a dedicated hospitality team that is working really hard.

I also put on record my gratitude to the sector itself for how its representatives have engaged with me and my officials throughout the pandemic. It is important to recognise that the hospitality sector is not just pubs and restaurants: cafés, the wedding sector, nightclubs and all the associated businesses that we have heard so much about today, including specialist suppliers, are also going through this. I thank them in particular for how they engaged with the safer workplace guidance to allow essential businesses to stay open, but also to allow these businesses to reopen at various points. Understandably, as we have discussed, the fact of the matter is that there has been opening and closing depending on the tier system, and that has been a source of frustration for everybody, especially—as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) says—those that have had to pour away beer and throw away food at various points during this period.

We continue to work together with the sector across Government to make sure that we can strike the right balance between the covid-19 restrictions and the corresponding business support measures. As we have heard, we responded with an unprecedented package of support worth a staggering £280 billion, which included the grants, the furlough scheme, the various loan schemes, the business rates holiday, VAT deferrals, and of course the eat out to help out scheme. On top of that, we released additional funding worth £4.6 billion to help businesses through the current lockdown, which we estimate will help 600,000 hospitality businesses. We have also taken action to protect businesses by placing restrictions on landlords using commercial rents arrears recovery to enforce unpaid rents on commercial leases. Importantly, we have kept all the support measures under review to ensure that as far as possible, they have kept pace with the changing covid-19 situation and the need to flex restrictions accordingly.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not give way, just so that I do not run out of time, but I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in a second.

Like those who have taken the time to sign a petition, and those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate, I recognise the importance of the hospitality sector, not just to local areas but to whole communities and to the country as a whole. We have heard that the sector employs around 3.5 million people overall, and in normal circumstances generates revenues of around £63 billion a year. It is strategically important to the UK, as well, traditionally being the first sector to recover following an economic downturn and acting as a catalyst for wider economic recovery and regeneration.

Most importantly, the sector lies at the heart of communities, providing jobs and places to enjoy companionship and supporting mental health and wellbeing, social cohesion and cultural integration. It is important that when we talk about culture—about meeting people—we remember that that is what hospitality is there to do, and it is really sad that the restrictions and lockdown itself are there to stop people meeting people. As we have heard, though, that is not to say that hospitality in itself is the vector for transmission. It is really important that we do not scapegoat the hospitality sector, which has done so much—it has spent a lot of money and put in a lot of effort—to make its venues covid-secure.

Turning to the question of establishing a Minister for hospitality, responsibility is currently split between BEIS and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: BEIS is responsible for the food and beverage industries, and DCMS is responsible for accommodation, primarily hotels, as part of its tourism remit. There is clearly some overlap between these important industries, and I work closely with the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at DCMS, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), to ensure that the interests of this sector as a whole are fully represented across Government.

The close collaboration that we have means that the policy levers in both DCMS and BEIS can be employed effectively to the benefit of the sector. Clearly, it is not within my gift to create a new ministerial post—that power rests solely with the Prime Minister—but I can assure hon. Members that the two of us are doing all we can within Government to understand and represent the interests of the sector. Whether or not we have a dedicated Minister for hospitality, we need to ensure that the sector is in the best possible place to bounce back from covid-19, so that it can play a leading role in the UK’s economic and social recovery.

We know that the hospitality sector has often shown great resilience and innovation in adapting; such adaptation is not a new phenomenon. We saw that hospitality was one of the first sectors to recover after the 2007 financial crisis, which helped drive the UK’s recovery more generally. In order to achieve the same level of recovery that we saw following that crisis, we are committed to maintaining support to the sector until the vaccines are rolled out and businesses can open without restrictions. However, we also need to think about and plan for the longer-term recovery.

The UK has a world-leading net zero target. I want to see the creativity that helps define the hospitality sector put to good use in helping to tackle climate change, by developing and utilising new technologies and processes to minimise emissions and, importantly, waste. Although this is a challenging time for the sector, it is essential that, as we bounce back, we work with hospitality businesses to build back their industry so that it is stronger and greener.

I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who was unable to attend the debate today but sent me a statement from hospitality businesses in her constituency, supporting the creation of the ministerial position and emphasising the important role that the sector will need to play in our economic recovery and growth. I hope that I have addressed both those points.

We have had a very interesting debate, starting with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). One of the regular calls that I have with the industry includes Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster. We also heard from the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who talked about Van Morrison. Actually, a Van Morrison gig was one of the last gigs that I went to at the O2, to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital. The O2 itself is now one of the nightingale hospitals, and one of the people who set it up was the chief nurse at the Marsden—everything comes around in a circular fashion, which shows the unusual times we are in.

With regard to the coffee culture that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) talked about, we should not forget that takeaway coffees also play a part for shift workers, who need such extra support, so not everything that is seen as non- essential is non-essential to certain people.

There is no way we can have a one-size-fits-all policy. Certainly what I have learnt about the hospitality sector over the past nine or 10 months is that a lot of work is being done behind the scenes, whether with me or with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, or through lobbying by Colin Neill, Kate Nicholls or Emma McClarkin, or through lobbying from the chief executives of the larger pub businesses, the independent pubs, the restaurant groups and all those sorts of businesses. That means we can address issues such as the 10 pm curfew, which was a blunt instrument, as has been outlined. It clearly stopped restaurants having second sittings, but it also stopped pubs selling a lot of alcohol at that time—a lot of their profit is created at that time but it was also pushing people together. I am also the Minister for London and I saw at that time a 40% increase in the use of the tube between 10 pm and 10.15 pm. The curfew was clearly pushing people together, doing the opposite of what we wanted. It was therefore right to make the case against it and have it reversed.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Huq
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not give way, because I have only a couple of minutes left and I want to give the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North a little time to respond to the debate.

From my business role through to my work with the hospitality sector, and in my work as Minister for London, I can see that any town centre, any city area or any retail area is an ecosystem. People do not go to a hotel, such as those within a mile or two of where we are now, just to sleep in another bed; they go because they want to spend time in the pubs, restaurants, theatres, museums, galleries and all the things that a city such as London has to offer. It is the same with Newcastle, Manchester or any of our fantastic towns across the country, and clearly it is also the same for rural areas such as Cornwall, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) mentioned when he talked about tourism in his part of the world.

Indeed, that is a really interesting point about tourism in coastal or rural areas in particular, because we are now in the third winter of their three-winter scenario—we had the winter last year; then we had the summer, when they would expect to make a lot of their profits but effectively it was a winter for them; and now, as we can feel here in Westminster Hall today, this is really a third winter. It is important that we continue to work very closely with those areas.

I am more than happy to work with all hon. Members to ensure that we do not just hear the understandable cries of anguish from the hospitality sector, but work out what we can do, given the public finances, to continue to flex, work on the recovery and look at how we can stagger the reopening. In a few weeks’ time, we will get to the point with the vaccine roll-out, hopefully alongside the plateauing of the case load, at which we will have a better idea of the timescale and can start talking about a road map.

I know, because we talked about this last summer, that businesses, especially the bigger ones that have greater resources and can do that sort of forward thinking, will already be thinking about how to roll out the reopening of pubs, restaurants, cafés and, importantly, the wedding sector, which my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) mentioned. I would love to get to that point, whether through pilots or just through working with the wedding sector, which is understandably filling my timeline on Twitter and social media—I can see exactly why it is doing that. After that, we can deal with the nightclub sector—we heard about Sacha Lord, who does a remarkable job in raising these issues with me and colleagues—which is a really tough one to crack. Hopefully we can get to the point where it can open.

I could go on forever, but I want to leave some time for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North. Hospitality brings people together. We have heard a lot of calls for the evidence for why various measures were put in place. If hon. Members look at the infographics and the rules and guidance for this particular part of the lockdown, they will see that there are three words at the top of pretty much every page: “Stay at home.” Unfortunately, that is what everything is about. It is not about meeting. This will be a really tough few months, because it is miserable outside. With regard to exercise and so on, it is not going to be good. We need to offer hope to those businesses and get them across the finishing line so that we have a better summer and ensure that we do not have a fourth winter.

The hospitality sector represents friendship, generosity, enjoyment and happiness. It is a tonic for loneliness and a warm welcome for visitors at the heart of our communities. In short, hospitality matters. We will continue to work with hospitality businesses to get them through the immediate crisis and then help them to build back stronger and greener.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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I thank everyone who contributed to this debate. We have done justice to the petitioners who raised this issue. There is nothing that we disagree on. In fact, there was nothing in what the Minister said for us to disagree with, other than the fact that he has not accepted the proposal to have a specific Minister for hospitality.

We agree that this industry is vital, but we all have concerns that the Government are not maximising the knowledge within the hospitality industry to ensure that they and the country get it right for the industry. If we put the two together, we can use all that creativity, energy and innovation to ensure not only that the Government’s response is right, but that it is absolutely right for the hospitality industry.

According to the well-known saying, we do not know what we have got until it has gone, but I would say that we do know what we have got; we all know that these businesses are absolutely essential in our communities. They are essential for jobs and opportunities. They are essential for the sense of community. They are essential because they are unique and special and will attract to this country the people we will need in our post-Brexit world. They are also essential because they are a major tax generator for the Government.

The Government should want to get this right and should want the maximum possible engagement with the hospitality industry. A seat at the table and a strong voice for the hospitality industry would be in the Government’s interest. I thank the Minister for his response today but urge him to take the idea away and put it to the Prime Minister as something that it is in the Government’s interest to create.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petitions 552201 and 329985 relating to Government support for the hospitality industry.

Sitting suspended.

Covid-19 Vaccination Roll-out

Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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[Sir David Amess in the Chair]
[Relevant Documents: E-petition 564155, Prioritise COVID-19 vaccines for first responders (police, fire, ambulance).]
Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 554316 relating to roll-out of covid-19 vaccinations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir David, and an honour to lead for the Petitions Committee in this debate. Some may note that, owing to the latest restrictions and recommendations from Mr Speaker, many hon. Members are unable to attend Westminster Hall in person. For reasons beyond the comprehension of the sensible, there is a reluctance by the Leader of the House to make these debates accessible virtually to all Members, so I ask the petition’s signatories not to be disappointed if they feel that their voices have not been heard; I have been contacted by many Members of Parliament and hope to reflect what many of them have told me.

The initial petition to be debated is entitled “Prioritise teachers, school and childcare staff for Covid-19 vaccination” and was set up by Charlotte. It has close to 460,000 signatures and the number is rising all the time. A newer petition related to the debate has also been tagged, which calls for first responders to be prioritised alongside NHS workers. It was set up by Laura Sylvester and had nearly 49,000 signatures when I last checked.

I want to be clear from the start that this debate is not about leapfrogging others who deserve the vaccine; it is about ensuring that our teachers, school staff and first responders are able to access the vaccine—it is them on the frontline every day delivering vital services. When I spoke to Charlotte, a primary schoolteacher from High Peak, she was so mindful of the necessity of vaccinating those people on the list already, but teachers want consideration of where they are placed on that list. Only NHS staff and healthcare workers have been considered as priority groups by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, but I and many others think that overlooks the role that teachers and frontline workers have already played during the pandemic, and the contribution that they will continue to make.

The advice from the JCVI on the priority groups for a covid-19 vaccine, as stated in the petitions, does not include school and childcare workers. The petition therefore calls for those workers who cannot distance or use personal protective equipment to be kept safe at work by being put on the vaccine priority list, and for that to be adopted into Government policy. Some correspondence that I have received since the fact of the debate was published stated that to hold such a debate was a waste of parliamentary time, and that to question the conclusions of the JCVI was to undermine its decisions. However, the role of Parliament is to debate and to scrutinise the Government. The Petitions Committee is a vehicle for genuine first-hand concerns to be expressed on behalf of everyday people. I am honoured to be able to do so.

As a former teacher, I recognise that education is the greatest gift that we can give to our future generations—those who will be facing the consequences not only of the pandemic but of Brexit. My own son has had his centre-assessed GCSEs and now his AS-levels affected. It is far from what any of us ever imagined would happen. How do we get children back into school and in front of their teachers?

We know the consequences of missing school, especially for the most deprived, and those consequences lead to a widening of the attainment gap. Research by the charity Teach First suggests that school closures risk further contributing to that problem through the digital divide: 84% of schools with the poorest pupils do not have enough devices or internet access to ensure that pupils can learn from home, compared with 66% of schools in the most affluent areas. Access to technology, family home environments and economic pressures suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to miss out on learning as a result of being at home.

There needs to be a plan, there needs to be a back-up plan and there needs to be a plan for the unthinkable. Getting teachers, and therefore pupils, back into school must be one of the key aims for this Government, and that should be reflected in the prioritisation of the vaccine. Think about how much contact a teacher has with human beings in one day, where there is no social distancing or it is practically impossible. Teachers see vast amounts of children in a week, according to a normal timetable, so there are many opportunities for the virus to spread.

We need to give children and young adults the best chance in life, and that always starts with their education. I can tell anyone who has not worked in the classroom environment that it is hard to comprehend the challenges that our teachers face every day. We cannot expect teachers to work in an unsafe environment. Schools have spent a lot of time making their environment safe, and the consensus among teachers is that they cannot give their best through online teaching. Teachers do what they do to inspire, develop skills, build confidence, entertain and impart knowledge. They want to be back in the classroom and to change the lives of the children they teach and want to teach.

The NASUWT has presented evidence showing that staff working in both secondary and primary schools are far more likely to be infected than the wider community, with rates of virus prevalence among school staff being three to four times higher than the prevalence rate for non-teachers. I welcome the announcement made last week by the Welsh Government about prioritising teaching and support staff in special schools. Those schools have remained open throughout the pandemic to support children classed as vulnerable. It is right that they are able to continue to deliver the excellent, vital support that they provide to families of children with additional needs. The Government must also give due consideration to those who deliver childcare in nursery settings. They are the carers of our youngest children. Those settings do not traditionally fall within education, but they must not, because of that, be forgotten.

It is pertinent that England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, suggested that teachers and other frontline workers could be included in the next stage of vaccinations, which will cover the next five priority groups, including the over-50s and those with risky underlying health conditions. Many MPs from across the House agree that the reconsideration of the JCVI prioritisation schedule is necessary. Can the Minister give assurances that the JCVI will reconsider vaccine reprioritisation for certain professions? Will he be able to lay out the comprehensive plan for school leaders and local authorities that will provide the necessary financial and logistical support to implement the plans?

Although I have spoken mainly to teachers, the additional petition talks about the UK Government and the JCVI considering prioritising first responders alongside NHS carers and workers. To put that request into context, it is helpful to highlight the fact that, across the UK, there are just over 210,000 first responders and emergency service workers. It is not beyond the wit of man to make them a priority. Because first responders have an

“increased level of exposure with the general public every day and lack of regular testing”

they are at a higher risk of contracting covid-19 and transmitting it to the public. Losing our first responders on the frontline puts the public at risk of not being served when they most need it. Prioritising vaccines will help to ensure

“protection and safety of their health whilst carrying out their jobs on the frontline”

and lower

“the risk of easily contracting/transmitting COVID-19 to co-workers, their families, and the general public”.

The reprioritisation of the JCVI list is necessary. Government cannot just say, “This is what the JCVI says,” and that that must therefore be set in stone.

However, there is another consideration that the Government could use to address their concerns. That is laid out in “A Plan for Vaccine Acceleration” published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change on 3 January:

“Almost 1 million people in the United Kingdom have received their first-dose vaccination against Covid-19. This is a Herculean effort from the NHS, which must be applauded. But in the situation we face, it is unfortunately not sufficient.”

That is not a criticism of the NHS. It is a reflection on the planning and strategy of the Government. If the Minister and the Department would consider following that plan for vaccine acceleration, there might be some hope on the horizon of our children returning to education and frontline workers carrying out their jobs fear-free, because our teachers and frontline workers, and our children, deserve better.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Colleagues, there are a number of changes. First, you will have noticed that there is a statement in the House, so the Minister and shadow spokesman are still detained there. I am sure that colleagues will be kind to the two Members standing in their place, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), but everyone should bear in mind that they did not expect to be in that position. Furthermore, a number of Members who are on the call list have disappeared and not come back, and are not in the Chamber, so the order in which I call Members will be Opposition, Government, Opposition. I shall try to indicate the order to you. I call Craig Williams.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
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It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and a great delight to be called earlier than I expected. I welcome the tone in which the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) introduced the petition. She has given a great voice to both petitions. I echo the statement that this is a very worthy and timely debate—anybody who has been filling her inbox to say the contrary is wrong.

There is an undertone of great political agreement about the JCVI’s recommendations, because we have Governments of different colours across the United Kingdom. We have a Labour and Liberal Democrat Government in Wales—the Education Minister is of the Liberal persuasion, but they are primarily a Labour Government. We have a Conservative Government in Westminster, and we have a Scottish National party Government in Scotland. Broadly, however, the JCVI has stacked up in its entirety in its recommendations.

I accept the spirit of the petitions and the recommendation for frontline workers and teachers to have early vaccinations. I had my county chair of the National Farmers Union on the phone this morning, and he was pleading for farmers and people working in food processing and in important sectors supplying food—not just to our hospitals, but to our entire country—to receive special treatment as the vaccinations are rolled out. There is a huge lobby around this issue. I cannot think of a better call-up in short order than the Minister, and I am expecting an excellent reply, but we really need a vaccination programme that speeds up at pace across the whole United Kingdom. I will make a number of asks in my short contribution—I know a lot of Members wish to speak.

Although I broadly support the intent of the petitions, I stand squarely behind the recommendations made thus far by the JCVI. We are in the right phasing. The hon. Member for Gower was right to look at opening up the next round of vaccinations, but my plea is to get vaccinating as quickly as possible. We have seen different stages of planning across the United Kingdom. As a Welsh Member, I know we are at a different stage in Wales from the one in England. We also see a different phase of the roll-out in Scotland. My plea is to get vaccinating the groups identified by the JCVI as quickly as possible, and then to vaccinate the wider population. I can see the hon. Lady gearing up—I will certainly give way if she wants, knowing my Welsh colleague well.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for giving way. If schools will be returning to normal practice after half-term in February—that is where we are now, practically across the United Kingdom—does he agree that there is real urgency to know what is going to be different this time round? What will be put in place this time round? That is why there is an urgent need to revisit the vaccination programme.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the father of an eight-year-old and a four-year-old starting their education, I know home-schooling presents a challenge. I dare say that nobody present wants the schools reopened more quickly than I do, but let us be clear that we need to vaccinate in this country to keep deaths down. Of course education is of primary importance, and people would expect a father of young children to echo what is being said up and down the country, but the JCVI has made it clear that the first phases will tackle the mortality rate. It has to be the priority of Members in this Chamber and our Governments across the United Kingdom to keep the mortality rate as low as possible.

There are a couple of things that I will ask the Minister to focus on. I would like information published about how many vaccines are being delivered to the devolved Administrations, so that we can hold their feet to the fire on their delivery. I want to see how many vaccines are being supplied. We can then evaluate roll-out processes in the light of day, rather than operate as we are doing now.

I would like further consideration of what can be done for frontline first responders and teachers in future roll-outs. How do they feature? My key ask, however, is that we be as transparent as possible with the vaccine roll-out. We need communication not just with our teachers and first responders, but across the country, to make it clear when people can expect vaccinations and when the schools will fully reopen, so that we can say goodbye to Zoom—especially those of us with a four-year-old. When can people expect their local vaccine centres, GPs, or, I hope and pray eventually in Wales, community pharmacists to get involved in the frontline delivery of vaccines?

My plea today is that we follow the clear guidance from the JCVI and the ambition to keep mortality rates as low as possible, but that we are transparent with our teachers and our constituents to make sure that they see this roll out at speed.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour to participate in a debate under your chairing, Sir David. It is an extremely important and timely debate, and I thank all the people who signed the two petitions that brought it forward.

For almost a year, covid-19 has impacted all our lives in ways we could never have expected or imagined. Young people have missed vital time in the classroom, businesses have been forced to close, families have been kept apart and, shockingly, more than 80,000 lives have now been lost. The correspondence I receive every day from constituents represents their vast and varied concerns. The common thread is an overwhelming sense of fatigue and the desperate wish for the country to get back to normal.

The vaccine is our way out, our golden ticket to some sense of normality. I put on record my thanks to all those who have worked to make it possible. It should amaze us all that in less than 10 months humans have been able to learn about the virus, develop a vaccine to combat it, test it, conduct three phases of trials and get it approved. That could not have been done without enormous sacrifice, talent and a level of international collaboration that should inspire us all and be applied to a range of areas. Because of that hard work, we can now see light at the end of the tunnel.

The pandemic has demanded huge sacrifices from people all over the world in the name of beating the virus. Now that we have a vaccine, it is incumbent on the Government to hold to their end of the bargain and ensure that the roll-out is done correctly. The stakes are painfully clear. If we can get a vaccine for people most at risk, in the fastest amount of time, we will be able to save countless lives.

That is why, alongside the Daily Mirror and the TUC, my party has started the Let’s Vaccinate Britain campaign. We are working with trade unions to demand that employers give workers paid time off to get vaccinated. We are encouraging people to sign up to the NHS to volunteer and to speak to their friends, neighbours and relatives about the importance of getting vaccinated. I call on everyone listening to the debate to get involved in that campaign.

Many of my constituents and others in Leeds are already contributing to the national effort. Fittingly, Leeds’s first covid vaccine was given Sylvia Harris, an 80-year-old ward housekeeper who has worked for the NHS since she was 26, but has had to shield at home since March last year. Soon, she will finally be able to return to what she does best—caring for her patients. I thank Leeds United football club for offering its stadium, Elland Road, to be a vaccination centre, and all those across Leeds who are devoting time and energy to making the vaccine administration possible.

We need a huge national effort to get this country vaccinated, starting with key workers and those most vulnerable to the virus. That means conducting round-the-clock vaccinations, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It makes perfect sense for key workers to be vaccinated overnight, allowing daytime vaccinations for the age priority groups.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has said that there is no public appetite for vaccinations 24 hours a day. I do not believe that is correct. Key workers, and people who want the vaccine in order to get back to normal, will take it on whatever day or night is offered to them. Older age groups might not be prepared to have the vaccine during the night, so maybe the strategy is to vaccinate the key workers in the nocturnal hours and the older age groups in the daytime hours. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] There is agreement about that across the House.

As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) said, politicians across the House have been keen to emphasise the importance of getting children back into school. I declare an interest, as I have a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, and it is sometimes difficult to motivate them for home learning. I am sure we all know that feeling. We cannot get them back in school until it is safe. Schools cannot operate in a socially distanced way, without access to proper personal protective equipment. Vaccination is the only way we can ensure staff are protected.

It is not just teachers who need to be added to the priority groups. I submitted a written question last week on hospices. The Minister who has just finished in the Chamber, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), can listen to this debate now and to what I have to say. He responded by saying that the JCVI based its advice on the data it reviewed from a number of sources, including the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England. For the purposes of covid-19 vaccine prioritisation, the definition of care homes is all care home premises licensed and registered with the Care Quality Commission. This definition does not include hospices. I want to ask the Minister on duty, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), and the Minister who is hopefully watching, why hospices should not be added, because they are just as important as other care settings.

I also want to make a plea for early years. Why is early years treated differently from teachers or other settings? They should not be. Early years settings are suffering at the moment because they are open, and the financial pressures are immense because of the different pressures on their time. Today the leaders of Leeds City Council wrote to the Minister for Children and Families and copied in the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment. Councillors Blake and Venner wrote, “We are requesting that early years staff, to include childminder staff working in group settings and wraparound care, are prioritised for the covid-19 vaccine. Early years providers support a large number of children, provide personal care and do not wear PPE. It is of course vital that the NHS and care home workers as well as other priority groups more vulnerable to the virus receive the vaccine first. But we are asking that early years staff form an additional priority group after this.” That is another group that can be vaccinated in the evening or at night, putting our youngest away from harm in those settings.

I will conclude by asking about transparency on data, which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire gently touched upon. We have a lot of data around testing. We know how many tests are being conducted in each local authority area. We know where the roll-out is and where the centres are. If we can have that level of data for testing, why can we not have it for vaccinations? I am sure that other Members, like me, look on the Worldometer website, which has started recording vaccination data as well as testing data, cases, mortality and so on. Soon there will be global comparisons around vaccinations and we will be able to see where the UK stands. We can see that now, but we need to be able to dig right down to see how many vaccines have been supplied to each primary care network, how many centres there are, and how many first and second vaccines have been given. That will start to give the public confidence that there is not a postcode lottery, that roll-outs are happening and that centres are open. That will encourage more people to come forward, not just to receive the vaccine but to support the roll-out.

Data and public confidence are really important. I hope that the duty Minister, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, will take that away and provide us with that data. I asked the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon about that in a private call just before Christmas. He said he would get back to me. Now that I have raised it in this Chamber, I hope that he will.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David. Standing here in lockdown again, with the Chancellor telling the House this afternoon that it is going to get worse before it gets better, I have to say that 2021 is starting to look a lot like 2020.

I could support lockdown 3 last week, whereas I could not support the lockdown in November, because we finally have the ultimate release from the deadly cycle of lockdown and release in the form of the covid vaccine. I warmly welcome the “UK COVID-19 vaccines delivery plan”, published this afternoon. We need to study it, and we will, but the figures suggest we have made a strong start. As the Health Secretary said in Downing Street this afternoon, 2.6 million jabs have been given to 2.3 million people, according to the very latest figures.

I welcome the Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who is responsible for many of the jabs. He has taken his seat at exactly the right time, because I agree with the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), that we should vaccinate 24/7. I think there will be an appetite for that. The idea of key workers being vaccinated overnight and perhaps those in the older categories during the day if they do not want it during the night is absolutely fine. Let us at least give them the opportunity. It might be cold and it might be dark, but I will make the tea.

There is no question but that we will see problems, and the Minister will be the first to acknowledge that. Supply is going to be lumpy in the next few days, and that is creating problems. I cannot hide from that. We are off to a flier in my constituency of Winchester, way ahead of many areas. In fact, one primary care network in my district has already delivered more jabs than the whole of France. None the less, it is very frustrating that just today a raft of appointments made for this week in my constituency has had to be postponed because of supply problems. We cannot doubt the fact that this hits public confidence. I thank the Minister for Vaccines for his engagement with me and the primary care network involved this weekend, and plead with him to help us get this corrected and get the deliveries into this part of Hampshire, so that these appointments can be made good and carried out as soon as possible.

Looking at the delivery plan, such as I have been able to this afternoon, I agree about the publishing of data. Daily national data is so important—transparency is our best weapon—but daily regional data will also be really important. I want to see areas with enough supply almost competing to better each other. If Lancashire is doing better than Yorkshire, I have a funny feeling that Yorkshire will want to do better than Lancashire. That is the sort of national effort that we need to see right now. We need to jab for victory, get covid done—whatever three-word slogan the Minister chooses. Let’s do it.

As the Minister knows, it is my strong belief that these awful restrictions on our lives cannot be in place for a day longer than they are required, so alongside the published vaccine delivery plan and the daily figures on how we are getting this done, we have to give the public some hope. In the past hour or so, the Secretary of State has said at the No. 10 press conference that just over 88% of those likely to get seriously unwell and sadly die from covid reside within the top four priority vaccine groups. My view is that given that the only metric that really counts, and the reason why public support for lockdown is so high, is the desire to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, logic would dictate that once that threat has gone away, we can start to lift the restrictions. We need clear heads if we want to do that. Covid-19 is not a conspiracy or a hoax. We were right to take it seriously last spring, and we are right to take it seriously now, but we are equally right to demand a plan that dismantles the most draconian laws this Parliament has brought in in centuries, and to do so in lockstep with the vaccination programme that we have.

We know the plan commits the Government to vaccinate the top four groups by 15 February, which is great. As Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, grimly reminds us, we expect between 7,000 and 10,000 deaths from flu each year in an average year. The most cautious reading would suggest that the vaccination programme should take covid deaths well below this level, so when we have vaccinated the highest-risk groups, what will we do? When we have completed phase 1 by vaccinating all those with above-average risk in late March, what will we do then? These are important questions, and ones that I will keep asking. We do not lock society down for common colds or seasonal flu; we cannot do the same for the little-understood condition that is long covid, no matter how awful it can be. The many other economic, health and societal impacts of this pandemic are already serious enough, so we need a clear road map out of this that the public can believe in, or this year is going to make the last look tame by comparison.

The petition is right to look at the next phase of the vaccination strategy, but there are so many competing groups asking to be put in the front of that next phase. Supermarket checkout staff interact with huge numbers of people from multiple households, more than any teacher would during any working day. What about police officers? Just this afternoon, I had an email from a constituent telling me about the work that her son is doing in London. Maybe they should be top of the next queue. Pharmacists are going to play a very central role—I declare my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for even mentioning pharmacists. They are brilliant, and as a former pharmacy Minister, I can say they are going to play a brilliant role in the roll-out of this. Maybe they should be top of the next phase’s queue.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when we talk about prioritisation, teachers range from early years to further and higher education, and have widespread responsibilities and contacts, including intimate care with young children? Think of a secondary schoolteacher, carrying their bags around to each and every classroom in which they have to teach under certain systems that have been put in place. I cannot think of another group of people who have that much contact with other humans, and I cannot stress that enough.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine
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I do not disagree. The hon. Lady probably thinks that I am working up to disagreeing with the premise of the petition. I am not. The point that I am making, before I agree with the premise, is that there are so many competing groups and, while supply is lumpy—supply is limited at the moment—we have to prioritise, which is why phase 1 has to be right.

My overriding message is this. Let us get on with it. Let us have this national programme. Let us implement the vaccine delivery plan. And then we will put all these groups in. With regard to teachers, I absolutely agree: if reopening and keeping open schools is the Government’s priority, and the Westminster Government say that it is, surely it is good sense, let alone good politics, to vaccinate educators. I say “educators” because of course it is not just teachers, but support workers and all the other people who make schools happen. That must make sense, but I will just say that if we are going to have schools reopened at the end of half-term, we have almost, now, lost the opportunity to do that, because we have to give people the jab and then allow three weeks for it to take effect. That now cannot happen before the end of half-term, so there will be a gap, however we cut this particular cake.

Let me finish by talking about early years, which people would expect me to do as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on childcare and early education. The JCVI obviously identified its groups, and some early years workers will be covered by the groups involving the clinically extremely vulnerable and

“all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality”.

It is not the case that no teachers and no early years workers will be covered in phase 1; of course some will be. With regard to phase 2, the JCVI states:

“Vaccination of those at increased risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 due to their occupation could…be a priority in the next phase.”

Its suggested list includes teachers, and I believe that early years workers should be a high priority, based on two key factors.

First, unlike schools, the early years sector is currently open to all children, meaning that staff are coming into contact with similar numbers of children as they were prior to the latest national lockdown. Secondly, it is of course impossible to socially distance from babies and young children. They need close personal care, such as changing nappies, treating cuts and just giving them a cuddle when they bump themselves. All early years settings are currently open to all children, and of course that is vital in providing continuity of care and early education to the youngest children, but with regard to supporting those settings and keeping them open and keeping those staff safe, I think that they have a strong case. Why are they treated differently? That was what the hon. Member for Leeds North West said. Well, early years workers are a fairly mild bunch. They do not have a powerful trade union often speaking up for them. They have only me and a few other people in the House of Commons. And that is possibly the reason why.

This petition makes a lot of sense. I think that, for every person who has signed the petition, that comes from a good place. I think that it comes from a will to see schools, educators and young people treated fairly and kept safe from this awful pandemic. Anything that we can do to roll out the vaccine delivery plan, which the excellent Minister, now in his place, will ensure happens, will move us out of this nightmare, and then maybe I can stop being a grinch about 2021.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (in the Chair)
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The debate finishes at 7.30 pm. Five colleagues wish to speak, and I want to call all of them, so I suggest that everyone speak for about five minutes. That will give the Minister and his opposite number time to respond to the debate.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I will apologise at this point, because I am listed as No. 11 in the main Chamber afterwards and I want to get to the Global UK debate—not the Global Britain debate, because I live in the UK; but that is a separate point. As we say at home, it would starve you in here. It is so cold that I think Pfizer could use this room to keep its vaccine at the proper temperature for us all.

It is an honour to follow my colleague the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who quite rightly said that he has been disappointed so far with 2021. I have finished my 10-day free trial and I want a refund on the rest of 2021. Look, it is absolutely, entirely a matter of free will whether someone takes a vaccine if and when it becomes available. I am delighted that people are being given so much encouragement to take the vaccine. Of course, that has to be mixed with support for testing people and making sure that the right people get the vaccine as quickly as possible. It is absolutely right and proper that those most at risk are at the head of the queue.

I welcome the fact that today the Northern Ireland Executive have prioritised domiciliary care staff receiving the vaccine in Northern Ireland. That started this afternoon. Quite frankly, there is a hierarchy of frontline workers. The hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) was right to point out that educationalists should be at the top of that list, because of their reach across the entire community, whether they are early years workers or schoolteachers, or they manage kids with special needs in schools and institutions that have not been closed down as a result of covid. It is important that those frontline workers do not feel that they are second or third in the queue, and that society recognises their key and important role. It is disappointing to read that in some hospitals, more management staff have received the vaccine than nursing staff. That is abhorrent and wrong, and that balance has to be addressed. It is important that our frontline workers—our nursing staff—get it.

I strongly believe that schoolteachers are on the frontline. If we want schools to open again quickly, we have to start with early years and go right the way through to make sure that children can get back to school for the sake of their mental health, of opening up our society again and, of course, of promoting the welfare of our young people.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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The hon. Gentleman brought up mental health, which is really important. I am greatly concerned about my 16-year-old studying for his A-levels. He has just started college with a new group of friends, but he does not have the opportunity to socialise and have the life experiences that we experienced. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is of utmost importance to get children and students back into school and education as soon as possible?

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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The hon. Member has knocked it out of the park; she is absolutely right. It is key that we get our kids back in there so that they can socialise and work together again, and be the engine room of our society for the future. That will only happen when we get them back to school and facilitate that.

I received an email today from Ben Sidor, a student at Queen’s University Belfast. It is not just at the school level, but at the university level that people are being denied the positive interactions with their friends and peers that will allow them to become the men and women of tomorrow that society will look up to generation after generation. We must encourage that.

The hon. Member for Winchester mentioned the use of other organisations, which is important. Community pharmacies are key to the roll-out of the vaccine. Frankly, community pharmacists in my constituency have saved the NHS in the last couple of years. They are undervalued and underrated, yet they play a key role. Getting pharmacists on to the frontline to help with the roll-out is critical.

I also welcome the call to use the skills of our military. The Army is brilliant at logistical planning. We should use its skill to roll out the plan and to make sure that it is quick, efficient and agile, and that it responds to the needs of the community on the ground. There is no reason why our Army could not be used for that positive work. We are quite happy to send it to Sierra Leone to roll out vaccination projects there, so why can we not do that in our own nation and use its logistical planning skills?

I fear that there will be a shortage that will have an impact on certain parts of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland protocol already means that PPE is waiting at Stranraer and cannot get into Northern Ireland because of tax inspectors. Can you imagine, Sir David, if the same happened with vaccinations—if they were ready for Northern Ireland, but could not get there because of the protocol? That needs to be addressed urgently, and I raised the point personally with the Chancellor today.

I leave hon. Members with those thoughts. I welcome the debate, which is very important. I hope that those who wish, of their free will, to have the vaccination have that facilitated urgently.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for her introduction to the debate.

I declare an interest: my partner is a teacher who has been dealing with covid-safe procedures in school, and has dealt with many Track and Trace processes, so I have heard about the challenges in our schools very clearly. I have also heard from those in retail. I have close associations with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers; I declare that interest, too. It is really important that we listen to all those concerns, because there is deep worry in the country about the case rates. In particular, I have heard concerns relating to special schools and the care that they provide; that was mentioned earlier. I have Ysgol Y Deri in my constituency, a fantastic school that is part of the Penarth Learning Community. The First Minister in Wales has been very clear that we will extend vaccination to staff working in those contexts, given the care that they provide to often vulnerable young people. That is good to hear.

I commend the Welsh Government on the vaccination strategy set out today by my constituency colleague, the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething; I know the Minister here also set one out today. It is important that we get information on those strategies out there, because we are hearing a lot of worry and genuine concern. Of course, everybody wants to be vaccinated, including those in frontline work and those who are particularly vulnerable. That is why it is absolutely crucial that we secure the supply and production.

I praise the work of my local health board, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which in recent days has rapidly scaled up its vaccination plans and the number of vaccinations it has delivered. I spoke to members of its staff this morning. A few days ago, when I visited my GP on a personal matter, I was pleased to hear that the member of staff treating me had been vaccinated, and was looking forward to being part of the roll-out programme that the Health Minister in Wales set out today, in which an increasing number of GPs will be involved. Community pharmacies, which have been mentioned, will be involved too. They have a critical role. I am pleased that it was set out today that they are part of the plan in Wales. I hope they will be part of the plan across the whole UK.

The reality we face, as shown in the petition, is that there are very difficult choices of prioritisation. I think everyone recognises that, including many of those who have contacted me to ask, “When am I going to get the vaccination?” It is really important that we follow the best scientific, medical and clinical evidence set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and others. I want assurances that the Minister is considering all the representations that are being made, because it is important that there should be confidence in the difficult decisions that are reached. For example, there has been a lot of anxiety about spreading out the dosing. I have heard concerns from health professionals about that, and I appreciate that there is a live debate on that. We need confidence in all these choices, and in the decisions taken at UK level by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the JCVI and jointly by chief medical officers. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for them; they are having to make difficult choices because we do not have enough supply in the country.

That is the point I largely want to deal with. I have already raised a number of issues on that subject with the Minister. I would like clearer guarantees on the schedule for delivery to and around the UK. My constituents in Wales want to know when vaccine procured for the UK is being delivered to Wales, and when the different types of vaccine are being delivered to Wales. We know about the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines; when will the Moderna vaccine first be delivered to this country, and how will it be rolled out? I have heard positive things about a Johnson & Johnson vaccine; when do we think that will be approved by the MHRA, and when might we see supplies?

First, I would like more assurances from the Minister about our productive capacity in the UK. We all know that things can go wrong; there could be problems with delivery, accidental damage or contamination. Any of those things could happen. How are we scaling up our productive capacity in the UK to create all the different types of vaccines? What new factories are being built? What new facilities are being procured? That is right down to the level of capital equipment available in this country for vaccine production.

Secondly, the other crucial part of the process is the cold chain. We know that there have been issues with, for example, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the way in which it has to be kept at that hyper-low temperature. Will that be similar for some of the other RNA vaccines? If so, what are we doing to scale up our cold chain and storage capacity to enable such vaccines to be used more quickly across the country? As we know, the Oxford-AstraZeneca one can be kept in a fridge, but that of course still requires a safe cold chain to get it to all the key locations.

Thirdly, the fill and finish part of the production process is critical. The Minister knows that I have asked him questions about the Wockhardt factory in north Wales. What other fill and finish capacity do we have across the UK? Will he be specific about that? What are we doing to expand it? I want to see those plants operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the supplies coming in all the time, getting into those phials and getting out to our communities across the country. Fundamentally, that is a UK responsibility and the responsibility of the Minister. I hope that he can give us some assurances on that.

Lastly, at the moment there is rightly a lot of concern about variants. At some point in the future, obviously, we will have to produce tweaked vaccine alternatives to deal with variants that may emerge, in the way that we do with the flu vaccine. Will the Minister give us assurances on how our productive capacity will be there to produce variant vaccines at the right moment, when we need them in the future? We need to get through this first phase, absolutely, but we also have to look at the medium and long term, because this virus is not going away anytime soon.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

I very much welcome this debate, and I am grateful to my many constituents for signing the petition—I believe Twickenham was about 13th on the list of signatories. Like many other Members, I have received many emails from school staff and early years staff urging me to participate in this debate and to press for the prioritisation of those staff.

One thing that strikes me is that a number of the staff—I very much agree with them—said that they accept that health and care workers, absolutely, and the most vulnerable, so those who are very old and at highest risk, should be front of the queue. Generally, I do not think that the discussion is around those top four priority groups. There is probably more of a discussion to be had on some of the lower groups. The JCVI has said that, after all its priority groups, it is a matter of policy as to whether other groups, such as teaching staff, are prioritised.

The Liberal Democrats have proposed that teaching staff should perhaps be in group 7, but that is up for discussion. Indeed, if we look at some of the data on the lowest priority group according to the JCVI, the 50 to 55-year-olds, they are at very little higher risk compared with the rest of the general population. I would contend that there is a policy discussion to be had on some of those lower groups that the JCVI put forward, and on whether teaching staff and early years staff should go in there.

I must declare an interest as the mother of a two-year-old and a six-year-old. I am utterly delighted that childcare settings are open: my two-year-old is a handful, and my husband could not home-school our six-year-old daughter if my son was at home, so I am very grateful to the staff in early years settings who put themselves at risk day to day.

I appreciate that vaccinating early years staff and teaching staff will not necessarily prevent the spread of disease, because we do not yet have the data to show that; it will merely give them protection, but that is important. We are all united, across the House, in that we want to see schools return as soon as possible. The most disadvantaged are being hurt, and that is not just the very poorest on free school meals. Over the Christmas holidays, I had a conversation with a mother of three who does not qualify for free school meals, but is just above that line—just about managing. She could not afford devices for her kids in the first lockdown, so she was having to borrow to be able to home-school them—it really is hurting the most vulnerable, because the devices for home schooling are not out there as widely as they should be. It is also having an impact on children’s and young people’s mental health, a subject that I am passionate about and that has already been raised today. Before the pandemic, one young person in 10 had a diagnosable mental health condition; that figure has already risen to one in eight.

I particularly want to shout out for special educational needs and disabilities. By definition, those settings have to remain open, because they have the most vulnerable children. I have had a number of representations from staff and governors in SEND schools in my constituency; one member of staff from Clarendon Primary Centre in Hampton pointed out that, like in early years and some of the younger primary settings, pupils with special educational needs and disabilities struggle to socially distance. The staff provide personal care, including changing, to a wide age range. Some pupils spit and bite; most pupils cannot tolerate the invasive nature of a lateral flow or PCR test. His school has over 60% attendance and his class has 80%—he says, “We are fully open.” More than 50% of pupils in that school are free school meal or pupil premium kids.

It is quite clear that in such settings additional protection for teachers and other school staff is very much warranted, so I urge the Minister to revisit some of the lower-level groups on the JCVI priority list. As I tried to allude to in the main Chamber earlier, there is a desire to have a 24/7 vaccination programme as and when supply allows. The workforce is there to deliver it, so why cannot we include teachers and early years staff?

Our children and young people are really suffering in this pandemic. We owe it to them—and to the people who are taking care of them and helping them to develop into young adults—to protect them as best we can.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for her great introduction to the debate. I also thank the hundreds of thousands of people who signed the petition, demonstrating the interaction between the people of this country and the Parliament that seeks to represent them. As many hon. Members have said, vaccination is a light at the end of the tunnel that gives us all a sense of hope, but of course the danger is that that tunnel will be longer for some than for others.

The main topic of the petition is education. People talk about the reopening of schools, but they are open: far more children are being taught in our schools and in school settings today than during the April-May phase of the earliest lockdown, for lots of very good reasons. One reason why schools have been otherwise closed as part of the lockdown is that we recognise that the science shows that although children do not get badly affected by the disease, they clearly spread it.

We are asking teachers, teaching assistants and other school staff to put themselves in harm’s way for good reason, so it is right that they be considered as part of the priority vaccination list alongside others. No one wants to muscle their way to the front of the queue, but we recognise that these are people who are doing an immense service for our children and our country, and who are putting themselves at risk at the same time.

As a Member of Parliament for a very rural constituency, I am aware that delivering a vaccine in a place such as my constituency, which is bigger than Greater London, is a challenge. I am concerned that there are parts of my community where we have yet to get the vaccine rolled out; I ask for the Minister’s intervention, through the CCGs, to ensure that we fast-track site approval. We and the local primary care network particularly want to see delivery of the vaccine at the surgery in Windermere. The primary care network is already delivering it in Grange and in many care homes, but can we get it delivered from the surgery in Windermere as soon as possible? I would like to say the same for the Yorkshire dales end of my constituency: people in Sedbergh in the western dales are having to travel to Kirkby Lonsdale or further to get the vaccine.

It is important, particularly for older people and people who rely on public transport, that we do not overlook rural communities such as ours and that we ensure that the vaccine is delivered close to where people live. Many hon. Members have talked about the importance of community pharmacists; involving them would allow the Government to roll out the vaccine really close to where people live and get it done more quickly.

Although I agree that 24/7 delivery of the vaccine is something that we should be doing, I am deeply concerned because I have talked to health professionals from right across my county and it is clear from the number of sites and the staff that we have that the capacity to deliver the vaccine far exceeds the amount of the vaccine. I would like to hear from the Minister what his strategy is for procuring sufficient vaccines so that we can meet those targets.

I also want to emphasise the importance of data, which people have talked about, so that we can hold the Government to account. For example, I and the whole of the local community would like to know what percentage of over-80s in the LA9 postcode, for instance, have been vaccinated once or even twice. That would ensure that there is healthy competition and would also allow us to hold the Government to account and know whether we will meet the targets. We know that that data exists: NHS England has it, but is not sharing it.

I have talked to local providers of the vaccine through our primary care networks, and they tell me that they could ask a secondary question themselves. They could double-report, but that takes two minutes per patient. That is time when they could be vaccinating patients, so they think that is a waste of time and a duplication. We know that that data exists because it is being collected, so why is it not being shared? Will the Minister guarantee that that information will be made public this week, district by district—indeed, postcode by postcode?

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us, but the tunnel is longer for some than for others. What a great disappointment that the nearly 3 million people who are excluded from financial support through the coronavirus crisis continue to be excluded today. For them, the tunnel is impossibly long. They face deep debt and find it hard to abide by the rules and regulations, because to do so very often means not being able to pay their rent or look after and feed their children. I would like answers to the questions that I have put to the Minister when he makes his concluding remarks.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Thank you, Sir David, for allowing me to make a few comments. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on bringing forward this debate and setting the scene very well, as she always does with any issue she brings forward. I have previously highlighted with the Secretary of State for Health the need to include our teachers in the priority roll-call for vaccines. We did that just last week in the main Chamber.

The hon. Lady rightly highlighted that the education of children is paramount. Children are currently out of school and are being taught at home; that is not what families and children need. To expect a mother with no degree in teaching to understand how to teach a child the necessary tools of learning puts stress on the family, and too many children are missing out on learning. Some parents can home-school and others cannot. That is not disrespectful; it is a fact of life.

I have spoken to several teachers who are concerned about the fact that some parents are not logged on to the online learning tools for primary school children. Messages have been sent and encouragement has been given, yet the fact remains that some parents and carers are simply overwhelmed with home schooling. Add to the mix the parents who have to work from home and who are struggling to maintain their work life as well as spend adequate time on their children’s schooling. The pressures are immense, and it is very difficult on households. The pressure on teachers from trying to maintain contact and check the work of 30 pupils online is extensive. It is imperative that our children are back in class being taught by those who know what they are doing. It is clear that vaccinating teachers and teaching staff is necessary to keep them safe and keep our children in school.

I understand that the vaccine has not been tested for children, and there is little that we can do there. However, vaccinating school staff will help curb the spread of this virus. In my estimation, that is an essential part of our fight against covid. It is really important that teachers in nurseries and special needs schools also have the opportunity to have the vaccine—doubly so when we look at special needs schools, which are operating at full numbers and where staff are expected to teach with no protection around incredibly vulnerable children. We all know them; we meet them every day. I asked the Minister last week in the main Chamber to consider adding teachers to the priority vaccination list, and I am asking again for that to be done in Westminster Hall—it is probably one of the coldest places on the planet; it is so cold that we could hang beef in here and it would not go off—that is the truth. That is a fact of life; ask any butcher.

Today in the Chamber, the Minister replied to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on the issue of teachers and the vaccination. Education is one of the cornerstones of our society. That can continue only if our teachers are at full strength and are able to do their jobs, and vaccination is key to that.

Another issue that I want to highlight, as other Members have done—in particular, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron)—is the availability of the vaccine in rural areas and the need for support for rural GP practices that have thousands of patients on record. The patients who are most vulnerable need the best vaccine. We must make use of our incredibly capable armed forces logistics branches to arrange and implement in rural communities what could well be a mammoth task for GP practices individually. The fact is that people in towns will be quicker to receive the vaccine, but those in rural areas and in constituencies such as mine and that of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale really need to have equality in the vaccine roll-out. The precision with which our military operates is second to none, and I believe that it is a resource that we have yet to make full use of.

My mother is 89 years young, and she received her vaccine at 9.40 this morning. It is a happy day for us all, and I am very pleased. I have a sense of relief. Although I have told her to remain at home and be careful, there is a definite ray of hope. We need such hope being felt by every family member of the vulnerable in our society, and I believe that our military—our Army of the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—can support our GPs, who are under pressure, with the standard flu jab programme. It is interesting to read in the papers today that the flu jab—it is really good news, which we should welcome—has been so successful that the number of people dying of the flu has reduced dramatically. The figures for Northern Ireland are very clear.

We have the vaccine, and we have more knowledge than we did this time last year. It is now time to ensure that every person who wants to receive the vaccine will be able to do so in a timely manner. For those who are uncertain about it, or who are certain that they do not want to receive the vaccine, we must ensure that their wishes are respected and that the Government place no restrictions on those who exercise their free choice. Again, I ask the Minister to confirm that and put it on the record.

I am excited about the vaccine—I believe it is very hard not to be. We are in a better place today. We can have some confidence for the future. You and I, Sir David, are confident because we have faith, but we also have confidence in what the Government are doing, which is really important. I am sure the Minister will not let us down. There is a fully trained and obvious ready-to-go resource—let us use the military to get the vaccine out and make a difference to our battle against covid.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David. I want to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for her comprehensive and compelling introduction to this subject. She raised a whole series of questions, dilemmas and judgments that follow on from the very clear objective that we all share: we want as many people as possible to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower clearly set out that lots of people in the country have been discussing this issue, as we would expect, but this forum is the right place in a democracy for us to be discussing those ideas, exchanging views and doing so in a way that is respectful and tolerant of other opinions. She set out clearly, as did other Members, the consequences of missing school, particularly in terms of the widening attainment gap and the digital divide, and she explained why it really has to be a priority to get children back into school as soon as possible. It was so disappointing, if not sadly inevitable, that we had to make the decision to restrict attendance at school. It is also very regrettable that the decision was taken without a proper back-up plan to allow children to learn remotely. I agree with her that teachers inspire, build confidence and impart knowledge, and they do that best of all when they teach in person in the classroom.

We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), who talked about the overwhelming sense of fatigue that we all feel in dealing with this virus—I think we can all understand that. He described the vaccine as the way out of this situation and said that the wonders of human ingenuity have allowed the vaccines to be developed and made ready in such a short space of time. He gave a very good plug for our party’s campaign on the vaccination programme, and he raised the important point that it would be very helpful if employers gave paid time off for people to go and receive the vaccine.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West also raised an important question, which I hope the Minister answers, about whether hospice staff should be included in the priority group for vaccination. He talked about a 24/7 vaccination programme and told us that the Prime Minister had apparently said there is no appetite for it. After talking to Members present and to members of the public, I have to say that there is an appetite for that. Every minute, every hour and every day that we can vaccinate people is another step closer to the freedom that we all want to return to. Let us not miss any opportunity to get to that point as quickly as possible. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said, the 24/7 approach should apply not just to delivering the vaccine but to the production of it.

My hon. Friend was also right to talk about the importance of getting information out there, because everyone wants to know where we are up to with this. Certainly, my constituency office has had many phone calls and emails asking about the vaccination programme. He also spoke about the excellent work undertaken in Wales to roll out the vaccine. He made the fair point that this is not an easy choice—these are not easy options for anyone—but it is important that we take the best professional and scientific advice available when we take these decisions.

It is, of course, a source of great national pride that we were the first country to approve a vaccine for distribution and that our own scientists were integral to the development of the second vaccine, which is now beginning to be rolled out across the country. Having found ourselves in this good position, it would be very disappointing if we did not become the first country to mass vaccinate its population. For the grandparents who have not seen their grandchildren, for the businesses that have not traded properly for a year and are facing bankruptcy, and for the NHS staff exhausted by the relentless pressure that this virus has created, we all want the quickest route possible out of this.

To date, as we have discussed, the lockdown strategy has been our most effective weapon against the spread of the virus, but we all know that that has created another set of extremely tough challenges and that there are concerns that even that may not be enough to halt the spread of the new strain. Therefore, as has always been the case, mass vaccination is the key to ending the nightmare, which is why no stone should be left unturned and no component of the state left unutilised, and every member of society who wants to contribute should be engaged in some way so that we all play our part to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as soon as possible. We all share that ambition, but the Government have displayed a pattern in this pandemic of being too slow and of over-promising and under-delivering.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern—I suspect the Minister does—that the roll-out of the vaccine has been halted in parts of the United Kingdom because supplies are running out? Is there not a logistical issue to be addressed as well, to ensure that that does not happen?

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
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The hon. Gentleman predicts the journey I am about to embark on. I will talk about that very legitimate point, which hon. Members have raised. AstraZeneca promised 30 million doses by September, but that went down to 4 million by the end of the year and, clearly, much less has been delivered on the ground. All the best plans possible will not matter if the supply is not there. Various Members have raised this issue, so when he responds, I hope the Minister will set out the exact position in terms of supply. How many doses have been received to date from each manufacturer? How many are expected each week? What are the weekly projections for delivery?

I will give the Minister a local example. My vaccination centre in Ellesmere Port is due to open sometime this week, but nobody knows exactly when because nobody knows when the first delivery will arrive. One thing this country is not short of is logistics experts. The Vaccine Taskforce is supposed to have been addressing this for months, so those on the frontline should not have been put in the position of not knowing when the vaccine is going to arrive. No vaccine should be left on the shelves, in warehouses or stuck at a factory gate waiting to be delivered. Greater transparency would be much appreciated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West said, we could do with a performance dashboard covering not just the total figures published each week, but the proportionate numbers in each category of the priority list, including NHS staff—at clinical commissioning group level as well as nationally—so that everyone can see what progress is being made. There are references to that in the document that was produced today.

Turning to the subject matter of the petition, we know from what SAGE has said that schools are making a significant contribution to the R rate and that, with infections running out of control, the closure of schools—except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers—was, sadly, inevitable. As we have said, however, there are multiple reasons why reopening them has to be a priority, not least the importance of getting children back into the classroom. Although we could not go against the JCVI priority list—indeed, it is likely that a change now would be counterproductive—we believe that, as with the change to the period between the first and second doses, serious consideration needs to be given to the order in which the vaccine should be distributed after the initial phase. Indeed, I think Sir Simon Stevens has said as much today.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that the most clinically vulnerable adults who work in education will receive the vaccine shortly anyway, and we believe that the priority should be to increase the number of people who have received the first dose, so that debates over prioritisation become obsolete. However, if that is not possible, we believe that it is more than reasonable to look not only at the risk posed by particular workplaces but at the wider societal benefits of vaccinating particular groups of workers.

I hope that we have sufficient supplies and delivery networks so that we do not end up in a position where particular groups of workers are pitted against one another, but clearly there is a strong case for priority to be given to those working in education settings. At this point, may I thank everyone who works in education for their contribution? I know how hard many of them worked over the Christmas period to prepare for the mass testing regimes, and we could all hear their exasperation when they were asked to revert to remote working at 24 hours’ notice. I am afraid that some of that exasperation actually turned to anger when the Education Secretary delivered his warning that Ofsted could become involved if online learning was not up to scratch. If ever there was a sentence that summed up how he is not listening to the education world, that was it.

When I talk about education, I mean education in the widest sense. As various Members have said today, that includes all those who come into close contact with others as part of their job in an educational setting. For example, if we look at those in special educational needs settings, we see that they are often in much closer contact with others than most people. It is not just teachers whom we must consider but classroom assistants, cleaners, cooks and probably just about everyone who works in a school. We are not only talking about schools; as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West said, nurseries and other childcare settings should be looked at. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, they remain open at this time. I think we can all see how, in those settings, it can be very difficult to avoid close contact with others.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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Just to reiterate, everyone in an educational setting should be prioritised for vaccination. Also, what about student teachers? Does my hon. Friend agree that they need to be prioritised too?

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
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Yes. I think we have to look at the actual work that they do and the risk on the ground, but clearly student teachers would be part of that process.

There are strong arguments for those in other essential services to be given additional priority. There has been much talk of the police and their role in enforcing covid rules; if 20,000 police officers had not been cut in the past decade, the police might not be in such a difficult place to do that. We should remember that when the police go about their duties, they engage with the public and so, by definition, they put themselves at risk of infection.

Similar arguments could be made for those involved in the vaccination process—not just NHS staff but those who are volunteering. In relation to that, can the Minister update us on how many retired NHS staff have now passed all the requirements in this regard, so that they can assist in the vaccination process? We have all heard the stories about the fire safety training modules that have to be taken; although such requirements are worthy in their own right, it cannot be mission-critical at the moment for those tests to be undertaken. I can put it no better than the retired consultant who contacted me and said:

“This is actually more than I was required to do when I was a full-time NHS consultant. It is grossly excessive, unnecessary and burdensome.”

On the vaccination of NHS staff, we know the unprecedented pressures they are facing at the moment; the latest estimate is that there are some 46,000 NHS staff off sick with covid, and that is before we even consider those who are required to self-isolate. The need for a full complement of NHS staff to be available to work cannot be clearer, so we want to see all NHS staff receiving their first dose of the vaccine as soon as possible. There is also a concern about whether those people who are not directly employed by the NHS and instead may be self-employed are being picked up by the system.

In conclusion, we know that at the moment the vaccine programme rightly prioritises the most vulnerable and is designed to protect life. However, as that group of people receives that protection, it is right that we consider where priorities lie next. The nation’s key workers have literally kept the country going in the last 12 months—those in education and in transport, council workers, and many, many others who have gone to work day in and day out, knowing that they risk contracting a deadly virus. They do not deserve to be thanked with a pay freeze. At the very least, they deserve serious consideration for prioritisation in the next phase of the roll-out. Proper recognition of their contribution and of the wider societal benefits of their work demand no less.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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It is slightly unfortunate, Sir David, that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), asked a lot of questions, because he took up a lot of time. Nevertheless, I will attempt to answer as many colleagues’ questions as possible.

Before setting out details of the plan for vaccination, I thank the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for the incredible passion with which she spoke. I apologise that I was not in the room for her speech—I was in the main Chamber, as she will know—but it has always been our strategy to suppress the coronavirus until a vaccine can make us all safe, because we know ultimately that vaccines are our way out of this terrible pandemic.

This afternoon we launched our complete vaccine deployment plan, the culmination of months of preparation and hard work by the NHS, the armed forces—the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) mentioned the armed forces, and they are embedded in the deployment programme—and, of course, local and regional government at every level. The sooner we can reduce mortality from this pernicious disease and bring an end to that human suffering, the better.

It is worth reminding ourselves of just what that suffering looks like. Sadly, yesterday, 563 deaths were reported. The average number of deaths per day over the past week has been 909, and behind every statistic is a person—a father, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a grandfather or a grandmother—with family and friends. We must never lose sight of that.

In the light of the petition that we are discussing and, of course, the time, I will reflect on the basic principles that sit behind our prioritisation and our strategy. Yes, we want to minimise disruption for pupils, parents and teachers; yes, we want to stop the NHS being overwhelmed, and yes, we want to protect UK jobs and businesses as much as we possibly can, but fundamentally it is about saving lives, and operationally it is about saving as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible.

I defy anyone to provide more powerful grounds for action in order to achieve that. We are following the science and we are vaccinating, according to the prioritisation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which recommended rapid immunisation of our most vulnerable groups. It is worth reminding colleagues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) did, about the first four categories, for whom we absolutely are focused on making sure they have the opportunity of a first dose to protect them by mid-February across all four nations.

I know the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and others are concerned about supplies, and he has contacted me about that. I can reassure him that, having spoken to my counterparts in the devolved Administrations that, while the supply lines have been lumpy—in any manufacturing process, especially one so complex as a novel vaccine that is a biological compound, it is always difficult at the outset, but they very quickly stabilise—we have clear line of sight of deliveries all the way through until the end of February, hence we are able to make the pledge that we will be able to deploy.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am conscious of time, and I want to get through quite a lot; I will be happy to take the hon. Lady’s intervention if I can.

Obviously, if a teacher or a school or childcare worker falls within one of those cohorts, they will be contacted by the NHS at the appropriate time to receive the vaccine, but the importance of starting with our most vulnerable groups cannot be overstated. There is no evidence that teachers or school or childcare workers are at higher risk of mortality. That is the thing: we are protecting against death in this first phase, and our most vulnerable groups account for 88% of mortality; I think my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester gave us that figure earlier. We can safeguard against 88% of mortality if we vaccinate those top four groups, but of course I understand the sentiment behind this petition.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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Teachers, and everybody involved in this petition, do not want to be prioritised beyond those four groups; but, if something is not going to be done, if the lateral flow tests are not going to be in place for all pupils going to school on a regular basis and the vaccination is not going to be available to teachers, is there a possibility that schools will not actually be returning at the end of February, and that this is going to be longer term?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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Schools, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) reminded us, are open. Primary and secondary schools are open, delivering both online education and education in school for the most vulnerable children and the children of NHS and social care workers, who look after the people who are most vulnerable and whom we are trying to protect from dying. I understand the sentiment behind the petition and pay tribute to the vital work that teachers in schools and childcare workers do to see us through this difficult time. However, I believe that our strategy of putting the most vulnerable first is the right one, morally, ethically and practically, but I recognise that even with such brilliant work in full swing the next few weeks will be difficult, especially in education settings.

We have always sought to keep schools open, and said that they would be the very last things to close, but the challenges posed by the new variant and the more than doubling of transmissibility mean that we have had to take some difficult decisions. I am confident that as our vaccination programme bears fruit we can begin slowly to move out of lockdown. The Prime Minister has promised that schools will be the very first places to reopen, working on the principle of last in, first out. The hon. Member for Gower asked about testing, and it will continue to play a vital role in getting children back into the classroom as soon as possible.

In the time available to me, I want briefly to turn to some of the questions asked by colleagues. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) rightly reminded us that we do not yet know whether the vaccines have an impact on transmissibility—but they obviously offer protection, in terms of both immunity and protection from severe infection. That is why we are focusing on the most vulnerable people. Of course she was right to highlight the issue of young adults with special educational needs. Some of those will be picked up in category 4, but many will be picked up in category 6 of the top nine categories.

I was not in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) rightly asked whether hospices are included. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, also asked about that. Hospices are absolutely included in the cohorts, and we are focusing on making sure that they are protected. Many Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) and for Winchester, and the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth and for Westmorland and Lonsdale, asked about data. Data is our ally in this endeavour, in the Prime Minister’s view and in my view. That is why he has insisted on daily data release, so that the nation can see the progress that we are making in protecting the most vulnerable people from covid. We will continue to publish daily data. On Thursdays we will publish more detailed regional data, and my absolute commitment to the House is as much data as the NHS feel is robust that we can publish. We all reference our own experiences in life but the best way to learn, in my view, is to learn from different teams. Not everyone can give 1,000 vaccinations a day, as some primary care networks have, but we learn from them and we try to put support into other teams, to enable them to do that. [Interruption.]

I am conscious that the debate ends at 7.30 and I think I have to give the hon. Member for Gower at least a minute to respond, so I will wrap up there. I apologise to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who wanted to intervene, and I would have loved to take his intervention, but I am happy to write to him if he emails me with any other queries. I shall give the hon. Lady the last word.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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I thank the Minister for his response and I understand the time pressures that we are currently under and the reason he could not be here earlier, but I remind those watching online that the two debates are both live, and they can still add their names to the petition. Also, on 15 December, UNICEF called for teachers to be prioritised, and we must realise that there are difficult decisions that force difficult trade-offs. They were not asking to be in the top four vaccination priorities, but they need consideration. That begins with safeguarding those who are responsible for opening up the future—looking after the teachers who will give a future to our future generations, and to our children, who have missed so much. I accept all the debate today, and thank the Minister and everyone who took part, but we need to move forward and give the matter that consideration.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 554316 relating to roll-out of covid-19 vaccinations.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (in the Chair)
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If you have not already done so, colleagues, would you wipe the microphones? I apologise for the ridiculous freezer that this room is. I will complain to the authorities yet again. I am sorry if anyone becomes unwell as a result—this is not acceptable.

Sitting adjourned.