Covid-19: Economic Impact of Lockdowns

Chris Green Excerpts
Tuesday 29th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (Tatton) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the economic impact of covid-19 lockdowns.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and to be able to debate the economic impact of covid-19 lockdowns, because so often during the pandemic we did not have the opportunity to question key decisions that were taken. In those early days of covid, much was done in a rush. Although it was understandable then, with the passing of time analysis needs to be done of the measures and decisions taken. No matter how painful and difficult the conversations will be, we need to have them. Open and frank conversations are made more difficult by the fact that the vast majority of MPs voted for continued lockdowns and most of the media was reluctant to question them.

Although everyone supported the first lockdown—March to June 2020—no one knew what we were confronting. As knowledge of covid and medical treatments grew, so should the debate have grown, particularly about subsequent lockdowns, but that was not the case. Prior to March 2020, how many of us had heard of the concept of lockdown? Blanket, stay-at-home policies were an unknown and unevidenced method of trying to control the virus.

Although lockdowns will have saved lives from the virus, many experts predicted from the start that they would also cost lives, through the unintended collateral damage they inflict. A Government report in July 2020 found that more than 200,000 lives could be lost due to lockdown. Well-rehearsed pandemic protocols, including those endorsed by the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health and Social Care had not previously recommended lockdowns because, quite simply, they are a blunt instrument.

In addition, it was felt that such drastic restrictions would not be tolerated by western democracies. As Professor Neil Ferguson infamously put it, after observing entire communities in China in lockdown,

“We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realised we could.”

That poses a question. If people assumed that the UK population would not tolerate lockdowns, was messaging hardened and questions against lockdown not tolerated, in order to force compliance? We might never know the answer. Ongoing lockdowns were achieved, but at what price? Interestingly, only the other week, Andrew Gilligan, a former No. 10 adviser said on GB News that, looking back, the ongoing lockdowns were wrong, but politically we could not have got away with not doing them.

Why was that? How was an environment created in which even asking questions and providing alternative suggestions could get someone demonised? And those people were. I wrote an article for The Daily Telegraph in November 2020 saying, regretfully, that politicians had been guilty of a dereliction of duty. Instead of just listening to the one-dimensional approach of Public Health England and the scientists, they should have factored in all competing consequences. They did not and ploughed on, without questioning those other factors.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, during the pandemic and lockdowns, Parliament was not given the opportunity during certain phases to debate the impact lockdown was having on our constituents, and that we should never lockdown Parliament again?

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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My hon. Friend and near neighbour raises an important point. This House is about debate and questioning things, and I am afraid that that did not happen. As he rightly says, we should ensure that Parliament never closes down again, as it did under the pandemic. Even back then, the figures from the Office for National Statistics pointed out that lockdowns and anti-covid measures would lead to the deaths of 200,000 in the medium to long term, due to missed treatments, under-diagnosis, loss of jobs and tax revenue, with disadvantaged people suffering the most. Bristol University in 2020 put that figure much higher, at 560,000 deaths.

Debates are now occurring on the unintended consequences of lockdown, from the mental health issues suffered by our children, to increased deaths of dementia patients, and the lack of visiting rights in care centres and hospitals still happening, even now. A big thank you has to go to the academics and scientists who initially raised concerns in those areas, including Professor Townsend, Professor Carl Heneghan and Professor Robert Dingwall, who asked those all-important questions.

Today, however, our focus is on the economic consequences of lockdown: rising financial hardship; increased poverty levels in the UK; the hundreds of thousands of people since lockdown now classed as economically inactive; the impact on them, their families and local communities; and the economic impact on the next generation’s wealth and earning capacity. It is estimated that school closures and lockdowns will lead to £40,000 being lost from lifetime earnings for each individual. A report by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank finds that students now risk

“losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings, or the equivalent of 14 percent of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures”

and economic shocks.

Let us look back at some of the economic shocks of lockdown. The House of Commons Library notes explain that

“The magnitude of the recession caused by the pandemic is unprecedented in modern times.”

GDP declined by 11% in 2020, the steepest drop since consistent records began in 1948 and, based on less precise estimates of GDP going back further, the contraction in 2020 was the largest since 1709. During the first lockdown, UK GDP was 26% lower in April than only two months earlier in February. More than 8 million workers were furloughed during April and May 2020, peaking at 8.9 million—roughly a third of all employees—in May 2020. Overall, 11.7 million jobs were furloughed.

In response, the Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1% and more than doubled its quantitative easing programme by £450 billion, taking the total value of assets it owned to a peak of £895 billion by December 2021. The total amount of public money calculated to have been spent on tackling the pandemic ranges from £376 billion by the National Audit Office in June 2022 to £407 billion by the International Monetary Fund in September 2021. In 2020-21, Government had income of £794 billion in tax receipts and other revenues, which is £79 billion less than forecast, and spent more than £1,107 billion. The budget deficit was £312 billion, or 15% of GDP, which is a peacetime record. The financial cost for every man, woman and child in this country has been estimated at £5,500.

Former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption, writing in The Daily Telegraph on 18 November, said:

“Compare the modest financial hit experienced by Sweden, the only European country to see through the hype by which other governments sought to justify their measures. Sweden operated a largely voluntary system and refused to lock down. Pandemic-related measures cost 60 billion kronor in 2020 and 2021, according to government figures. This works about at about £460 a head, less than a tenth of the UK figure. Yet their results in terms of both cases and deaths were a lot better than ours.

We are paying the price of panic, populism and poorly thought-out knee-jerk decision-making. At least the current Prime Minister can point to his warnings as chancellor that lockdowns were unaffordable if extended over any significant period of time. Boris Johnson’s indifference to mere money ensured that the cost was not even considered. All that can be said in his favour is that, if the Labour Party had had its way, the lockdowns would have been even longer and more costly.”

Let us look at the inflationary pressures we are now suffering from. As the country and world opened up after lockdown, there were sharp increases in the cost of essential goods and energy as the world emerged unprepared for such rapid demand, putting prices up, from the fuel pumps to the goods on supermarket shelves.

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Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. That is why I quoted Neil Ferguson at the start of the debate, who said that he never thought a western democracy would lock down, and why I posed the question about whether a campaign of fear was then brought forward, creating an atmosphere in which no one could dissent or ask questions. Going back to the question raised by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), there appeared to be a giant consensus across all political parties, leading to that word “popular” at the time.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the point made about fear? When people look at Parliament or much of British life, it appears that we have returned to normal, but not all British life has returned to normal yet, which is having a continuing impact on our economy.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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My hon. Friend makes the point eloquently; I hope he will make a speech later, fleshing out his comments.

By February 2022, inflation had already surged, with the consumer price index hitting 6.2% in February, after which, without doubt, the war in Ukraine added to the problem. As it stands today, we have unprecedented inflation and costs of living.

None of that should come as a surprise. In fact, the Imperial College report of March 2020 that recommended lockdowns specifically said that the

“economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound.”

While many people talk about the cost of covid, it is actually the cost of lockdown and lockdown rules that need to be questioned.

The Government have spent in the region of £400 billion on the covid-19 response, which has taken the national debt to over £2.1 trillion. To make matters worse, we know vast sums of money were wasted. For example, seven Nightingale hospitals were built in England, which was an impressive achievement completed in record time. However, most of them were hardly used in the way intended and they cost more than £530 million. The Yorkshire Nightingale closed before ever seeing a patient. Elsewhere, an eye-watering £673 million was spent on unusable personal protective equipment items.

The £70 billion spent on furlough and £84 billion on business support schemes softened the blow for a while. However, the Federation of Small Businesses still warned of a ticking time-bomb, with 500,000 owners of small businesses—the backbone of our economy—at risk of going bust within weeks.

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Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), both on her speech—the vast majority of which, if not all, I agree with—and on bringing this matter before the House. It was not only during the time of covid that we did not debate covid enough; since the end of lockdown, we have not debated the consequences of the policy decisions taken during covid.

I will just go back to what the Government said at the start of covid; it is always better to go back and examine whether those things actually happened or were honoured. The first thing the Government said at the start of the crisis was that they would follow the science. They did not follow the science. I can give a large number of examples where they did not follow the science, but I will just concentrate on two or three important examples.

One of them has already been mentioned: children losing their education. It was clear from the very beginning of this disease that it was primarily a disease of the elderly and of people with other co-morbidities. It was clear early on that there was essentially no danger to children or anybody else from opening schools, but they were not opened quickly enough. Anyone who goes into schools and knows young children can still see the damage that was done to them both emotionally and educationally because the science was not followed.

The hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) will remember that Greater Manchester, which had a two-tier system of lockdown, was put into lockdown before Merseyside. The Government’s statistics on infection rates and the R number were higher for Merseyside than they were for Greater Manchester, but the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), who is better occupied in the antipodes than he was in this House as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, decided that he liked the Mayor of Merseyside rather more than Andy Burnham, so Greater Manchester went into lockdown and Merseyside did not, even though the statistics suggested otherwise.

More trivially but importantly for those who like a drink was the decision to close pubs at 10 pm. When we questioned the Government’s chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer on the Science and Technology Committee, they openly admitted that this was a ministerial decision with no science behind it whatever. So the Government did not follow the science, and I do not think they ever had any intention of doing so.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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One concern I had from the very beginning of the pandemic was that we had the Prime Minister, professors, doctors and Ministers saying, “This is the scientific evidence. This compels you to do as we are saying. We have the weight of evidence behind us.” However, not long afterwards—in fact, within days or weeks—it was clear that there was no scientific basis for the 10 pm curfew. That undermines people’s confidence when the scientific and medical establishment tells us to take the necessary precautions.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Most politicians are not scientists—there are very few; I do not think we even have an epidemiologist in the House—or scientifically trained.

Dominic Cummings came to the Science and Technology Committee and made an extremely good point: members of the Government are not experts, so when scientific evidence was being given to them, it should have been challenged, and other scientists should have been brought in to challenge it—so-called red teams. That challenge would have helped the Government to see that there was a debate. Many scientists were frustrated because they had a different view of the evidence presented—sometimes they even had different evidence—and it should have been considered. However, that internal debate did not happen in Government, and the debate in the House of Commons, as the right hon. Member for Tatton said, also did not happen as it should have done.

What did happen was that the Government decided on lockdown. My view is that once Italy, China and a number of countries in south-east Asia had locked down, the Government believed that lockdown was the politically safe thing to do. It was not scientifically the right thing to do; it was not the most effective way of dealing with the covid epidemic.

There are two reasons for locking down. The first is to eliminate the disease very early on to stop it spreading at all. That position had passed a long time before the Government locked down. After that, the reason is to stop the NHS being overwhelmed by too many infections at once. The Government’s other slogan—apart from that they were following the science—was that they were going to protect the NHS. They did that in a very simple sense, because it was not overwhelmed by covid. However, since the start of 2020, there has been effectively no NHS for many people. During covid, hospitals were empty and GPs could not be seen. The fact that deaths are now about 10% higher than normal shows the impact of people not being able to access GPs or get cancer care and of elderly people suffering from dementia not getting any support or human contact.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Government’s approach appeared to be to use the precautionary principle to protect the Government rather than to protect people, and to say, “If we lock down and do the restrictions, no one can blame us for what comes out from it”? In contrast, the Swedish approach was to give people good advice and take only the necessary measures.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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The hon. Gentleman puts it in an interesting way, although there is another interpretation of the precautionary principle. Some people interpret it as meaning that we should be as cautious we can be, but it actually means that we should not take action until we are certain of the facts. It does not mean that we should not do anything, which is how the Government interpreted it.

The right hon. Member for Tatton made a good point about the Government’s position on lockdown. Gavin Morgan, who was a member of SPI-B, the sub-committee of SAGE, said that behavioural psychology was weaponised and that there was an exaggerated threat. We got into a vicious feedback loop: the Government frightened people, so people demanded more lockdown from the Government. That was bad for health and the economy.

That is the health side of it, and we are suffering from it now, with 6 million-plus people on the waiting lists for elective surgery. However, this debate is primarily about the economy. The Government say that the war in Ukraine is the prime reason why the economy and the Government’s finances are in difficulty.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the IMF’s estimate that £407 billion was spent on covid. Some of that money was spent really well. Some of it was spent on developing the vaccines and on the vaccine taskforce, and that work was brilliant and very effective—I congratulate the vaccine taskforce—but much of it was wasted. The National Audit Office estimated that the bulk of the £37.5 billion spent on Test and Trace was wasted because there was no communication between the centre and the public health teams. That is a huge amount to waste, and that was just the budget.

Money on personal protective equipment was wasted not only because it went to friends of the Government in pretty dodgy contracts, but because it went on pretty dodgy personal protective equipment that did not work. All that has had a disastrous effect on the Government’s finances, and therefore the economy, because it is preventing the Government from spending money where they should.

I will finish on two points. I could go on for much longer, but other Members want to speak. There was no proper debate inside or outside the Government about the science. Just before Parliament went to sleep, it passed the Coronavirus Act 2020. One would have expected that Act to be used, but it was not. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 was the Act under which the Government mainly enacted the decisions that they had made. That Act allows less scrutiny in Parliament, and we lost many of our civil liberties for no good reason at all. I am still shocked that, when I left the House to go back to Manchester after the House had started sitting again, and I was going into Euston station, a police officer asked me where I was going. This is not Nazi Germany in the late 1930s; this is the United Kingdom of free people. I am not going to tell police officers where I am going. We need to look at that issue.

Finally, there is a great deal of hope that Baroness Hallett’s inquiry will get to the bottom of many of the issues we are discussing all too briefly today. Like other colleagues who have spoken, I have written to Baroness Hallett setting out my worry that she is disproportionately asking for evidence from people who naturally supported lockdown and not from businesses that have gone to the wall because of lockdown or from people who cannot access health services because we are still suffering the impacts of lockdown. I am worried about the way that that inquiry is structured.

I will finish on a figure from Professor Thomas of Bristol University, who has pointed out one of the issues I raised in the debates that took place when I was asking for an economic as opposed to a health analysis: poverty kills—not just covid. Professor Thomas thinks that 2.5 million life years have been lost because of the loss of GDP so far. It is a statistical factor, but it gives an indication of the economic damage and the impact that lockdown has had on people’s lives.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and to follow the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who brings his scientific background to bear on the Science and Technology Committee. I congratulate my near neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), on securing this timely debate on the economic impact of lockdown.

We went through a very difficult period during covid. It was unnerving and nerve-racking to see the broadcasts coming from China and what happened in Italy. There are so many lessons to be learned from understanding and interpreting a little better what goes on in other countries and from reflecting on what we should do in the United Kingdom.

I have always put the concerns I had over covid and the lockdowns in four categories. Following on from the point about civil liberties, it was extraordinary to see drones following people across the Derbyshire dales and hikers being told, “If you’re carrying a coffee, that counts as a picnic, and therefore the police will intervene.” There was a whole series of different things in the civil liberties area that constrained people’s activity.

One thing we know now, and which we had a good sense of fairly early on, is that good health is immensely important when we come up against any disease. Vitamin D and exercise are important, and obesity is one of the greatest problems when facing covid. Someone who is obese is more likely to be hospitalised or suffer a serious condition. Despite that, what the Government did on civil liberties was to restrict people’s access to normal healthy activities, such as walking—even if they were socially distanced because they were on top of a mountain or they were being sensible and following the guidance—or sunbathing in a park. Civil liberties are very important, and educational exclusion is also immensely important.

There is also the wider health impact of denying the routinely expected service of being able to see a GP. Shortly before the second lockdown, I flagged to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), my concern that there were about 20,000 fewer GP-to-hospital referrals just in Bolton borough over the lockdown period—a relatively short period of time. If that is in Bolton alone, just think of the millions of people that that means over the whole of the country. I do not know what that means in terms of life and death, but if a GP thinks something is serious enough for someone to need screening, more diagnostics and then treatment—perhaps serious and urgent treatment—then how many people right across the country with a life-threatening or life-changing condition could not see a hospital consultant or someone else to get what, in so many circumstances, was basic medical treatment?

In many ways, we can understand and appreciate the decisions we made—we did have to change our approach to healthcare and to have more controls in place—but my concern was about getting the right balance. When I wrote to the then Prime Minister about that before the second lockdown, I was expecting that he would actually explain it, perhaps with a cost-benefit analysis or an impact statement. In my letter, I asked, “Is the impact of the cure worse than the disease itself? Are the measures we are taking to protect us from covid worse than the impact it is having on our society in terms of civil liberties, education, healthcare and”—the focus of this debate—“the economy?”

When people talked about the economy early on—a good distance into covid and lockdowns—they were shouted down for that. We were shouted down for talking about money. When we have those conversations today and talk about the money, how expensive covid was and the disruption to businesses—whether large businesses or small businesses, which, as was rightly pointed out, have borne more of the brunt of this—we can see the dramatic economic impact. Who would now say, “Don’t talk about it. It’s not relevant. We have to focus only on the disease itself”? We are talking about these things all the time now.

I appreciate that the situation with Europe’s biggest energy producer invading Europe’s biggest food supplier has had a dramatic impact—we cannot get away from that—but we know, and we knew very early on, that the impact of lockdown on the economy would be enormous if we went much beyond three weeks. No one actually said, “It should be for three weeks”—there was no direct expectation—but the words of the Prime Minister at the time, suggesting a three-week period, did give people reasonable cause to think at the beginning, when Members of Parliament were voting on the first lockdown and the Coronavirus Act, “Three weeks? That would be great. If it is a little bit longer, it will be bad, but that gives us a framework for the timescales.” The longer a lockdown goes on, the worse the impact on the economy, the more demands there are for furlough and other economic support, and the greater the impact on healthcare access.

However, my particular interest is education. The schools that I visit now are actually quite grateful that we got out earlier than we might have done, because a fourth lockdown was being lined up. They are looking at the impact on children, especially from poorer backgrounds, and it is far more profound than anyone was talking about at the beginning. No one was talking about the impact on those children, but the outcomes will be devastating. Even after they have gone back to school and we have pumped a few billion pounds into the education system, they will never get back the experiences they missed or the exams they would have taken. The rest of their school career will be held back. Their results will be worse, and their opportunities for further education—for higher qualifications and the jobs that go with them—will be taken away.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton rightly mentioned the £40,000 of lost earning opportunities. However, some people will not get that job—they will not get the step up that would have led to horizon-broadening educational experiences and the work that goes with it. That has been taken away from so many children, and it has reverberated right across the system. We have been through a bit of political turmoil recently, but a recent Prime Minister and an Education Secretary have both said that we should never have locked down the schools. It would have been nice if that argument had been presented—or at least if the consensus had been challenged—right at the beginning. The people least affected by covid were the most affected by the lockdown. Many of the impacts on children can never be changed or redeemed.

I have an interest in medical research. I used to work in the mass spectrometry industry in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton for nearly 20 years before becoming a Member of Parliament, and I think about the medical research side of things.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (in the Chair)
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Order. The hon. Gentleman might want to keep within the confines of the motion that we are debating. This is about the economic impact of covid-19 lockdowns.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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Absolutely, and the place I worked at, AstraZeneca, is a huge contributor to the British economy, not just through its manufacture of drugs, but through its research and development effort. The pharmaceutical sector is a vital part of the British economy. This goes broader than the big pharmaceutical companies, however. Smaller organisations, especially medical research charities, are an important part of the British life science sector. What did the disruption to their research effort mean? There are many rare medical conditions that need treatment. That research contributes to the economy, and the landscape in which the sector operates is a significant factor in our economy. If a lockdown disrupts medical research at an early stage, when the charity is raising money for research—perhaps recruiting a researcher and getting people on to clinical trials—it takes a long time for that medical research charity to regain those funds. Perhaps funds were raised through sporting events and other activities; that money has to be got back. They then have to recruit a researcher, or even a team of researchers, to look into getting the clinical trial started. There are many other aspects to it, too. The process takes a very long time.

The life expectancy lost due to the economic disruption has been mentioned. We should also think of the pharmaceutical and other products that would have been produced in that time. People’s life chances have been hindered because the medical progress that we would have made during that period was not achieved. If we look at all the different parts of our society, including the high streets and medical research, the disruption has been profound. This is partly about jobs when people leave school, but also about jobs in businesses and industries. We should also consider the life opportunities for people receiving medical treatment, and their ability to maintain their position in the workplace, which might be taken away if they do not get medical support.

At the beginning of covid and the lockdown, people did not realise or appreciate their impact. I think of what happened as a pulling on the thread of society, and the breaking of the bonds that bind us. Knitting them back together is challenging and difficult. It is expensive and takes a long time. In the meantime, the problems are difficult. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reflect on that. In future such situations, whether the issue is covid or something else that has come along, I hope the Government will do a cost-benefit analysis, and will ask: if we need restrictions, what will that mean for all sectors of society?

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Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I thank the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) for bringing it forward. We have heard much today about the economic consequences of lockdown and the magnitude of the recession it caused, which was unprecedented in modern times. GDP declined by 9.7% in 2020—the steepest drop since consistent records began in 1948 and equal to the decline in 1921, according to unofficial estimates. The Scottish economy contracted by 19.4% between April and June 2020; that is the biggest fall in quarterly GDP on record.

We understood—how could we not?—that lockdown would of course bring significant economic cost. How could anybody not have anticipated that consequence? I have heard some Members talk about following the science; I am about as far from being a scientist as it is possible to be, but studies have shown that about 20,000 lives could have been saved if the first lockdown had been implemented a week earlier, according to research published by Imperial College London. I do not have the scientific expertise to challenge that, but when experts speak it is incumbent on us to listen. The research, incidentally, was published in the Science Translational Medicine journal, and also found that national lockdown was the only effective measure that consistently brought down the R number.

We must remember that we are speaking from the comfort of having emerged from covid, for the most part, despite the damage that it has caused on a number of levels. A Government’s first duty must be to ensure the safety of those they seek to serve. Surely we cannot forget the uncertainty during those dark days, and the need to do all we could to reduce our social contact, save lives and restrict the potential for infection. Of course there was a cost to that—nobody would pretend otherwise. How could we imagine that there would not be?

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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Will the hon. Member give way?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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In a moment.

These were difficult decisions that were not made lightly. I thank the lord every day that I did not have to take the responsibility to make those decisions, which were so far reaching in their consequences. They had to be made at pace and err on the side of caution, because public safety had to come first. It is easy now to sit, with some distance behind us from those days, and commentate and look at things that could have been done better. Of course mistakes would have been made, and of course things may have been done differently, but in that context and acting at speed, we—I say “we” in a societal sense—had to put public safety first.

Consider for a moment the leaders across the UK who were responsible for making those decisions, relying on public health experts as they were. As the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said, politicians are not often particularly scientific or trained in scientific methods. The leaders were relying on public health experts and understanding the weight of their responsibility—that, when it comes to public health, the buck stops with them. We can make criticisms about the decisions that were taken, and talk about possible wrong turns and the damage done; all those things are true, but the reality is that the priority had to be to keep the infection rate down and save lives.

I agree with elements of what the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said. Every single day that I was required to be in Parliament—Monday to Thursday, which is the norm—I came down here during lockdown. The reason I came was not because I felt invulnerable to infection. I came down here—it is quite a long journey, as Members can imagine—because postal workers, nurses and cleaners in my constituency had to go to their jobs. In that context, I felt unable and unwilling not to go and do my job. That is really important.

I also speak as someone whose mother-in-law was in a home with dementia. Again, I am not a scientist or doctor, but it is pretty clear that although dementia was cited as the cause of death on her death certificate, lockdown reduced her to a catatonic state because of the lack of stimulation. That does not mean that I think lockdown should not have happened, because the reality is that we cannot look at individual relatives or individual circumstances. We have to look at society in the round and make the best public health decisions, based on the scientific advice given across the UK and Europe, in order to protect the people we seek to represent.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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The hon. Lady is making a powerful argument. One of the points that has been raised, which is part of the broader debate, is that we saw what was happening in China and Italy. People in Britain were already voluntarily choosing to restrict their activities and restrict going into work—

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (in the Chair)
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Order. I gently remind both speakers that we are talking about the economic impact of covid lockdowns. I also remind the hon. Lady that the shadow Minister and Minister have yet to speak, and I would like to allow at least a couple of minutes for the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) to sum up. Please bear that in mind.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Green Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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This is undoubtedly an important issue, and the hon. Lady is right to raise it. Clearly, we are at a very important moment in the fight against fraud. Only next month, the new Public Sector Fraud Authority reporting to this Department and the Cabinet Office will go live, backed up by an additional £25 million over the spending review period. This represents increased resources for further support in terms of active measures on data, intelligence, risk and enforcement—all the things we need to do to crack down on fraud and to pursue the perpetrators.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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9. What fiscal steps he has taken to support investment in UK infrastructure.

Helen Whately Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Helen Whately)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are driving economic growth through investment in infrastructure, innovation and skills. The Budget and spending review confirmed £100 billion of public investment in economic infrastructure to benefit every part of the UK. We are launching a UK infrastructure bank with a financial capacity of £22 billion to crowd in private finance to support more than £40 billion of investment in infrastructure over the next five years.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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It is clear that when done right, the Government’s levelling-up programme can make a real difference to people’s lives. Does my hon. Friend share my enthusiasm for the proposed Atherton, Leigh and Tyldesley cycling upgrades that will connect local people to job opportunities right across the area, especially because there is such local support for it and it is not an anti-car programme?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I do share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for helping his constituents to access jobs and for cycling as a way of getting to and from work. At the spending review we announced £710 million of new funding for schemes like the one he described, but Bolton is also receiving £30 million through the towns fund and the shared prosperity fund, and work on the electrification of the Wigan-Bolton line has begun, supporting economic growth for his constituency and the wide area.

Ministerial Code/Register of Ministers’ Interests

Chris Green Excerpts
Tuesday 18th May 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman’s question again betrays what is actually taking place this afternoon. I do not know; I do not have a crystal ball to see into the future. I am in the same position as everyone else, but what I do know is that to make unsubstantiated allegations about people is quite wrong.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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Members right across the House received offers of support from businesses right around the country to make a huge contribution during a time of national crisis. Is it not the case that every Member has a responsibility to forward these offers of help and that all these offers were then judged on the same basis independently by the civil service, and to undermine this national effort is actually pretty damaging for the entire country?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If there is one message I want to get across this afternoon, it is that if we are ever again in the situation that we found ourselves in last year, I would urge British business to step up as it did before. The public do not think the things that the Opposition say. They know that businesses in their communities did an incredible job, and we will stand up for them and thank them for their achievements last year to keep this nation safe.

Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

Chris Green Excerpts
Tuesday 20th April 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will know that I have been reporting to this House quarterly on the very work that she describes—the effect that covid-19 has had on ethnic minority people and other vulnerable groups. We have explained the reasons for the causes of those disparities. The Public Health England report had a qualitative review, which talked about people’s experiences of racism in the system.

What we have to do now, however, is to ensure that we protect people. Our strategy at the moment is around vaccines. We have been doing everything we can to increase vaccine uptake, including significant amounts of work—which I reported to the House in February—on increasing vaccine uptake among ethnic minority groups where a large percentage of vaccine hesitancy remains, again much of it caused by misrepresentation and misinformation. I hope that the hon. Lady and members of her party will work with us in government on tackling misinformation and disinformation and will encourage those vulnerable groups to get vaccinated.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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The BBC has now said that, in terms of race and culture, you are what you eat. That clearly has a narrowing implication for playwrights and authors who increasingly feel that they may write only about their personal racial and ethnic experience. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a rather chilling thing in terms of the values that are now being put out?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I believe in freedom of expression. It is important that authors, playwrights and other artists feel free to write about and represent a broad range of people, regardless of their race or ethnicity. That is what we would see in a truly diverse society with a shared culture, rather than a “stay in your lane” approach that assumes our society consists of mutually antagonistic identity groups.

Vaccine Passports

Chris Green Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart). I thought that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) set out so many of the issues very well. It is a pleasure to speak in this e-petition debate on electronic vaccine passports, which is incredibly timely.

The starting point is that it is fundamentally up to individual countries to make decisions for themselves, so it ought not to be, in that sense, for the United Kingdom to take a lead with regard to what Brazil, Italy or any other country chooses to do. We have to respect those countries and their decisions; it is not for us to determine what they do. I hope that all countries, including the United Kingdom, if we choose at some point to take this approach of vaccine passports for other countries’ foreign nationals coming here, will themselves consider what they should do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe captured the point about the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. It is remarkable. I had no anticipation that it would be as effective as it seems to be at the moment. We have to recognise that, and the protection that will give to so many people right around the world. Any question over certification for vaccinations or anything else therefore has to be proportionate to the threat of the disease itself, which at the moment is diminishing, so actually the need is diminishing. At the same time, there has been an escalation in concerns and expectation that the passports will be delivered for many countries. I am quite sympathetic to the sense of having vaccinations.

About 20 or so years ago, when I was in the Territorial Army, I went on an expedition to Ecuador—Cordilleran Enterprise—to climb Volcán Sangay. I had a yellow fever vaccination and got a certificate. There are minimal concerns about certification if someone has a piece of paper to demonstrate their vaccination status, and we do not need fancy electronic readers to read a certificate—we just need to be able to speak the language used on the certificate. I am pretty comfortable with vaccination certificates. If there were any questions about forgeries or anything else, companies such as De La Rue, which is based in my constituency, could make remarkable authentication devices to put on certificates and ensure that there were no concerns about authenticity.

If we moved from paper certificates to electronic, however, significant questions of civil liberty would arise. Who in the world would run that database? What data would go into it and who would determine that? Would it be an international body such as the United Nations, the EU or some other organisation? If we could not get an international organisation to take the lead, would a big corporate organisation do so? Would big tech in California have control over the database? In the light of what happened when the Australian national Government confronted a big tech company, giving such a company so much power would be a colossal problem. We need to be proportionate and cautious. We need to look to paper first and foremost, and there would need to be huge justification if we were to take the electronic route, which I would not welcome.

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

Our next speaker could not be here at the start of proceedings because he was in the main Chamber, so he might not have heard that there is a three-and-a-half minute limit on speeches. I call Mr Ian Paisley.

Government Response to Covid-19

Chris Green Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have heard that. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I will come on to more statistics later, although they are not always helpful.

I was interested in a recent article written by The Telegraph’s Ross Clark in which he asked whether anyone had been able to read the small print at the bottom of the graph, which states:

“These are scenarios—not predictions or forecasts.”

He added that it was odd that there was no source listing for the graphs. I would think that the best guide to future deaths is numbers of infections, but even those are a difficult yardstick as they are falling in some parts of the country and rising in others. It is also important to acknowledge that the more we test, the higher the infection rate. It is encouraging that the death rate has halved as effective treatments have come into play. Let us not forget Professor Neil Ferguson’s dire warning in March of 250,000 deaths. The truth is that—my hon. Friend has hinted at it—predictions, modelling, forecasts and scenarios change, and with them the Government’s policy. What is that exactly? The modus operandi appears to be a roller coaster ride of lockdowns and release until a vaccine is found. But why, when we have a virus with a 99% survival rate? Last month the virus was the 19th most common cause of death. Have we overreacted? Yes, I think we have. A draconian, onerous and invasive set of rules and regulations now govern our very existence. Lord Sumption calls it a form of house arrest, and I concur. Interestingly, he also points out a section in the minutes of SAGE, the body advising the Government, where behavioural scientists advise the Government that

“Citizens should be treated as rational actors, capable of taking decisions for themselves and managing personal risk.”

Instead, unfortunately for all of us, coercion was selected.

This interference in our personal freedoms has not been seen since the war. Imagine then if we had predicted the human cost; we would have surrendered immediately. I am 62 and I cannot recall a moment in our proud island history when our nation has been so cowed, to the extent that it is now. Today, a police officer can issue a fixed penalty notice of £10,000 to those “involved” in a gathering exceeding 30 people. Initially aimed at raves, that power has now been used for other purposes. That and other draconian rules, such as the 10pm curfew and the rule of six, further enhance the sense of oppression.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the rationale and reasoning for the rule of six and the 10 pm curfew have not been backed up with evidence?

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax
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The good reason why a few of us voted against those measures was that there was no evidence to support them.

The 10 pm curfew only further destroyed the hospitality sector, while the rule of six broke up families. I cannot think of a modern crisis in which family and families are more essential and more important. Surely, their support is common sense, despite the risks. It is for them to make decisions about who they see and when, not the Government.

Depressingly, we have been warned that this lockdown might go on after 2 December, putting family gatherings at Christmas at risk. Nowhere in the debate, as far as I can recall, have we heard the word “risk”. The reason, I fear, is that we have become risk averse. Personally, I think that has made the sleepwalk into an invasion of our civil liberties even easier.

All appears to hang on the introduction of a vaccine, but the history of vaccines does not bring much comfort. An all-out effort is being made to create a vaccine, but how effective will it be? Who will it help? When will we actually have it? All these questions are still unanswered, although I welcome every effort to get one. I have spoken to quite a few medical experts and they tell me that pandemics end naturally, mitigated by better treatment of those who suffer, a vaccine and immunity in the population. Like flu, we must learn to live with this virus and not let it destroy us.

In the meantime, we are leaving a devastated landscape, economically, financially, physically and mentally. My own constituency of South Dorset, the prettiest in the country, relies heavily on the hospitality sector. Those in that sector responded to calls to make their facilities safer, only to now see them shutting again.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this incredibly important debate.

My principal concern is the somewhat erratic nature of the Government’s approach to dealing with the covid crisis. At the beginning, we were in a very difficult position because we knew very little about covid, its impact and how it spread. It is not like flu, which we can understand by looking at last year and the year before that, and we cannot really look at what other countries are doing to see what we should be doing, because each country is different. We do not have that comparative process, but as we move forward we can reflect on what we have done, reflect on our successes and failures, and adapt as we go along. I was hopeful that once we had the tier system in place, we would be able to see the impact in the respective tiers. In Liverpool, for example, the Government would say that tier 3 was having a positive impact.

There were drawn-out negotiations in Greater Manchester that lasted 10 days. I would not want to apportion the blame for that to the Mayor or the Government. On one hand, we understand that this is an incredibly urgent situation, requiring decisive and quick decision making. One the other hand, negotiations can take 10 days, when in other circumstances the lockdown features have been imposed centrally.

The current approach to lockdown has us going from the tiered system—before it has been proven to work or to fail, and without seeing what evidence we can take from it—immediately into another national circuit-breaker lockdown. We have had one of those before, for three weeks. This is a milder version, because schools are not included, but it is happening in winter, in more difficult conditions. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset suggested, this lockdown should be more severe, because winter presents a more difficult environment in which to achieve a reduction of the R rate and control transmission to allow the test and trace system to work.

In Bolton, we have been through the national lockdown restrictions, the Greater Manchester local lockdown and the Bolton economic lockdown. We came back out into the Manchester lockdown and went into tier 2, then tier 3. Before we know it, we will be in another national lockdown. I am not sure that there has been sufficient reflection on the often devastating impact on people’s lives, livelihoods and education. Questions over civil liberties have not been looked into a great deal over the course of the pandemic, which began months ago.

There has not been enough time for reflection. Throughout this crisis, and especially since Bolton has been in such a difficult position, I have been asking for information from the Government. What has been happening? What is going on? What reports and assessments have been produced, and can I have access to them? Can I explain to my constituents what they have been through and why, and what the problems were? I have also asked what the successes have been. What successes have the Government learned from in Bolton that can be applied to the national lockdown or introduced to the tiering system? I would love to know.

Unfortunately, the Government have not communicated the basics. We are now going into a second national lockdown, and we need people to have confidence in the Government and their actions. We heard on Saturday about the figure of 4,000 deaths per day—four times the figure at the previous peak of the pandemic—but it largely does not reflect our experience over the last six or seven months. Our doctors and hospitals are far better prepared, and they have far greater knowledge than they did. According to the Government, however, the median figure in that report of 4,000 deaths a day could increase to 6,000. Many of my constituents are looking with disbelief at what the Government say. If people do not believe what the Government say or believe in their approach, people will not follow the law or the guidance.

To conclude, I would like to raise a couple of points. Regarding places of worship and gyms, what evidence is there to say that they should be closed down? What impact assessments have been made on the closure of gyms, particularly for women? People are concerned about running in the dark, and I think that will have a greater impact on women. The question should not be what assessment the House has made of the Government’s actions on covid, but whether the Government have really considered their own actions.

Covid-19: Disparate Impact

Chris Green Excerpts
Thursday 22nd October 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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The hon. Gentleman is right to speak of making sure that people have access to all the information available. Much of the work that we have been doing has been with PHE, which looks mainly at England, but I will find out what information I can provide about the work that is being done in Wales. The Government are looking to ensure that everybody has access to the information, and we are working with the devolved nations to make sure that they have examples of the best practice that is happening across the board.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for her statement, which highlights a whole range of factors that are distributed right across the country. We know and understand the cost of covid to a certain extent, but there is also the cost of the lockdown. National figures, for example, show reduced GP appointments, cancer screening and hip operations. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with ministerial colleagues to produce a constituency by constituency covid lockdown health impact assessment, because in order to represent our constituents we have to have that local data?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an interesting suggestion. I believe that information like that exists. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further, to understand exactly what it is that he is looking for and see if we can do something to produce information like that.

Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill

Chris Green Excerpts
Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that business models that are rooted in their communities and have the wellbeing of those communities at their heart, while enabling individuals to be enterprising within them, are very beneficial, particularly in having the value of local knowledge of what will be a success, rather than simply a balance-sheet approach.

Investment in emerging green markets and technologies, in line with Government green investment strategies, can be beneficial and should be encouraged, but they are not without their own risks, and that is one of my worries. Investors must be aware that there are risks associated with green shares, as there are with any shares. My worry—and that, I believe, of some of my colleagues—is that the well-intentioned ethical ambitions attached to this instrument may expose them to risks that they may not have foreseen. I am concerned that the Bill exposes the co-operative sector to the unintended risks of being exploited as investment vehicles, rather than purpose-driven organisations. There is a balance to be struck there.

As with many of these societies and co-operatives, people have saved up for years to invest their savings in capital, and I want to ensure that they do not underestimate the associated risks of green shares proposed by the Bill. Just because it has the word “green” attached to it does not mean that it is a guaranteed way of making money or is a sensible investment. Although it is probably a slightly politically incorrect cross-reference in the context of this debate, I am reminded of the car industry. People often muse, “If only I’d invested massively in the car industry in 1900, I’d have made a fortune.” Actually, nearly all the car companies that were founded in 1900 led to a loss for their founders, because only a few of them prevailed. Although the overall concept of investing in the automotive industry in 1900 was good, it actually led to a lot of people losing a lot of money.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the labelling of something as green? We might think particularly about electric cars. We have to be aware that when mining and other processes take place for the batteries and other components in an electric car they can in no way be seen as environmentally friendly or green, even though the car is labelled as such.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is absolutely true. Although, of course, there are some things that are labelled green in which I have complete confidence, others cause serious concern for the reasons outlined.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), who made the important point that we need to have more than just good intentions in what we are doing. I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), who secured this debate on this Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill, is going way beyond good intentions. However, I also reflect on the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who is still in the Chamber. I think there is significant scope for a coalition, or for work to be taken forward, to bring this back in another form. Much that has been said, by so many colleagues, captures the spirit, intent, ideas and values of the co-operative and community benefit societies. These are values that I think we all share right across the House.

There is a significant focus in the Bill on dealing with the global warming and climate change agenda, which is incredibly important. We only have to see the protests outside to realise how many people are engaged in that, both here in London and across the country. This is therefore an important area that we need to look at, to see how we can support funding and investment in the sector, as well as supporting societies and co-operatives.

One of my concerns with the Bill at present is how we define and understand environmentally sustainable investment. No doubt guidance will be provided at the beginning, but many organisations around the country will draw their own conclusions, think their own way and draw up their own plans. In many ways that is what we would want to happen, because that is the nature of those organisations, but an incredibly broad range of organisations could be included or excluded. For example, I would generally expect many environmental organisations to be 100% against the nuclear industry. However, nuclear is a zero-carbon source of energy, so excluding this important sector from such investment would be problematic.

Let me touch on a couple of other issues. One of the things we want in these mutual organisations—these societies—is cohesion. They ought to be able to work together. What divisions will we create if we bring too many difficult and contentious issues into them?

I reflect on an issue from the United States of America. The US has seen a significant reduction in its carbon emissions. At the same time, because of the reduction in the cost of energy, we have seen significant reshoring of industry from countries around the world to the United States, creating manufacturing jobs there. We would all want more of that here in the United Kingdom, but that was achieved in the US in part because of the fracking industry.

Fracking is a very controversial technology—a very controversial source of energy—in the United Kingdom. In fact, it is very controversial in the United States of America, where it is happening and it has achieved those results. We ought to be very careful about that, or we could see arguments in mutual societies, with some saying, “We ought to be investing in hydraulic fracturing,” and others making robust arguments against it. We must be very careful about how we define and understand the motivation in this area and on this agenda.

Let me take another example. I quote from the Bill itself:

“The environmental sustainability goals are—

(a) to create an innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change); and

(b) to maintain and enhance a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change”.

I think that we can all agree with the values behind that. There is so much agreement in society and industry more broadly; we have only to look at BP, or pretty much any corporate organisation with a corporate responsibility statement. I have here one such statement from BP. No doubt, there are many other things that BP would say, but it states:

“Our purpose is reimagining energy for people and our planet. We want to help the world reach net zero and improve people’s lives.

We will aim to dramatically reduce carbon in our operations and in our production, and grow new low carbon businesses, products and services.

We will advocate for fundamental and rapid progress towards Paris and strive to be a leader in transparency.

We know we don’t have all the answers and will listen and work with others.

We want to be an energy company with purpose; one that is trusted by society, valued by shareholders and motivating for everyone who works at bp.

We believe we have the experience and expertise, the relationships and the reach, the skill and the will, to do this.”

On my reading of what is in the Bill and of where BP and many other organisations stand, I see significant compatibility between the two. I therefore look for clarification on whether the nuclear industry, the fracking industry and big oil ought to be included in the scope of the mutual organisations and societies covered by the Bill. At the moment, on my reading, all those organisations would be included, but I feel that that is not the intention.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the plethora of green investment opportunities may have unintended consequences and that the Bill does not contain a strategic framework for risk-assessing these investments and therefore informing investment decision making?

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
- Hansard - -

That is an excellent point. This debate has been very well informed on both sides of the House; we have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) and others use their expertise in highlighting their concerns. I think that means that the Bill ought to come back in one form or another. I think that so many people want it to come back because there is so much progress that we can make in this area.

Let me touch on a second aspect. As we see climate change and the activism that goes with it reach the peak of our political agenda—it has been there for a long time and we have no expectation that it will leave the agenda in the near future—we must be concerned to some degree about how political activism can impact mutual societies, co-ops and other membership organisations. I was alerted by what my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) said. In fact, he was highlighting a point about the protection of these organisations, because he would not want an outside player to invest a significant sum and have a proportionate voice according to how much they are investing in the organisation.

This is about keeping the community voice just as relevant. The flip side of that is that if there is one-vote per investment, that lends itself to political activism. With a small investment, someone can have a significantly disproportionate say in the organisation. We all appreciate that many people involved in different organisations, of all sorts, are not politically active or politically engaged all the time; they make an investment and they want to leave it alone, and they want other people to make these decisions. So where an activist organisation is engaging and making these investments, they might be able to skew the views and values of the mutual organisation. We ought to be cautious about this and very much aware of it.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish just to underline the point my hon. Friend is making about shareholder activism. Does he agree that the mechanism in respect of the demutualisation of any funds, should it be subject to shareholder activism, is dangerous in this context?

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
- Hansard - -

I agree entirely; if this were a mechanism or route to demutualisation, that would be fundamentally against the views of these organisations as they are at the moment—they could change in the future—and against the views and values of the hon. Member for Cardiff North.

We have heard really positive contributions from colleagues from right across the House. When I look at the Members who are supporting the Bill, I see that it is a distinguished group, which includes someone who is now a Minister. I am sure that the hon. Lady will therefore get a great deal of support in the future in her aims.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the Bill put forward by the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin). As an accountant by profession, having spent my previous career in manufacturing businesses in and around Sedgefield, I am still in awe of the detailed discussion that has been brought to this debate, particularly by my hon. Friends the Members for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), and I shall pick up later on one of the points made by the latter.

Before looking to speak on this Bill, I had to clarify for myself what a “co-operative and community benefit society” is and what an “environmentally sustainable investment” is. A co-operative society is run for the mutual benefit of members who use its services. This is based on the common economic, social and cultural needs, or interests, of the members. A community benefit society is run primarily for the benefit of the community at large, rather than just for the members of the society, which means it must have an overarching community purpose that reaches beyond its membership. One type of co-operative is a credit union, and I am concerned about the unintended impact of this measure on the users of these credit unions.

A credit union is a co-operative bank that is owned and managed by its members, all of whom have accounts in the bank. Like banks, credit unions accept deposits and make loans, but, as member-owned institutions, credit unions focus on providing a safe place to save and borrow, at reasonable rates. I have visited a number of them, including the NE First Credit Union service point at the leisure centre at Newton Aycliffe, in the north-east, and I strongly encourage people to use its services before buying on any high-interest hire purchase scheme, as that normally results in substantially higher costs being paid. Such services are a real alternative to the exploitative payday loans and high-interest rent-to-own payment systems most commonly used for household good such as fridges and washing machines.

With a rent-to-own scheme people get the product straightaway, and then make weekly, fortnightly or monthly payments, plus interest; insurance or warranty policies are often included in with the item. The interest to be paid on rent-to-own agreements will now be limited to no more than the cost of the product. Therefore, someone who buys a fridge from an RTO company for £250 will pay no more than £500 in total, and interest and other RTO charges will be benchmarked against mainstream retailers and the cost of living. That still means, however, that someone’s fridge that costs £250 will cost them another £250 in interest. With a credit union, the interest is more likely to be around £50. We want opportunities for credit unions to develop, but they must be safe havens with little risk, because the people who save with them are likely to have little alternate capital.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green
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I learned recently from a local credit union that although many people know they are there to borrow money from, if more people recognised that they could also deposit money there safely and securely, that would provide far more opportunity for people to borrow products.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with my hon. Friend. Credit unions are also the place where people first start saving, and they are regularly a first step for people getting out of high-finance debt traps. Security is paramount, because people must have confidence that when they put their money in, it will not be at any risk. It would be particularly concerning for those investing if the laudable aims of ethical ambitions resulted in those ambitions overriding the security of the investment.

In the 2020 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would bring forward legislation to allow credit unions to offer a wider range of products and services. That will support credit unions to continue to grow sustainably in the longer term and to play a pivotal role in financial inclusion. In a speech to the Association of British Credit Unions in March this year, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said:

“I am delighted to confirm that this week’s Budget included the announcement that the Government is to bring forward legislation to amend the Credit Unions Act. This will permit credit unions to offer a wider range of products and services than ever before…helping you better meet the needs of existing members.”

The Economy

Chris Green Excerpts
Thursday 24th October 2019

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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It is always a pleasure to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). What she says about debt and the issues around debt needs to be addressed.

On this final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, it is right that we focus on the economy, which underlies and funds all the vital public services on which we depend. Without a strong economy, we would not be able to invest in law and order to recruit 20,000 extra police officers. I agree with the Prime Minister’s focus on reforming sentencing, and we also need the 10,000 additional prison places. That is a key part of what we can do with a stronger, more robust economy.

There is more money for education, with £14 billion to level up standards and to level up investment in education right across the country.

A stronger economy delivers for our local communities, too. The Mayor of Greater Manchester created the town centre challenge fund a couple of years ago, and I wanted Atherton in my constituency to receive money to improve our town centre. Unfortunately, Wigan Council, which has been running the show so badly for such a long time, said that Atherton town centre needs so much more work than the fund can afford that it had decided not even to put Atherton forward for the funding. The contrast between the leadership of Wigan Council and the leadership of Bolton Council is profound.

I am pleased the Government are championing the cause of our towns. For so many years, we have heard about the north-south divide, and we are increasingly hearing about the divide between our cities and our towns. I am pleased the Government are supporting Bolton with £25 million from the stronger towns fund, which is incredibly important. The future high streets fund is also investing up to £150,000 in the town centres of Bolton and Farnworth. Such rebalancing between our cities and towns is important.

The leadership of Bolton Council is looking after the smaller towns and villages in the Borough of Bolton, as well as looking to secure £1.2 billion of investment in Bolton. As the centre of our borough, it is important that we get investment in Bolton. The council is also investing £4 million each in four of our smaller towns and local centres to make sure our local towns get the investment they need. It is about rebalancing the north and south and rebalancing our cities and towns, but it also about rebalancing between the larger towns and smaller towns in boroughs such as Bolton.

I am pleased the Government have a strong focus on health, which is incredibly important. I am particularly pleased to see the investment to create a medical training college in Bolton. Bolton College, Bolton University, the local clinical commissioning group and Bolton Council have a vision for investment in health, which is so important to the country.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Green Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2019

(5 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
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No, we are committing additional funding to innovation and to research and development—the Faraday battery challenge is a good example—and lots of that money is going into the technologies that will underpin the decarbonisation of our economy. However, we have to get the balance right. Consumers of energy in this country do not want to see their bills rising because we have made imprudent decisions. We have to do this in a way that takes public opinion with us as we decarbonise our energy sector, our homes and our industry in a sustainable way.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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20. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses in the north-west of England are at the forefront of our ongoing technological revolution?