Oral Answers to Questions

Steven Bonnar Excerpts
Tuesday 29th November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Angela Crawley Portrait Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of the increase in the energy price guarantee in April 2023 on households.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

16. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of the increase in the energy price guarantee in April 2023 on households.

Grant Shapps Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Grant Shapps)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Future energy prices remain highly uncertain and are expected to remain elevated throughout next year. The energy price guarantee from April ’23 is currently expected to equate to £500 of support for households in 2023-24.

--- Later in debate ---
Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have mentioned the 8 million homes, but perhaps it will help the hon. Lady if I point out the specific means-tested benefits which mean that those families will receive an extra payment of £650 on top of all the other assistance and help that I have outlined. This is an unprecedented situation. We have put billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into supporting people. I hope the whole House will recognise that this Government have done everything within our power to assist.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar
- View Speech - Hansard - -

The reality is that it is a damning indictment of decades of failed UK Government energy policy that we are even discussing harm to children as a result of rising energy Bills, given the vast energy resources at Scotland’s fingertips. Given that context, does the Secretary of State agree that it is absurd that nearly 1 million households in Scotland will be experiencing fuel poverty?

Covid-19: Requirements for Employees to be Vaccinated

Steven Bonnar Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 4 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

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Mr Paisley. I thank all the petitioners who signed the petition. I believe this shows our democracy in action, which is why I always like to come along to petition debates.

E-petition 599841 calls upon the UK Government to prohibit employers from asking their employees to be vaccinated before starting employment, a hugely impactful decision with consequences that stretch across many sectors and industries. Enforcing the vaccination of employees, according to the petition and the petitioners, violates the concept of informed consent. I find that hard to disagree with. We do not live in a totalitarian society, and we should not expect individuals to be punished or persecuted for refusing vaccinations.

Mandatory vaccination in the workplace is, in my opinion, fundamentally and morally wrong. Instead of using—for want of a better word—force, the Scottish Government believe that we should educate and encourage individuals to receive vaccines through persuasion rather than coercion. With the idea of mandated vaccinations being mooted, I believe that more employers will act to reduce statutory sick pay for unvaccinated employees who are forced to, for example, self-isolate.

Companies such as Morrisons, IKEA and Next have already moved to implement such policies, and it is only a matter of time before more follow. Perhaps instead of introducing mandatory vaccinations, the Government should consider enacting legislation to prevent employers from altering their sick pay policies in relation to unvaccinated workers. A pandemic should not be an opportunity to lessen employment rates. As a morally just legislature and legislators, we should simply not allow that to happen.

Given the Government’s requirements for healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated by April, it is important to understand that healthcare professionals feel a duty of care towards their patients, but mandatory vaccination is not the answer. If there was overwhelming evidence that the vaccine prevented someone from passing the virus to others, it might be justified or compelling. Unfortunately, we know that vaccines, amazing as they are and have been, do not work in that manner, and I do not see how we can justify such moves. The health unions agree, and have criticised the policy, pointing out that it might result in the loss of up to 10% of staff at some hospitals in England when it comes into effect. With an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 NHS workers in England who have not yet been vaccinated, the consequences could be irreversibly damaging.

At the weekend, we witnessed frontline health workers join in the many anti-vax protests in the streets. The conflating of both groups is of real concern. With a workforce that is already depleted across the NHS and other sectors, I am concerned about and resist in the strongest terms any “no jab, no job” policy. The NHS cannot afford for employees to be absent from work. It would be a form of self-sabotage to terminate the contracts of valuable, hard-working healthcare workers now.

Unlike the UK Government, the Scottish Government have not mandated vaccination of care home or NHS staff in Scotland, instead relying on an educate and inform strategy that has resulted in a higher vaccine uptake to date. A constituent who works in University Hospital Monklands spoke to me recently about how his day-to-day experience over the duration of the pandemic—seeing at first hand the effects of covid-l9 on the unvaccinated and on treatment options—was the greatest first-hand insight that he and his colleagues could gain in convincing them to take the vaccine. There was no need for any forced-hand approach; seeing and learning about the effects of the virus was all the education required.

The covid vaccine is entirely voluntary in Scotland, and the Scottish Government have no plans to change that for healthcare workers or anyone else. The Scottish Government have put public health and welfare at the forefront of their coronavirus response, and will do so for the duration of the pandemic. Scotland’s first and second vaccine uptake rates are the highest in the UK, and Scotland’s booster campaign is second in the world, behind only Chile. All five of the UK’s most vaccinated regions are in Scotland, with Argyll and Bute topping the list with a vaccination rate of 99.8%.

There are several reasonable and fully acceptable reasons why people prefer not to get vaccinated. Some persons are unable to receive vaccinations due to underlying or pre-existing medical problems. Trypanophobia, a severe and overpowering fear of needles, accounts for up to 10% of vaccine phobia in the United Kingdom. Many people are hesitant to obtain the vaccine because they believe in simple vaccine myths that conflict with their religious convictions, such as the belief that vaccines perhaps contain aborted foetal cells.

Explaining why vaccines do not violate religious or moral precepts, as well as answering honest and sincere questions about assisting individuals with needle phobias, is a considerably more successful means of increasing vaccination uptake. Educate, educate, educate—we have heard that many times within these walls over the years. Forcing vaccination will not help people to overcome their fears, which are frequently the result of trauma. In fact, doing so may well exacerbate such fears. Support and encouragement is the best way to get people who have fears vaccinated. Mandates would cause more harm than good to any individual, but also to us all in society. Why would we allow for such legislation, when the outcome is significantly negative?

When it comes to employment, the law is ultimately decided here in Westminster, which has the final say on which laws companies must follow. As a result, any questions about the legality of companies requiring vaccination are left to Westminster and, latterly, to the courts. Legal experts have already noted that making vaccination mandatory could result in civil cases under the Equality Act 2010, given its potentially discriminatory nature. For example, employers who belong to a religious group that opposes all medical treatments or vaccines, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, may be able to claim indirect discrimination. The law is not clear on vaccination mandates and must be addressed by the Government. From the standpoint of employment law and non-discrimination, it is safer to encourage immunisation than to mandate it. I urge the UK Government to reconsider their position and adopt the Scottish Government’s approach of allowing individuals to have freedom over what they put into their own bodies.

To conclude, I urge the UK Government to reconsider their position and adopt a strategy that we have seen work for the Scottish Government by educating communities, educating religious leaders and allowing individuals to choose what they put into their own bodies. Lastly, I urge everybody, if they can, to get vaccinated.

Oral Answers to Questions

Steven Bonnar Excerpts
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Not surprisingly, my hon. Friend, who is an expert in this field, makes an important point. In the people and culture strategy that we set out this summer, we make that very point: we need to build a diverse eco-system. I have already reached out to the Royal Society and picked up and commended its work on science, technology, engineering and maths and diversity in the sciences. The truth is that our science sector is creating opportunities all around the country, and we are absolutely committed in the innovation strategy to make sure that every community in this country has access to those jobs and opportunities.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

9. If he will make an assessment of the confidence of Scottish businesses in the UK Government.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lee Rowley)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Business Ministers regularly engage Scottish businesses on policy making and to discuss business-related issues. In challenging times, the UK Government have provided significant taxpayer support to businesses across the UK, including in Scotland, and we will continue to work with them in the months ahead.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Just last week, the Federation of Small Businesses flagged up the grim realities of Brexit, citing that 74% have experienced a sharp fall in international sales and exports because of import checks on trade with the EU, yet that reality is completely at odds with the outpourings of Lord Frost who used the new year honours list to purport an opaquely upbeat metric on the success of businesses across these isles. How are Scottish businesses supposed to feel any shred of confidence in this Government when such comments are completely at odds with what is happening on the ground? Even Baroness Davidson, the face of the Scottish Tories for the past decade, says that

“I despair when I see people—even those of my own party—dismissing business or disrespecting the herculean efforts that people have gone to”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 December 2021; Vol. 816, c. 2021.]

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that this is a surprise to the Scottish nationalists, but we have made the decision as a country to leave the European Union, and we are now in the process of ensuring that that is a success, not just for businesses in Scotland, but for businesses all across the United Kingdom as a whole, and we will continue to do that in the months ahead.

Ethnicity Pay Gap

Steven Bonnar Excerpts
Monday 20th September 2021

(2 years, 9 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

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to follow the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn).

It saddens me to say that structural racism still pervades and permeates our society. Over the decades, progress in addressing racial inequalities has been too slow, and we continue to see the impact of that in inequality in the jobs market, particularly towards those groups from minority communities. It should shame all of us to know that ethnic minorities in the UK are less likely to find career-type, sustainable work than their white counterparts, even when born and educated right here in the very same United Kingdom.

While we know that ethnic discrimination in hiring is pervasive and enduring, it is not clear how much of the labour market disadvantage experienced by ethnic minorities can be attributed to employer discrimination. Overall, just two thirds of black, Asian and minority ethnic people are in work in the UK—68%, compared with 78%, or nearly four fifths, of their white counterparts.

Once fortunate enough to be in work, black, Asian and minority ethnic people are also more likely to be in lower paid employment than their white counterparts, which largely reflects long-standing occupational segregation and often intersects with other characteristics such as gender and class. People from minority ethnic groups are over-represented in a range of lower paid jobs such as care workers, security, hospitality, customer services and taxi drivers.

Racial inequality in the labour market has persisted for decades. We all must play our part in addressing it, especially those of us in Government, and this Government can do more. For an example of the employment inequality divide, we need look no further than this city of London. Data gathered by the Office for National Statistics shows that minority ethnic employees in the capital earn 24% less than their white counterparts—quite a shocking statistic in the 21st century, in which we are to believe we live in an equal society. That statistic will only continue to increase without swift action by this Government.

We must introduce a mandatory reporting requirement, modelled on the 2017 gender pay disclosure requirement. That would be one of the most transformative steps a company could take to address racial inequality at work and overcome practical difficulties in the workplace. We have a Government with a very large majority, that have indicated their desire to build

“a fairer economy…ensuring the UK’s organisations reflect the nation’s diversity.”

Why, then, has it taken so painfully long for this Government to respond to a report that was commissioned in 2018, more than two years after they released their consultations on the plans? No further developments have materialised.

In Scotland, on the other hand, we have made great progress. In March 2020, a commitment was made by the Scottish Government to implement the key findings of the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee. In doing so, the Scottish Government will take responsibility for assessing the prevalence of institutional racism, and proactively challenge and change practices that disadvantage minority ethnic communities and, more importantly, ensure those communities are involved in shaping that change. The Scottish Government of course recognise that taking these recommendations on board in no way represents a final step, but it is a step in the right direction and a step more than has been taken by this UK Government, or that they seem willing to take.

Pressure is now increasing on the Government, and an agenda for change was already set out in 2018 by the independent McGregor-Smith review of race relations in the workplace. That report showed a lack of access to training and promotion opportunities for black and ethnic minority employees. It also showed low numbers of top-paid black and minority ethnic employees, and high proportions of black and minority ethnic people in poorly paid jobs. We currently lack data with which we can gauge the ethnicity pay gap in the workplace. Introducing a mandatory reporting requirement will enable employers to be held accountable for closing that gap where there is disparity. Publishing that data is one of the next steps we can take to achieve a fairer workplace —something we all wish for—in order to know how extensive the issues are from a race and ethnicity perspective, not just through the lens of gender.

The Prime Minister has already faced criticism for saying:

“What I want to do as prime minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimhood and discrimination”.

Perhaps if he had paid attention to the tragic and brutal killing of George Floyd, which led to widespread outrage and protest across the globe, he would realise that Governments are now facing increased pressure to remove the societal injustice faced by blacks, Asians and minority ethnic communities. In October last year in this place, I advocated for mandatory gender pay gap reporting. I am now asking the same thing of this Government: to deliver what they have already promised in their 2017 manifesto, and implement compulsory ethnicity pay monitoring.

Oral Answers to Questions

Steven Bonnar Excerpts
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to support businesses through the covid-19 pandemic.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented to Parliament the Budget, which sets out an additional £65 billion to support people and businesses. We have hit every road map commitment at every stage so far, and no one can doubt that we are leading in our support to businesses. We have even taken the total cumulative cost of support to £352 billion.

--- Later in debate ---
Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know how passionate my hon. Friend is about mental health and this campaign. I myself am dedicated to supporting campaigning and advocating for mental health, and I care passionately about mental health in the workplace. Indeed, we are working on a people and culture strategy for research and development. We will ensure that my hon. Friend has the opportunity to discuss the matter further with relevant Ministers.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar
- Hansard - -

The Chancellor has announced that the job retention scheme must end in September, yet thousands of workers in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill remain on furlough, with their industries required still to close. While the vaccine roll-out gives us real optimism, the world remains firmly in the grip of this pandemic. It is unacceptable to leave workers and businesses with only four months before they face this cliff edge and are cut off from this vital lifeline. Other European nations, such as Germany, have already committed to continue with their equivalent scheme until 2022. With that in mind, will the Minister join me in imploring the Chancellor to do the right thing for workers and businesses in my constituency and across the UK by extending the retention scheme for as long as it is required?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have provided unprecedented support to business sectors throughout the pandemic, including the hospitality and retail sectors. In addition to the job retention scheme and cuts to business rates and VAT, we have provided one-off restart grants of up to £18,000, which are available to businesses in the non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and personal sectors to support them to reopen as restrictions are relaxed. To date, businesses in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill have benefited from more than 1,500 loans and £59 million, with 70,800 jobs supported through furlough.