The speech made by Ian Blackford, the SNP Leader in the House of Commons, on 6 January 2021.
Mr Speaker, may I take the opportunity to wish you, your colleagues and members of staff a good new year? I also send my best wishes for a speedy recovery to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens).
People across these islands have entered into this new year feeling a mix of hope and fear: hope that the vaccine will finally end this terrible pandemic, but real fear, too, about the increased cases, the hospital admissions and, sadly, the lives lost. As our First Minister explained on Monday, this phase of the pandemic is now a race: a race to suppress the virus and a race to vaccinate our most vulnerable. If we are asking people for one last effort, if we are asking them to endure weeks of lockdown, then they need more clarity, they need protection and they need financial support. Most importantly, the UK Government have to act in a timely manner. It was said of the French designer, Pierre Cardin, that he was one step ahead of tomorrow. Nobody would say that this Prime Minister is one step ahead of tomorrow, or acts and shows leadership in dealing with this health pandemic. He was slow to act in the spring of 2020, slow in the autumn, and here again reacts after the events to the threats that we all face.
I want to ask the Prime Minister four specific questions on vaccines, on travel and on financial support, and I would appreciate it if he answered each of them not just for us, but for all the public who want answers. First, on the vaccine, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said last month that the only thing that will solve the issue of vaccine availability are the “fill and finish” supplies, such as specialised vials. Can the Prime Minister tell us exactly what actions are being taken to ramp up these supplies?
On travel, is the Prime Minister prepared to learn from his Government’s past mistakes? Will he consider closing the UK border to all but essential travel to prevent new strains of the virus from spreading?
On support for the self-employed, why did the Chancellor again decide yesterday to exclude the 3 million freelancers and self-employed who have not received a penny of financial support since the start of this crisis? They are desperate and they need help, and they expect the Prime Minister to respond today.
Finally, on financial support for Scottish businesses, yesterday morning the Scottish Conservatives were busy making memes about an extra £375 million of Treasury support that they said was on its way to Scotland. Can the Prime Minister explain to Scottish businesses why, by the end of the day, it turned out there was no new money at all? Can the Prime Minister now give a personal commitment that the Scottish Government will get this money—this new money—for businesses in Scotland?