Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 23 March 2020.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Coronavirus is the most serious public health emergency that has faced the world in a century. We are all targets, but the disease reserves its full cruelty for the weakest and the most vulnerable. To defeat it, we are proposing extraordinary measures of a kind never seen before in peacetime. Our goal is to protect life and to protect every part of the NHS. This Bill, jointly agreed with all four UK Governments, gives us the power to fight the virus with everything that we have.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
Like many hon. Members, I have had a huge number of issues raised with me by NHS workers regarding the availability of personal protective equipment to frontline staff and testing. I know the Secretary of State wants to protect NHS staff through the Bill, so will he take the opportunity of Second Reading to update us, perhaps with any information he has from across the UK, about progress on these matters?
Yes. If it is okay with you, Mr Speaker, I will answer that intervention and then get on with the point in the Bill. These issues are outwith the Bill, but they are incredibly important and very much part of the topic.
In terms of making sure that NHS staff, social care staff and those who need it clinically get the protective equipment they need—especially but not only the masks— we are undertaking enormous efforts to get that equipment out. The equipment is there; we have it. It is a distribution effort. I was not satisfied with the stories I heard of people running short, so we have brought in the military to help with the logistical effort. I want to hear from every single member of staff in the NHS or in social care who needs that equipment but does not have it, so we have also introduced a hotline and an email address, which is manned. I have had an update on that, and it has had a number of calls, which are all being responded to. In that way, we will find out where the gaps are, so that we can get this distribution out. It is a mammoth effort; we have been working on it for several weeks, but the increase in the use of the protective equipment in the last week has been very sharp, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman and the House will understand. The logistical effort is very significant.
We are expanding the amount of testing. We are buying tests, both ones made abroad and ones made here in the UK, because testing is absolutely vital to getting out of this situation. I want to get to a point where anybody who wants to get tested can get tested. At the moment, we are having to reserve the tests we have for patients, especially in intensive care, so that they can be properly treated according to whether or not they have coronavirus. Very soon, we are getting the tests out to frontline staff so that they can get back to work, where somebody in their household might have the symptoms and they are household-isolating. I understand absolutely the importance of testing. We are working on it incredibly hard. We were working on it all weekend, and we are making some progress.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
On the point about testing, will the Secretary of State be absolutely clear? Does the current test that is available show whether somebody has got covid-19 or has perhaps previously had it? Does it do both, or does it do just one? If it does just do one, when are we likely to have a test that does both?
Tests for both have recently been developed. The test for whether someone has coronavirus, which we call the case test, was first developed here by Public Health England, and that is being expanded. The antibody test, which tests whether someone has the antibodies that make them immune to coronavirus, has now been developed, and we are buying it in large quantities.
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
Nobody denies that the Bill is necessary, but given that it gives the state, for the first time in our history, unprecedented powers to enforce isolation on people who have committed no crime, will the Secretary of State reassure the House that it will be fully involved in renewing this once this crisis is over, and that there will be no drift in this matter?
Yes. I will turn to this point shortly, but let me just correct my right hon. Friend. The measures we are taking to be able to hold people in quarantine build on those in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which we have been using hitherto. In that element, the Bill is not unprecedented. The Bill makes these powers UK-wide and strengthens the basis on which they can be exercised, but the powers are not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the point he makes about the House’s ability to scrutinise these measures and to ensure that we are, as a House, content with their continuation is important.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Let me make a little more progress in answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), and then of course I will give way.
The Bill is jointly agreed between the four UK Governments. Of course, there are measures that are significant departures from the way we normally do things, but they are strictly temporary. I think that they are proportionate to the threat we face, and they will be activated only on the basis of the best possible scientific evidence. Crucially, to my right hon. Friend’s point, the legislation is time-limited for two years and the measures can each be switched on and off individually as necessary by the relevant authority, whether that is the UK Government or the devolved Government, depending on who exercises the powers. As an additional safeguard, we today tabled an amendment to give the House the opportunity to confirm that the powers are still required every six months.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Everyone admires the steps he is taking. He knows that I have been questioning and corresponding with him on testing for some time. Given that, as he pointed out, the test was developed in this country, can he explain why it seems to be so much less available in this country than in other countries around the world?
We have done more testing than most countries. There are some countries that are ahead of us, and we are racing to catch up. We have tested far more than, say, France or America, but not as much as Italy. It is something that we are putting a huge amount of effort into. I understand the pressure my right hon. Friend rightly puts on me to expand testing capability. We are increasingly using private companies to do the testing—to expand their production and execution of the tests—rather than just doing it in the brilliant public health labs we have at Porton Down and around the NHS.
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
I commend what the Secretary of State said about working with the devolved Administrations to get the measures in the Bill right. It is crucial that many of these measures are UK-wide; I realise that these are unusual times. There is a specific power in schedule 21 to limit entry to premises and, if necessary, to close them down, which applies to all four Administrations. Can he be clear about whether that will apply to care homes? I have heard a lot of concern from constituents who are worried that some care homes still are not restricting entry to individuals and are therefore putting elderly residents at risk. There is real demand for this to be unified across the country to protect elderly residents.
We have other ways to enforce that with care homes, not least contractually through local authorities. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern; people in care homes need to be protected, and many of them shielded, from the virus, because many of the most vulnerable people are in care homes. I will take away the point and look at whether more needs to be done, but we do have other powers available to deliver on what he and I—I think—agree is needed.
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
I commend the Secretary of State for accepting the six-month review that he has just announced, but in the event that the House decides that one element of the Bill is working badly, will we be able to amend or strike out that element, or will we have to take the whole thing or reject it at that six-month point?
As discussed with the Opposition, we are proposing a six-month debate and vote on the continuation of the Bill, and before that debate we will provide evidence and advice from the chief medical officer to inform the debate. There is also a reporting mechanism for a report every eight weeks on the use of the powers in the Bill.
Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
I thank my right hon. Friend for the time he has taken in explaining at every stage how he has used the powers of his office to this House and, indeed, to the people through the media. I am hugely grateful and I know many others are. Could I just, however, state that over the last three weeks the world has changed in a rather more radical sense than many of us appreciate? The powers in the Bill, even over six months, are likely to change and to be exercised in different ways. Can he assure me that he and all other Ministers will exercise their powers reasonably, in keeping with only the coronavirus issue, and making sure that they are limited to the purpose for which they were intended, because these powers could—in different circumstances—be used in a particularly malicious fashion?
I can confirm that the Bill is to deal with the current coronavirus emergency, and that is an important point. But I would also say that although the world has changed in the past three weeks in ways that many could not have imagined, every measure that has been taken by the Government has been part of the action plan that we published three weeks ago. Of course, the Bill has been drafted over a long period, because it started on the basis of the pandemic flu plan that was standard before coronavirus existed and has been worked on over the past three months at incredible pace by a brilliant team of officials right across Government. The Bill is consistent with the action plan, so while some people might have been surprised by each of the measures we have taken, they have all been part of the plan that we set out right at the start. I can confirm that it is only for coronavirus.
I also want to give further detail to my previous answer to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), which is that section 21 does not specify what it defines as a gathering or an event. It is deliberately broad, so it could include a care home, should we need it to, and that would be defined in secondary legislation should that be necessary.
Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
I am sure the whole House will want to support my right hon. Friend and the provisions in the Bill. I just want to reinforce two points. The first is that I was very concerned to see the two-year provision, which is why I put my name to new clauses 1 and 6, and I am very pleased to hear what the Government have said about the six-month review. Notwithstanding what he just said about the period of time in which this has been produced, it is a heroic effort— 321 pages of legislation which may well be subject to changes in the next few weeks and months as this crisis develops. I hope, therefore, that he will see the six-month review not just as a rubber-stamping effort, but as a chance to improve the legislation, should it require that improvement.
We could consider that. The proposal is to have a debate and vote as opposed to a whole new piece of legislation and, of course, only to renew it if the measures in the Bill are still necessary. Then, of course, they will fall after two years. I understand the concern of my right hon. Friend and his wisdom. I know that as Secretary of State he dealt with some of these issues, albeit not here but around the world, and he knows the sorts of measures that are needed, which are contained in the Bill.
Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
Will the Secretary of State provide clarity on the six-month period? Obviously, six months is quite a long time for people who are chronically ill or have a serious disability. Some of the proposals have implications for social care for the devolved regions or local government. What will happen if there are negative effects on people who receive social care within that six-month period? What recourse will Members have to bring that to the House?
There will be recourse, and I will come on to that in a moment. The purpose of the social care measures in the Bill, which are very important, is to allow for the prioritisation of social care, should that be necessary. However, there are a number of restrictions on that, because local authorities will still be expected to do what they can to meet everyone’s needs during that period. While local authorities will be able to prioritise to ensure that they meet the most urgent and serious care needs, there are restrictions to require them to meet everyone’s needs and, indeed, to fulfil their human rights obligations to those in receipt of care.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
I thank the Secretary of State for the excellent work he has done to ensure that individuals get the care they need in these difficult and challenging times.
On the human rights perspective, I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for listening to faith organisations. Initially there were concerns that under part 2 loved ones would have to be cremated. As somebody from a Muslim background and the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, it was completely unacceptable to consider that if taking account of the views of the Muslim and Jewish communities. I therefore thank the Government for ensuring that the wishes of the deceased will be taken into account in relation to their final rites.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked hard to ensure that we come to a solution in the Bill, through the amendments we have tabled today, that ensures we can not only have dignity in the case of a large proportion of the workforce not being available, but accede to the wishes of families from the many different faith communities who had concerns about the way it was originally drafted. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who found a way through that I think everybody can be content with.
Essentially, the Bill gives all four UK Governments a legislative and regulatory toolkit to respond in the right way at the right time by working through the action plan. While I hope that some of the powers never have to be used, we will not hesitate to act if that is what the situation requires.
Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
To follow on from the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), I am grateful for the work the Government have done in this area, because many of my constituents—both those from a Muslim background and those of the Jewish faith—were naturally concerned. It is one of the major tenets of faith that everybody has the right to dignity in death, so I am grateful to the Government for listening. Will the Secretary of State join me, at this difficult time for all our communities, in thanking our faith communities for the role they are playing, the difficult decisions they are taking and the support they are giving?
I entirely agree. This exchange is an example of the cross-party approach we are all taking. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for the work he has done, together with the Paymaster General, to bring this point to light.
I am also grateful for the work the hon. Member and many others have done with faith groups of all religions who want to gather. Understandably, it is upsetting not to be able to do that, but it is right that they cease large gatherings—or, indeed, any gatherings—where there is social contact that can spread the disease. It is happening around the world. It is a difficult thing for some, and I pay tribute to the faith organisations and faith leaders across all faiths who have made the right decision. I urge all faith leaders to see what has been done by those who have taken the right steps and to follow them.
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) for his constructive approach to the passage of this legislation and his constructive tone in respect of this whole crisis. I reassure him that I listen to what he says very carefully. Even when he does not agree, he has done so in a calm, sensible and evidence-based way. I think the House can see from the Bill that we have taken on many of his suggestions, and they will go into law. Along with the Labour Administration in Wales, the SNP Government in Scotland and the multi-party Administration in Northern Ireland, we have taken on ideas from all parties.
The measures in the Bill fall into five categories: because we rely on the NHS and social care staff now more than ever, the first set of measures will help us to increase the available health and social care workforce; secondly, there are measures to ease the burden on frontline staff, both in the NHS and beyond; thirdly, there are measures to contain and slow the spread of the virus so that we can enforce social distancing; fourthly, there are measures on managing those whom the disease has taken from us with dignity and respect; and fifthly, there are measures on supporting people to get through this crisis. I shall briefly take each of them turn.
The first part of the Bill is about boosting our healthcare workforce at a time when it comes under maximum pressure, both through increased demand and because of household isolation and the fact that large parts of the workforce may fall sick. The Bill allows for the emergency registration of health and social care professionals, including nurses, midwives, paramedics and social workers. I can update the House with numbers: 7,563 clinicians, including Members of this House, have so far answered our call to return to work, and I pay tribute to every single one of them. These are difficult times and they have risen to the call of the nation’s needs. We know that many more will join them.
Our thanks also go to the social workers who play such a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable in this country. The Bill protects the income and the employment status of those who volunteer in the health and social care system. Volunteers will play a critical role in relieving the pressure on frontline clinicians and social care staff. Again, I offer our thanks.
Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)
Is the Secretary of State aware that many people in the refugee community in the UK are qualified healthcare professionals? I have spoken to the refugee charity RefuAid, which says it has 514 qualified healthcare professionals on its books. These are people who are willing to work and fully qualified in their own country, but there are bureaucratic barriers to their coming forward. Will he please look into this matter with great urgency so that such people can help us out?
Yes. If the right hon. Gentleman emails me with the details, we will get right on to it. He refers to bureaucratic barriers; we of course have to make sure that people are able to do the work that is necessary, but we have already shown in the Bill that we are willing not only to bring people back into service but to put into service those who are towards the end of their training, to make sure that we get as many people as possible in full service. I absolutely want to pick up on the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal and take it up with the General Medical Council or the relevant regulator to see whether we can find a way through for the period of this crisis.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
I wonder whether the Secretary of State may not need an additional power in relation to the Home Office being able to waive fees for tier 2 and tier 5 visas for foreign nationals who are already working in the NHS and are about to have to renew their status in this country, or for those who have been studying as students.
It is already within NHS trusts’ power to pay those visa fees if it is necessary.
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
Will the Secretary of State look at the immigration surcharge for doctors and nurses who are working in intensive care units? Will he also look personally at the issues relating to research trials for potential new drugs or treatments, or existing drugs or treatments that are being used? Concerns have been raised with me that those processes are all being delayed by the traditional randomised controlled trial processes, which may not be appropriate given the emergency we face.
Absolutely. The chief medical officer is personally looking into that issue to make sure that when there is a treatment, we can bring it to bear as soon as is safely possible. There is a challenge with a disease that has, thankfully, a mortality rate as a proportion of the overall population as low as this one, which is that we do not want to do more harm than good. Many of these drugs are safe, because they are licensed for another purpose. It is a question of repurposing them—this is for treatment, rather than vaccine—and that is something we are actively working on. If the right hon. Lady has examples of particular barriers that we need to crunch through I would like to know about them. If she could email me I will take that up with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
I want to bring to the attention of the House to the professional indemnity clauses. Where there is no existing professional indemnity agreement in place the Bill provides legal protection for the additional clinical responsibilities that healthcare staff may be required to take on as part of the coronavirus response. I do not want any clinician not to do anything that they can do because that they worry about indemnity and what might happen if it goes wrong. I want everybody in the NHS to do their very best to the top of their qualification, looking after people and keeping them safe.
Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
I commend the Health Secretary on everything that he and his team are doing. To ensure that returning healthcare professionals can do so at the right time, when the disease peaks around Easter, we have to move at pace to put the indemnity that he has cited in place, to ensure that people are physically and mentally fit to do this work and, crucially, to ensure that they are skilled or reskilled to do what we are asking of them. Can he assure the House that those three things are being put in place?
Absolutely—all of that is in hand. My right hon. Friend is quite right to raise it.
Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
I thank the Secretary of State for everything that he is doing. We are all rooting for him to be successful. I am genuinely worried about what is happening in London hospitals, and what it says about the prospects for the rest of the NHS. He is right to try and get staff to return, but we have to be able to keep them when they arrive. I have seen disturbing reports over the weekend of agency staff walking out mid-shift because they do not have the right protective gear, the right sanitising hand gel, and the things that they expect to keep themselves and patients safe. Can he look urgently at this issue, because London is the story that will follow for the rest of the country if we do not get this right?
Yes, this is what I have been spending the weekend on—absolutely; it is incredibly important.
Turning to the second part of the Bill, which is about easing the burden on the frontline and follows from that intervention, that refers not only to the NHS frontline but to the dedicated public servants who guard our streets, who care for our children, and look after communities, in local government—in short, all those who keep the UK running safely and securely. By cutting the amount of paperwork that they have to do, by allowing more remote working, by delaying some activities until the emergency has ended, we can keep essential services going while we get through the pandemic.
Some of the measures are difficult, and not what we would choose to do in normal times. For instance, the Bill will modify temporarily mental health legislation, reducing from two to one the number of doctors’ opinions needed to detain someone under the Mental Health Act 1983 because they pose a risk to themselves or others. In circumstances in which staff numbers are severely affected, the Bill allows for the extension or removal of legal time limits governing the short-term detention of mental health patients. The Bill also allows for an expansion of NHS critical care by allowing for rapid discharge from hospital where a patient is medically fit. NHS trusts will be permitted to delay continuing healthcare assessments, a process that can take weeks, until after the emergency has ended. The people who need this support will still receive NHS funding in the interim.
The Bill contains powers allowing local authorities to prioritise the services they offer, as we discussed earlier in relation to social care, and that prioritisation, while challenging, is vital. The measures would only be activated in circumstances where staff numbers were severely depleted. They do not remove the duty of care to an individual at risk of serious harm or neglect. We do not take any of these measures lightly. I hope that many will not have to be used, but we will do whatever it takes to beat this virus.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being very generous. On frontline care, particularly those working in intensive care units around the country, may I press him again? When will those staff be tested? There are many staff who want to go to work, but are afraid that they may be carrying the virus. For those who are at work, if they are tested and they have the virus, they want to isolate so that they can return as quickly as possible to the frontline. When are they going to be tested?
The answer is as soon as the tests we are buying are available. Expanding testing is absolutely critical to everything we are doing.
This part of the Bill also covers other mission-critical parts of public services, not just the NHS, including schools, borders, justice and national security. The Bill empowers schools, for instance, to respond pragmatically to this situation, including the ability to change teacher ratios, to adapt school meal standards and temporarily to relax provisions for those with special educational needs. The Bill also gives the Home Secretary the power to close and suspend operations at UK ports and airports, powers that will deployed in circumstances only where staff shortages at the Border Force pose a real and significant threat to the UK’s border security. It expands on the availability of video and audio links in court proceedings, so that justice can continue to function without the need for participants to attend in person. To ensure that the Treasury can transact business at all times, the Bill makes it possible for a single Minister or Treasury commissioner to sign instruments or act on behalf of other commissioners.
At a time of unprecedented social disruption, it is also essential to maintain our national security capabilities. The Bill allows temporary judicial commissioners to be appointed at the request of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and for an increase in the maximum time allowed for an urgent warrant to be reviewed from three to 12 days. That means that vital investigation warrants can continue to be issued, and our security services and police can continue to protect the public.
On the key points of people with mental health problems being signed off by one doctor and a loosening of the regulations relating to children with special needs, what measures can be put in place, by local authorities or others, so that there is a review mechanism on those two very crucial points for vulnerable people?
Clearly, these are issues of the highest sensitivity. It is important that we take those measures in case they are needed in the circumstances where staff numbers available are low, to make sure we can get the support needed as appropriate and make the interventions that are sometimes difficult to make. For instance, it can be, in some circumstances, far worse not to detain somebody under the Mental Health Act where they are a danger to themselves or others. If there is not the availability of a second doctor, because of staff shortages due to the virus, then I think that is appropriate, but the safeguards are an important part of getting this right and an important part of why this is time limited.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being incredibly generous. Clause 23 talks about food supply chains, which are absolutely crucial. He will have seen that many supermarkets are taking on additional workers to meet demand. Can he provide an answer on this point or get one from the Treasury? I have heard from many people who are thinking of applying for those jobs, perhaps to make up loss of income. If they are covered by the 80% wage subsidy, are they able to take on extra work or will they lose the 80% wage subsidy from their existing job? May we have urgent clarity on that point, because it could be deterring people from taking up those important jobs in our supermarkets and supply chains?
That really is a question for the Treasury. My understanding is that the 80% wage subsidy is for those who are furloughed, as the Chancellor put it, as opposed to those who have moved into other jobs, but the hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Treasury for a more detailed answer.
Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way and for all the work he is doing—indeed, I thank the House for all the work it is doing—on this essential legislation. With regard to university settings, there seems to be some confusion. I have looked at the Universities UK advice, but some universities do not seem to be following it and are requiring students, notwithstanding the advice the country at large is being given, to attend.
I am surprised to hear that, because we have been very, very clear about universities, alongside schools. It is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary in the first instance, but on public health grounds we made it absolutely clear that we were taking steps to close schools, nurseries, universities and colleges, except for the children of key workers where they absolutely need to be at school, for example where neither parent can look after them. However, all those at university can stay at home on their own and do not need a parent, so I do not think there is any excuse whatever.
Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
Our local authority, the new unitary Buckinghamshire Council, has made the point that workers in leisure centres who are furloughed may need to be redeployed into other areas of council work where they would not normally be employed. That raises a problem. The council really needs to use the furlough scheme to take those workers out of leisure centres and put them into social care—quite a different industry. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to make sure that that is possible?
I do not think a legal change is needed to do that, because to second someone from one job to another is perfectly possible under existing employment law. In fact, the Bill brings in a statutory volunteering scheme, which is essentially a new form of employment through volunteering. That is one way that that could be done, but I would not expect it to be the main way used. If someone is moving to do a different type of job because we need more people doing some things and fewer doing others during this crisis, that sort of secondment can be done entirely normally—unless I have misunderstood my hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend has slightly misunderstood, and I hope he does not mind me saying so. The point really is that all councils will be haemorrhaging money at this time and they will need that 80% support for those workers whom they would otherwise furlough, so that they can then use them as volunteers. The point is to constrain cost.
I will take that up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
While we understand that the circumstances are exceptional, there is understandably grave concern about lowering social care standards. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable in our society—the elderly and disabled of all ages. Having the convention on human rights as a back-up could lead to care standards being lowered to a dangerous level, putting those people at risk. Will the Secretary of State outline the thresholds for turning the powers on, and indeed off to ensure that they do not become the new norm?
The threshold is to do with staff shortages. I say gently to the hon. Lady that I understand her concerns, but in fact the purpose of these measures is precisely the opposite: it is to make sure that when there is a shortage of social care workers, those who need social care to live their everyday life get it and can be prioritised ahead of those who have a current legal right to social care under the Care Act 2014 but for whom it is not a matter of life and death. This is absolutely about prioritising the vulnerable. That is the purpose of the legislation, but I understand her concern, and that is why we put the safeguards in place to ensure that the prioritisation works as intended.
Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
I have a general question about the supply of medicine. Paul Howard, a consultant in palliative medicine at our excellent hospice on the Island, says that under patient group direction—that is, group prescriptions—nurses can give out morphine, but due to a quirk in the rules they cannot give similar powerful opiate painkillers. Will the Bill enable nurses to give controlled drugs as part of patient group direction? I ask not only in case medical supplies run short, but specifically because we on the Island rely on ferries, and such a provision would give us slightly more diversity in patient treatment.
I will look into those specific points. There are parts of the Bill that would help to tackle the problem my hon. Friend describes if it is appropriate to do so, but I think it is better if I get some medical advice and then get back to him.
The third part of the Bill contains measures to slow the spread of the virus. As the disease accelerates, our goal is to protect life, to protect the vulnerable and to protect the NHS by flattening the curve and minimising unnecessary social contact. This is a national effort, and everyone has their part to play—self-isolating if someone or anyone in their house has symptoms, working from home wherever possible, avoiding social gatherings and, of course, regularly washing your hands.
The Bill provides for us to go further: it gives us stronger powers to restrict or prohibit events and public gatherings and, where necessary, to shut down premises; and it gives the police and Border Force the power to isolate a person who is or may be infectious. This part of the Bill also allows us to close educational settings or childcare providers, and to postpone for one year elections that were due to take place in England in May. These are not measures anyone would want to take, but they are absolutely necessary in this crisis.
Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
The Secretary of State will be aware that over the weekend thousands of people made their way to holiday areas and rural areas such as mine. Do the powers in schedule 21 allow Ministers to require people, in circumstances where local health boards are under increased pressure, to remain in their primary residences?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, because we have advised against all unnecessary travel and I do not regard going to a holiday home in Wales as a necessary journey. There is a risk of putting extra pressure on the NHS in rural areas from large numbers of people going to second homes, so I entirely understand the concern he has raised. The powers do allow for a constable to take somebody to a place in order to prevent the spread of the infection and make sure that we can police the public health guidance that we have given. We have been absolutely clear in the past few days that if people do not follow this advice, we will not hesitate to act. We acted last week on pubs, clubs and restaurants. We said that people should not go to them, but it was clear that some were still open and so we took the decision to close them down, with enforcement powers for the police and trading standards. This Bill provides those powers more broadly.
Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)
I am pleased with what the Secretary of State has said, as this is a significant problem. I received more than 1,000 emails over the weekend from constituents who are petrified about what is going on. The highland area makes up more than 10% of the UK landmass, but we have one acute hospital, in Inverness, and some of these tourist destinations are more than three hours from Inverness. We have been inundated with people who showed no concern for the local population. People are saying that they are now being denied the right to travel to the islands by ferry because we have stopped it and they are going to come to Skye. This is a dangerous situation, where they are imperilling the lives of our constituents. They must go home and they must stay at home, as I am sure the Secretary of State would agree.
Well, what can I say? I am concerned that people are not following the public health advice.
Some holiday companies have been responsible. For example, Sykes Cottages has cancelled a raft of bookings for weeks ahead. However, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), by phone, has raised the fact that lots of Airbnb bookings are still available in holiday resorts. Surely that is irresponsible. If the companies will not do the responsible thing by limiting access to holiday properties, does the Bill give the Government the power to act? If so, will they act to stop this kind of behaviour?
If it is deemed a risk to public health, the Bill does give the potential power, through secondary legislation, to take action if that is needed.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
I mean this in a constructive way, but it does feel as though we are constantly behind the curve; we are always waiting for people not to do what we have asked them to do before we then step in and introduce more strict communications. So I beg him: will he underpin this legislation and everything else the Government are doing with a much bigger, wider, louder and more comprehensive public education campaign, because right now the message clearly is not getting through? Anyone who was looking at the coverage over the weekend of people gathering in Richmond park and elsewhere will know that it is not being heard. We need to be doing an awful lot more to be able to catch up and get ahead of this.
There is the most comprehensive public communications campaign probably in the history of Government peacetime communications—maybe I will send the hon. Lady a poster.
Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
The issue of Brits seeking to isolate in remoter parts of the country is a big issue in Rutland. Over the weekend, I went around the constituency, and I saw pile after pile of cars. I saw caravan parks open and hotels advertising self-isolation holidays and breaks in my constituency. Can the Secretary of State confirm, for the benefit of all in the House, that the current guidance is that people should stay in their own homes and not travel for self-isolation holidays or anything of the sort?
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will take one more intervention, and then I will make some progress.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous, but these are important issues. On the issue of social distancing, is there something that he feels might happen tomorrow that is not happening today, as far as people’s behaviour is concerned? People are gathering in their thousands on the beautiful landmark of the Wrekin in my constituency. It is right that people should have exercise for their physical and mental health and wellbeing, but social distancing is not being followed by many, whether it be in the Wrekin or Holland Park, Hyde Park, St James’s Park or counties around the country. What behavioural changes does he expect? Is it not the case that we will have lockdown, and would it not be better to have it today rather than next week?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are absolutely clear that we are prepared to take the action that is necessary.
The fourth part of the Bill contains measures for managing the deceased in circumstances where many of those involved in the registration and management of death will themselves be self-isolating. We want to ensure that those taken from us by the virus are treated with the utmost dignity, while protecting public health and respecting the wishes of bereaved families. Among other measures, the Bill will expand the list of people who can register a death to include funeral directors. It will mean that coroners only have to be notified where there is not a medical professional available to sign a death certificate. It will allow death certificates to be emailed instead of physically presented. It will remove the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate in order for a cremation to take place, and it gives local authorities the power to take control of elements of the process if needed. Those powers would only be used if absolutely necessary and on clinical advice, but we plan for the worst, even while we work for the best.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
The Secretary of State will know that a new medical examiner system has been introduced in many areas, including Durham. Their role is to look into deaths in hospitals, so they will be inundated if there is a large number of deaths. Is there any provision in the Bill that loosens up their role? Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the number of examinations that they will have to do.
I very much hope that they will not be. The medical examiners regime is very successful, and as the right hon. Gentleman says, we are expanding it across the country. We do not deem that necessary, not least because we think that we can expand it if necessary. We do not think that there is a need for statutory change in an area that is improving.
There may be instances where it is impossible to allow for a normal funeral in the way that one is used to. There might have to be mass funerals or, for that matter, instances where just one person is allowed to attend, apart from the celebrant. I wonder whether it might be possible to ensure that in all local authorities, and in particular crematoria, it is possible to film such moments, so that loved ones at least have an opportunity to feel that they are engaged online, if not in person.
I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks from experience of having presided over these events. That is available—increasingly so—and I entirely understand why many people would want that.
The fifth and final part of the Bill includes measures to protect and support people through this crisis. This is not an exhaustive list of everything we plan to do, but the principle is that no one should be punished for doing the right thing and self-isolating if they or someone in their household has symptoms. To make that happen, the Bill will ensure that statutory sick pay is paid from day one, and this will be applied retrospectively from 13 March. Small businesses with fewer than 250 employees will get a full refund for sick pay relating to coronavirus during the course of the emergency. Finally, the Bill will require industry to provide information about food supplies. That all comes alongside our plan for people’s jobs and incomes announced by the Chancellor on Friday.
The Bill allows the four UK Governments to activate these powers when they are needed and to deactivate them when they are no longer needed. We ask for these powers as a whole to protect life. We will relinquish them as soon as the threat to life from coronavirus has passed. This Bill means that we can do the right thing at the right time, guided by the best possible science. That science gets better every day. This disease can isolate us, but it cannot separate us from the ties that bind us together. With patience and resolve, with the painstaking use of data and evidence, and with the whole nation working together as one United Kingdom, we will get through this. I commend the Bill to the House.