PMQs – Snap verdict
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Sir Keir Starmer was widely expected to outperform Boris Johnson at PMQs, and in their first encounter last week he duly managed to do so with aplomb. On their second outing you would have expected No 10 to have given some thought to how to mount a more effective response. But there was not much evidence of this, and Johnson was duly skittled.
One problem for Johnson was that some of the usual tactics just don’t work at Zoom PMQs. A outright untruth can win you temporary reprieve in the House of Commons if 300 MPs are cheering you on and it is going to take people a while to work out that you’re mistaken or lying, but Johnson does not have the wall of sound protection he used to enjoy, and denying the existence of a document that Labour were able to circulate within seconds (see 12.47pm) was just an elementary error. Starmer is not infallible, and there are ways of beating him in an argument. But suggesting that Starmer (the archetypal “swot”, as the PM would put it) is wrong on a point of fact – how naive can you get?
Having exhausted denial as a tactic, Johnson (in exchanges two and three) resorted to ignoring the question. But this, again, is a less reliable tactic in a largely silent House of Commons, and Johnson’s failure to be able to address the point raised by the Ambrose Evans-Pritchard column in the Telegraph, or to be able to give a sensible explanation of the excess death figure, left him looking unimpressive. In the final three answers Johnson was on slightly less shaky ground. There is an argument for not using the global death comparisons chart (although one that’s harder to make if you’ve only just abandoned it now), he did at last acknowledge the childcare problem, and he promised to publish Sage advice. But his very partial recovery was too late. By then the damage was done.
Again, none of this was particularly surprising. But Starmer has only appeared at four PMQs, and only two against Johnson, and already he has established mastership of the arena. That’s a notable achievement so early in his time as opposition leader.
Starmer asks Johnson to return to Commons to correct care home guidance error
Sir Keir Starmer written to Boris Johnson asking him to return to the Commons to correct the record about the coronavirus advice issued to care homes. (See 12.47pm.) In a letter Starmer said:
At this time of national crisis, it is more important than ever that government ministers are accurate in the information they give.
Given this, I expect you to come to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity to correct the record and to recognise that this was official government guidance regarding care homes.
UPDATE: Here is the letter.
NEW: @Keir_Starmer has written to the PM asking him to come back and correct the record on care homes. pic.twitter.com/vL4cf54EYS
May 13, 2020
at 1.26pm BST
Judge-only trials without juries should be considered only “in extremis” and parliament should “take a deep breath” before making such radical changes, the lord chief justice has urged.
Giving evidence to the Lords constitution committee, Lord Burnett of Maldon indicated that if the pandemic continued for a long time and there were insurmountable physical distancing problems his preferred solution would be to reduce the jury size from 12 to seven. He told peers:
Trial by judge alone has been mentioned and had the support of some very senior members of the legal profession and former judges. I would see [that] as an option only in extremis.
The reasons we have jurors in criminal cases in England Wales is that an important aspect of it is to ensure public confidence [in trials] and to have public engagement in the administration of justice.
I would hope that parliament would take a deep breath before authorising judge-only trials, even temporarily, until parliament collectively were satisfied that less radical measures to ameliorate the situation were not good enough.
Asked what would happen if jurors were “frightened to attend”, Burnett said judges would be sensitive in considering reasons for them to be excused.
New jury trials, using two courtrooms and video links to space out participants, are due to start next Monday, 18 May. The first court centres to reopen for jury trials are expected to be the Old Bailey, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester Minshull Street, Reading, Warwick, Winchester and Nottingham.
at 1.01pm BST
The education secretary Gavin Williamson said all teachers and school pupils will be able to be tested for Covid-19 if they develop symptoms when they return to schools.
Answering an urgent Commons question from the Liberal Democrat’s education spokeswoman, Layla Moran, Williamson said:
On Monday my department published initial guidance for settings on how to begin to prepare and we’ll work with the sector leaders to develop this further in the coming weeks.
This guidance sets out protective measures to minimise the risk of infection, including restricting class sizes and limiting mixing between groups.
Crucially all children and staff will have access to testing if they develop symptoms of coronavirus.
This will enable a track-and-trace approach to be taken to any confirmed cases.
at 1.01pm BST
Guidance shows Starmer right and PM wrong about government claiming care home deaths ‘very unlikely’ until 12 March
At PMQs Boris Johnson claimed that Sir Keir Starmer was wrong to say that government advice was saying until 12 March that people in care homes were at little risk of coronavirus.
Here is the document. As you can see at the top, it says it was withdrawn on 13 March.
And here is the key quote.
This guidance is intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community. It is therefore very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.
For reference, this is what Starmer asked:
Until 12 March, the government’s own official advice was – and I’m quoting from it: “It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected.” Does the prime minister accept that the government was too slow to protect people in care homes?
And Johnson replied:
No, Mr Speaker. And it wasn’t true the advice said that.
at 12.51pm BST
Further 61 deaths in Scotland, bringing total to 1,973
A total of 1,973 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for Covid-19, up by 61 from 1,912 on Tuesday, the first minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
Speaking at FMQ’s, she announced 13,929 people in Scotland have now tested positive for the virus, a rise of 166 from 13,763 the day before.
As of Tuesday night, 1,534 patients were in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, down 84 from 1,618 the previous day, Sturgeon added, of whom 70 are in intensive care, a fall of 11.
These daily figures differ from the weekly figures published today by National Records of Scotland (see 12.27pm.) because the weekly figures include all deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on death certificate.
at 12.52pm BST
William Wragg, a Conservative, asks what is being done to ensure that patients can access the NHS for non-coronavirus conditions.
Johnson says too many people are staying away from the NHS. He urges people to seek NHS treatment if they need it.
And that’s it. PMQs is over.
The Green MP Caroline Lucas says green economic recovery policies will deliver better returns than other ones. Does the PM agree that any airline asking for a handout should meet robust climate goals?
Johnson says CO2 emissions will dramatically be reduced this year. He says it is important to “entrench those gains”.
Kate Griffiths, a Conservative, asks about NHS workers and coronavirus.
Johnson says the government will take steps to ensure NHS staff are properly protected.
Simon Baynes, a Conservative, asks about the Llangollen steam railway.
Johnson says he has a picture at home of himself on it with William Hague. He wishes it the best.
The SNP’s Stewart Hosie asks why the PM is being “negligent” in not extending the Brexit transition.
Johnson says a lot of people in the country want to see Brexit done, and the argument about it over.
Fay Jones, a Conservative, says the Hay-on-Wye literary festival is going online this year. Does he look forward to it coming back?
Johnson congratulates the organisers for turning it into Hay-on-Wifi.
More than 3,000 Covid-related deaths registered in Scotland, with 57% in care homes and people in deprived areas twice as likely to die
There has been a decrease in deaths related to coronavirus in Scotland, according to the latest weekly data from the National Records of Scotland.
In the week up to 10 May, 415 deaths relating to Covid-19 have been registered, a decrease of 110 from the previous week.
However, deaths in care homes still make up 57% of the total coronavirus deaths in Scotland, a much higher proportion than south of the border. There, Guardian data puts the figure at 40% deaths in care homes, although it is worth noting that the data in England and Wales is a week older.
On this measure, which includes all deaths where the virus was mentioned on the death certificate, there have been a total of total of 3,213 deaths registered in Scotland.
For the first time this week, the NRS has published additional analysis looking at the impact of deprivation on coronavirus death rates. Their analysis finds that people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were 2.3 times more likely to die with Covid-19 than those living in the least deprived areas.
at 1.19pm BST