Last night, after serious consideration, I voted in favour of Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020,
The decision about how to vote on these matters is extremely difficult and is not something I take lightly. I am fully aware that these votes on the Covid-19 regulations will be some of the most important decisions I make as your Member of Parliament. My record shows I am not afraid to vote against the Government when I judge this is in the best interests of my constituency and my country.
I recognise the economic harm that lockdowns and restrictions have done to business and our economy nationally. Over the last nine months I have been helping hundreds of local businesses with queries, getting grants, and speaking to banks on their behalf. Since March, I have also been raising concerns about those who have not been able to access Government support, in particular some self-employed people, the events and arts sectors, and the hospitality industry and supply chain.
I also recognise the restriction on liberty all of the Covid-19 measures have led to. I understand the call from many that people should be trusted to balance their own risk. However, whilst I know that my constituents have and will act responsibly, it is not clear this is possible with a highly infectious disease where there is individual risk and risk shared across society.
The balance I must weigh is that if there were no restrictions, would another rise in infection rates mean the NHS became inoperable given the usual additional pressure in the winter months. At the moment in our area much of the usual NHS treatment has now returned and even though there is a backlog, any chance to keep elective surgery and cancer treatment still continuing should be considered carefully.
I must take any threat to NHS capacity seriously, as this would impact anyone who requires treatment, not just those with Covid-19. This is not a theoretical point, we saw from the first wave how hospital capacity can be severely challenged by this disease, and there are examples across Europe of what can happen if a health service cannot cope with new admissions.
The question now is if the Tier system will allow restrictions to be removed more quickly or not. This week I asked the PM about why the restrictions were London wide and appeared on several television news programmes arguing against Tier 3 restrictions for London. I made this case in the debate on the new regulations, as well as calling for better economic data. I have copied the transcript of my speech below. Unfortunately I was only given three minutes to make my speech, so was not able to make all the points I wished to.
The Tier-2 measures are significantly less restrictive than the measures in place over the last four weeks. For example:
- Non-essential shops are now open.
- Indoor leisure, such as gyms, are now open.
- Places of worship are able to resume services.
- You can now meet in a group of 6 outdoors again.
- Classes and organised adult sport can now take place outdoors.
Most of the concerns raised with me about the latest period of national related to these activities, which I know are so important to so many people. I made the case for these activities to resume as soon as possible with the Government consistently over the last four weeks.
Pubs are able to open if operating as a restaurant, and alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal. I have been raising concerns with this element of the rules with the Government and mentioned this in my speech. I was pleased to see the 10pm curfew for pubs is now last orders at 10pm and closing by 11pm.
However, I am concerned that the requirement for a substantial meal with alcohol is both unclear, and unnecessary alongside the 10pm last orders rule, no mixing of households indoors and rule of six outdoors. The Government announced extra financial support for pubs which cannot offer meals, which is welcome, but I will continue to raise these points and the need for more support for hospitality and its supply chain.
Finally, I welcome the news that the Government has accepted the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s recommendation for authorisation of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for use in the UK. As a former Health Minister, I know how robust and independent the UK's regulatory system for vaccines and medicines is, so we can have faith that this vaccine is safe. Now the huge effort in rolling out a vaccination programme can begin.
Stephen Hammond MP – Wimbledon
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 – 1st December 2020
It is a great privilege to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), because this debate shows what a challenging, difficult decision many Members have to make tonight. I have listened to many of the contributions, and many have portrayed a choice between lives and livelihoods. As constituency MPs, however, we all know that behind that are stories of personal tragedy, sadness and death, and of people struggling to keep businesses running and of jobs being lost. We face a challenging decision this evening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said a few moments ago that—it is particularly the case when we get to the 50th speaker in the debate—much of what he would say had already been said. I apologise to friends and colleagues, because some of the things that I shall say have already been said.
Last time we debated this issue, I said to the Secretary of State that I hoped that if we gave the Government the chance to put national restrictions in place, the time would be used wisely. There have been some really impressive successes and I think the same applies tonight. If I use my vote tonight to ensure that the Government can put these tier restrictions in place, my ask of the Government is that they treat us as colleagues and make progress during that period.
These points have been reiterated several times, but they are my three key asks. First, the Government should trust us with the data. Yesterday, a cut-and-paste document was produced. Paragraph 3.20, on the economic impact, said that it is
“not possible to know with any degree of”
certainty about forecasts, and yet we learn this morning from a leak that there is a document with better forecasts in it. Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House tonight that we will be able to see that data, so that in future we can make more informed decisions?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) said, we need sensible decisions. I feel a bit like a pariah as a London Member in the House being told that there are regional inequalities and that London is getting the benefit of all of it. I can tell the House as a London MP that most of my constituents do not think that the decisions being made on tiering reflect either the economic or the health realities in their borough. I ask yet again that the Minister takes back to the Prime Minister that we want to see these decisions being made borough by borough, on a more localised basis, because mass testing will now allow that.
Finally, so that we do not have the Christmas docu-drama of “The Case of the Scotch Egg”, can we ensure that the hospitality industry is governed not by behavioural scientists, but by reality? We want it to be there to enjoy that drink when the vaccine kicks in next year.