Yesterday the House of Commons voted on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020. I spoke in the debate yesterday and you can read my speech here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-11-04/debates/94B2F2F9-3876-490A-96CA-6066CBFCFB37/PublicHealth#contribution-21023FAF-9F6D-4624-96D8-20CCEA0561B6
When the lockdown began in March, nobody could be sure how long this would last. Many of us hoped that it would be short lived, but very quickly we realised accepted that it would be many more months before things return fully to normal.
These regulations will enforce a second national set of restrictions. I did not want us to be in this position again and we should never be in this position again.
The Government believes that the situation has changed. They believe hospitals will be overwhelmed and that we need to reduce the r rate to below 1. It is right that any threat to the NHS must be taken seriously – 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.
I believe that the Government should have persevered with the Tier system for longer, perhaps with shielding, as there is some evidence to suggest the system may be starting to work
As ever, the devil is in the detail. Whilst well intentioned, there are some anomalies and inconsistencies in these regulations and in the guidance. The guiding principle behind these restrictions should be to only limit what is strictly necessary to avoid overwhelming the NHS.
The guidance the Government publishes must be consistent with the law. From Saturday the guidance on Gov.uk said pubs could not sell alcohol for takeaway, but the draft regulations state they can. It must be as easy as possible for citizens to plan their lives and stay on the right side of the law – this is at the core of the rule of law.
Many constituents have written to me concerned that they will not be able to swim, go to the gym or play golf due to these restrictions and point to the mental and physical health benefits of these activities. Why is going for a run with someone outside allowed, but playing a singles tennis match not? The risk of transmission by playing tennis is surely lower. I have raised this with the Government on multiple occasions since Saturday.
Many constituents of a variety of faiths have also contacted me about services at places of worship stopping. I have requested that the Government could publish the scientific evidence behind this decision.
This is also a difficult time for many financially. I am proud of the unprecedented package of financial assistance the Government have provided, which is keeping many businesses afloat until they can resume trading. Since March I have also been making the case for improved support for those people and businesses most affected by the pandemic, in particular the events, hospitality and arts sectors. I will continue to support local businesses to ensure that as the country returns to normality they will be in a position to thrive.
Now that the restrictions are in force, I believe the Government needs to use this time to ensure that the new rapid results tests are prioritised, and make test, track and trace work. We need to see a faster roll out of testing more widely in the population. This is the key to returning to normality and ensuring there are no more national lockdowns.
I was pleased to see today that the Job Retention Scheme has been extended to March, with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked. This will protect millions of jobs and provide certainty for businesses. The next self-employed income support grant will also increase from 55% to 80% of average profits - up to £7,500.
I know there are deeply held and differing views which are irreconcilable. Therefore, I shall be urging the Government to use this period to put in place the measures so that we have a medium-term strategy to live with the virus and do not have to have national restrictions again.
With best wishes,
Stephen Hammond MP