There can be no doubt that this is an extraordinary Bill for extraordinary times. As others have said this afternoon, when we put our names forward to stand for election to this House none of us must have contemplated the day when we would be asked to back legislation of this kind, but back it we must, and we must do so today.
It is hard to find the words to comment intelligently on a situation that has been so exhaustively analysed and debated by the media and in every household and workplace the length and breadth of this country and of much of the rest of the world. Let me provide some reassurance: my slightly hoarse tone relates to a condition that I have had in my vocal cords since August, so it is nothing to do with covid-19. If it were, I would be back at home self-isolating.
Let me express my sympathy and support to everyone across the country who is grappling with this disease, who has had their lives turned upside down by this disease, or who have lost loved ones. I have not experienced anything like this in my 15 years in this place, nor, indeed, in my whole lifetime. It is difficult to point to any crisis as severe as this since the flu epidemic of 100 years ago. Of course there have been many political upheavals, especially in the past four years, but there has been nothing that has had such a direct and dramatic impact on the daily lives of every single occupant of these islands, and there is nothing that has come close to matching the potentially devastating impact on our economy. It is welcome that the Government have announced a wholly unprecedented package of support for jobs, wages, businesses and benefits. The plan to stave off economic disaster is a bigger injection of support into our economy than anything that any Government have carried out in our peacetime history. The consequences will be far reaching. We and future generations will be paying off these debts for many years to come, but as a great Prime Minister once said, “There is no alternative.” I urge the Chancellor and the Government to ensure that the grants, the loans and the other measures get out to the people who need them as soon as possible—not in three months, not in three weeks, but now. We do need to find more to help the self-employed and the freelance workers.
Of course, it is vital that we do all we can to protect the NHS and social care workers. It is at times such as this that we really appreciate how incredibly lucky we are that the NHS is there for us, and how incredibly lucky we are to live in a country that has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, staffed by professionals of outstanding skill and expertise. I want to express my gratitude to every single one of them. If we are to get through this crisis without a massive loss of life, we need to ensure that our NHS staff and our social care staff have the best, most comprehensive personal protection equipment. That means masks that fit properly and equipment that is compliant with World Health Organisation standards.
We also need to be testing thousands and thousands of our NHS staff so that we can keep them healthy and keep them on the frontline. The commitment to stepping up testing to 25,000 a day is welcome, and I urge Ministers to ensure that NHS staff are first in the queue.
I have been contacted by care homes who are crying out for a complete ban on care home visits to help them ensure that they can say no to visitors. For the safety of our elderly relatives and the people who look after them, care home visits must stop.
In conclusion, the next few months will test us in a way that none of us, except for the world war two generation, have ever been tested before. It will be difficult. It will be disruptive. It will be exasperating. It will be, at times, alarming and distressing, but we must as a nation rise to the challenge, and this legislation is part of that. We need a collective effort to keep our loved ones safe from this terrible disease. We must rise to the challenge as previous generations did when they too faced periods of great adversity and hardship. My advice to everyone, and to my constituents in Chipping Barnet, is to stay home, stay safe to protect the NHS and save lives.