Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 3:41 pm, 13th October 2020

I begin, I am afraid, by declaring my registered interest in Glint Pay, for reasons which will become apparent.

The problem with today’s statutory instruments is that they implement a strategy to suppress the virus until a vaccine has been found. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tweeted:

“Our strategy is to suppress the virus, supporting education, the economy and the NHS until a vaccine can keep us safe.”

That runs into three problems. The first is that a vaccine may not come. The second is that a vaccine may not be effective. The third is that all this is propped up on quantitative easing and ultra-cheap credit. Indeed, now we are reading in the newspapers about negative interest rates, and this is why I declared the interest. I think you have to have a peculiarly high level of economic education to believe that we can head towards £745 billion of QE and ultra-low or negative interest rates and that all this will not be a problem. I will not say any more about it. I think it will be a problem, and it is precarious indeed that the Government’s strategy is propped up on such a monetary policy.

Only yesterday, I asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister by when he expected to have vaccinated the vulnerable population. Of course he was good enough to reply that he could not give me a date and made reference to SARS, which took place 18 years ago and for which we still do not have a vaccine. I was grateful to him for his honesty.

Personally, I think that privately the Government are a little more optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned, but here is the thing: even suppose the Government had vaccinated the public with a successful, safe vaccine by Easter or possibly the summer, that still leaves our economy and Government spending propped up on ultra-cheap credit. The problem with that is that the Bank of England has told us on the Treasury Committee that if inflation comes in it will have to, under its mandate, fight inflation. That would effectively mean pulling the plug on Government spending. This is precarious indeed.

I turn in the last few seconds to the Great Barrington declaration. No one can deny that it is well motivated. Indeed, it says:

“Keeping these measures”— lockdown policies around the world—

“in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”

I have been looking closely at the critiques of the declaration. Professor James Naismith of the University of Oxford wrote:

“Humility and willingness to consider alternatives are hallmarks of good science.”

For the reasons that I have given, I am convinced that the Government must find an alternative strategic plan between the Great Barrington declaration and where we are today.