Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:14 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 5:14 pm, 13th October 2020

I must start with some moments of sadness, which is that, although we have heard much praise of the vaccines in development, the reality is that we do not know whether one is coming. If it does come, how effective will it be? If it is effective, which groups will it benefit? Even if it is effective in wide groups, how easily will it be made and distributed? We have so many variables and so many unknowns here.

I appreciate enormously the position that the Minister and the Government find themselves in, but it is because of this uncertainty that we need to look really hard at the decisions we are making tonight. These decisions are not just about the spread of coronavirus, or indeed its prevention, but about the health, the mental health and the wellbeing of our entire community. Fundamentally, they are not just about health today, but about health tomorrow. The impact on the economy is not simply something for the Treasury to be interested in; it is of fundamental interest to the Department of Health and Social Care and to the welfare of every person in this country. That is why I ask the Government to think very hard as they make these decisions.

The purpose of government is quite simple: it is to provide a stable platform on which people can build free and independent lives—not controlled lives, not ordered lives, but lives that are free and independent. Today, we are taking decisions that are interrupting that and making that harder. I see the position that the Government find themselves in, but I ask them to think very hard about the powers that they are asking to take.

At the moment, we are not getting the predictability and the consistency that we need. When we talk to ambassadors or high commissioners of the United Kingdom around the world, there are some countries that have easy access to the UK without quarantine and others that do not. The rules that govern which do and which do not are not immediately consistent. It is not immediately obvious which will benefit and which will not. When we look at the different areas in the United Kingdom, we see the same problem. This level of consistency, of predictability, that is so essential for a free people to know and to invest in—