Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement 2:17 pm, 1st December 2020

Lancashire is an awful long way from Kent, but, as I follow Damian Green, I can say that there are many parallels in the experiences that I have had this weekend with the experiences that he describes with his constituents. Tomorrow, my Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency, along with the whole of Lancashire, goes into tier 3 restrictions. However, from the outset, I want to stress that I do support necessary measures to protect public health, but those measures must have support from local communities, buy-in from local leaders and a support package for our local economies. That would mean that the regulations will be respected by local communities.

I was struck by what the right hon. Gentleman said when he paraphrased one of his constituents, which was that when the rules are stupid, why should we follow them. I feel like I have spent my weekend hearing from constituents who say that it is unfair that Lancaster and Fleetwood has been placed under tier 3 restrictions when the infection rates are far lower than those in the vast majority of London boroughs, which end up in tier 2, and lower than those in neighbouring district councils such as South Lakeland, which is in tier 2, as is the whole of Cumbria. When my constituents see an unfairness and a discrepancy in how these tiers are applied, the kickback tends to be, “Well, why should I follow them?” I have been very clear as a Member of Parliament that my constituents should follow the regulations in tier 3. I do not feel it is fair that they have been put into those restrictions, but it is important that we follow those restrictions in order to ensure that infection rates come down.

I want to set out a state of health picture. I am very grateful to the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust for setting out such a clear and open picture of how my local hospitals are doing. I stress that these are running totals and not validated data. As of last night, our area has had 317 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Currently, three wards are closed at the local hospital and bed occupancy at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, as of last night. was running at 98%.

I understand the seriousness of this health crisis and this pandemic—all this is having an impact on regular and scheduled operations as well—but the Government really must set out how they believe that these restrictions are going to be effective and fair, because right now the second wave is having a disproportionate impact on the north, particularly when it comes to local businesses. Those businesses have made clear representations to me, as a local Member of Parliament, about the fact that the £20-a-head business support grant, which is a one-off payment to local authorities, will have to stretch for the length of time we are in tier 3 restrictions. For communities such as mine in Lancashire, that money has to stretch the same length of time as it does for, say, Cornwall, which was placed in tier 1 restrictions and had to make it last for just 28 days.

When it comes to the local economy, my constituents are quite frankly annoyed to read reports in papers such as The Sunday Times that London’s economy was taken into consideration when the decision was made to place London into tier 2, but the economy in the north of England was not taken into consideration as one of the five factors. That stinks of one rule for the south and for London and another rule for the north. That is not the message that the Government ought to be sending if they need to bring local communities and local leaders along with them in order for the restrictions to be enforced.

Finally, I stress that in Lancashire we had cross-party consensus among everyone—from the Conservative-run county council to Labour district councils to MPs such as myself—that it would have made sense to look at Lancashire district-by-district rather than county-wide, given that it is such a diverse county that looks in very many directions.