Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 2:45 pm, 1st December 2020

Covid is a very serious disease, and I take it very seriously, as I do the pressures on our national health service. It is disappointing that some people, when faced with different arguments or questions, always either accuse those of us who have a different view, pretending that we want to let it rip, or present, as the Government did yesterday in their economic analysis, a counterfactual, which is doing nothing. This is not about that; it is about doing the right thing that is going to be effective.

That is why I wrote to the Prime Minister with 70 colleagues asking for as much information as we could have about the effectiveness of the measures being proposed—not just whether they are too tough, but whether they will be effective enough. They definitely come with big economic costs, and if we are to pay those economic costs and those costs on people’s lives and livelihoods, I want to know that they will have the effect of suppressing the virus. We simply do not have that information. The modellers who work for SAGE are very uncertain about even the effects of tiers as a whole, let alone individual measures.

I am also concerned, from talking to my local NHS, about pressure on the health service, but again, I ask for the modelling and forecasting about NHS capacity. That was leaked before this lockdown that we are in at the moment, but it was never published—never substantiated—and the specific forecast in that leaked information turned out to be wrong. All I ask is that Ministers share with the House the modelling and forecasts that they have seen that have led them to come to the conclusions that they have reached, if they wish to take the House with them. Unfortunately, they have so far failed to do so.

I also want to say a word about the hospitality industry, which the Prime Minister, in his opening remarks, agreed was taking a disproportionate impact. There is very little hard evidence that covid transmission is high in those settings. If the covid-secure guidelines are to have any meaning, the Government should work with the sector to understand, if there are risks, how they can be managed.

I will give one example. In papers published at the end of last week, there were some concerns raised about ventilation. Two things: the Government have never discussed that with the industry subsequent to the publication of the guidance in the summer, and UKHospitality thinks that 80% of premises are up to the specifications that SAGE thinks are required. If there are issues, let us deal with them. Let those businesses open; do not just give them taxpayers’ money to keep them closed.

My final point is about what happens at the vote in January. Based on the fact that I do not think the Government have provided the information necessary to the House today to take decisions that are, by any normal measure, draconian, I am afraid I will not be able to support them. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if the Government want to maximise unity both in the House and in our party at the vote in January, they need to start treating Members of Parliament properly, and they need to start sharing with Members of Parliament the information that I hope Ministers are asking for but I fear they are not. If the Government were to do that, even though these are difficult decisions and the forecasts are uncertain, I think that people would be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. It is because they are not treating the House like that that I am afraid, on this occasion, I am not prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and I will vote against the regulations this evening.