Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley 3:56 pm, 1st December 2020

My hon. Friend Graham Stringer queried whether Manchester had been discriminated against, because Ministers considered the threat of 500,000 job losses in London and put it in tier 2. He seemed to be suggesting that London should have been put in a higher tier. I disagree. Frankly, Manchester and the midlands should have had the London criteria applied to them, taking account not only of medical evidence but of the risk to the economy, jobs and society.

Let us also not set up a false dichotomy between health and economic factors. We already do this. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence evaluates new treatments. It puts a value on those for each quality-adjusted life year—somewhere between £20,000 and £30,000 a year. We have seen no such analysis done with regard to the pandemic or suggested remedies.

Adam Afriyie said that we have not had a proper impact assessment—absolutely right. Yesterday, we had a slightly odd and fairly insubstantial document produced by the Government. It does not really fit the bill; there must be some more rigorous analysis lurking somewhere in Whitehall. However, there were some nuggets in there. It refers to what is termed “economic scarring” as a result of the following:

“Deferred or cancelled investment in physical capital and lower innovation.

The destruction of valuable firm-specific capital and knowledge, due to business failures.

A loss of human capital due to sustained unemployment and changes to business models away from contact-intensive services.

Early retirement prompted by the pandemic.

Increased loss of days worked due to sick leave.”

Behind all those phrases are real human tragedies.

We also ought to be quite clear that the vaccine, while it is a huge breakthrough and enormously welcome—it is important; it is a great advance—is not a panacea, certainly not for a long time. Saying that we must vote for the regulations tonight because the vaccine is just around the corner is, frankly, the mañana option and I do not think it should be given serious consideration.

We have to move from risk avoidance, which seems to be the mark of this Government, to risk management. What we really need is a targeted approach based on robust evidence. The measures that need to be introduced, frankly, are not these. The case has not been made for these measures, and that is why I will vote against them tonight.