Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee 4:02 pm, 1st December 2020

Mr Deputy Speaker, I think I learnt from you not to let the fact that something has been said in a debate prevent me from saying it again. The same thing has been said again and again and again today, and I hope that those on the Front Bench have been listening. We want a transition from lockdown to the tier system, but it must have proper scrutiny. We have to be honest with the people, but let us also be honest about this place. Most people do not see what goes on here. Votes take place all the time, but the vote that takes place today will affect every citizen, every family and every business. The oversight that Parliament provides is so important—it is our duty—and that has not taken place this time.

We face challenging events; there is no doubt about it. Governments across the world are looking at the balance between lives and livelihoods—containing the covid-19 pandemic but also supporting the economy. I would add a third element to that: the will of the people —the consent and the buy-in of the nation to follow the rules. I am worried that the Government might lose that consent if they do not work with the country and Parliament in a stronger way. Communities want to understand why they are in a particular tier. They want to understand what they need to do on 16 December to move to a new tier, and that was not forthcoming in the documentation provided very late in the day yesterday.

In Dorset, we went into lockdown with very low numbers, and we came out of it with even lower numbers. In the last two weeks, the numbers fell by one third, yet we end up in tier 2. The number of covid patients in Dorset hospitals has gone up a little bit, but we have empty Nightingale hospitals across the country. There is an argument that they cannot be staffed. I have checked with the Ministry of Defence. There are 2,000 medical personnel ready to be MACA’d up if we request them to do so. Let us not use that as a reason to push places like Dorset into tier 2 unnecessarily.

I say this carefully, and I have stressed it from the beginning. We have a peacetime Government construct, with a Cabinet system that works well and is tried and tested, but we should have moved to a war footing. No. 10 is overwhelmed. There is not the bandwidth to cope with everything that is going on. There is covid-19, the economic intervention, Brexit, the integrated review, preparing for COP26 and then the G7 presidency as well. The people dealing with that are friends of mine, but I am afraid they are not trained in crisis management, strategic planning or emergency response. All the more reason why this place needs to do its job. Let me be the first to say—I say this cautiously—that we need to reconsider the five-day opening up over Christmas if we want to take advantage of the hard-fought gains that we have developed over the year.