Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 4:05 pm, 1st December 2020

The weight of opinion that has been heard today should make the Government think twice about the direction they are taking. The fact that the Prime Minister had to come here today armed with an assurance that the thing we are voting on will be changed in a couple of weeks should tell him that he has got it wrong.

Asking Members of Parliament to choose between following exactly the approach that the Government are taking and having no restrictions at all is the height of irresponsibility. A number of Government Members have said that they cannot support the Government’s approach but are not advocating no restrictions at all. As I said to the Prime Minister earlier, in Chesterfield our rate is now down to 118 per 100,000. The rate in London is considerably higher than that in many areas. We are told that the Prime Minister intervened to prevent London from going into tier 3 because he did not want the economic cost, but he was happy for that economic cost to be paid by restauranteurs, pub owners, café owners elsewhere and all those workers whose jobs are jeopardised by this approach.

I do not believe that the Government’s approach on tiers is joined up or that it enjoys public confidence. I do not believe that the public think it is fair or believe that the tier system is being done on the basis of the medical evidence; they think it is being done on the basis of the Government wanting to keep London in a different tier.

Tier 2 is focused on the hospitality sector, but there is little evidence that it is the cause of the major outbreaks. There has been too little strategy on testing and tracing in schools. We have seen care homes, hospitals and workplaces without a strategic joined-up approach. When the leader of the Liberal Democrats asked whether people who were told that they would be able to stay with elderly relatives over Christmas could get a test if they want one, we were told that they should get one only if they have symptoms.

We have a testing regime that is not fit for purpose and a tier system that does not enjoy public confidence. The support package for the hospitality sector is edging up day by day—there is another thousand quid here—but it is inadequate in the context of the losses that the sector faces over the Christmas period. The package is changing the whole time, which is a sign that Government realise that they have not got it right. What about all those other businesses that are not closed but support the hospitality sector, such as those food service companies that supply to hotels and restaurants, and the drinks providers that supply pubs? A whole array of businesses are jeopardised by the Government’s approach, which is why I will not be supporting it tonight.