Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 4:24 pm, 1st December 2020

Absolutely not. This has brought out the number of lunatics in the country, quite frankly.

Non-essential retail is to reopen. Why on earth was it closed in the first place? A Secretary of State beamed at us from the pages of The Daily Telegraph yesterday to say, “Rejoice! You can go out and shop around the clock.” We express surprise that so many of our high street retailers are going into administration. I was not particularly aware that the clothes rail at Dorothy Perkins was ever a particular vector of disease. This all links into the proportionality of the proposed measures.

Leaving aside my levity in opening, I have always believed the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 would have been a far better vehicle for implementing measures. We have talked about this huge statutory instrument before us and some of us have said that we are going to withhold our votes or vote against on the basis that we wish we could amend it. Well, we could amend it if it was done under the Civil Contingencies Act. Perhaps that is the reason why it was not used. That Act, of course, contains a 30-day review period, as opposed to a six-month period under the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Government have nothing to fear from greater scrutiny. Greater scrutiny leads to better government, and it should be accepted as it is proposed.

To come on to parochial matters relating to my own constituency and tiering decisions—to sound like a broken record, from what we have heard this afternoon so far—I strongly contend that Stockport should not be re-entering tier 3. It was in tier 3 before the lockdown, but it should more charitably be placed in tier 2, because its levels of covid per 100,000 population are now below that of Cheshire to its south, which was put into tier 2 last week.

Briefly, I am concerned about decision making and the so-called gold command. If one believes what one reads in The Sunday Times—sometimes a leap of faith in itself, but on this occasion I am minded to believe it—the decision on tiering for London was taken on the basis of 50,000 jobs being under threat if it was placed into tier 2, as opposed to 500,000 jobs if it was placed into tier 3. My constituents deserve exactly that consideration as well. I do not believe entirely in the north-south divide—a conspiracy theory that abounds in this House—but when we have such decisions, one cannot but help wonder if it might be true.

The Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, which I have the pleasure of chairing, wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster last week to ask for further evidence on the five tests. My concern is that the fifth of those tests—that is to say pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy—will trump all other considerations. The data and information on that are not freely available, however, and no answer has yet been received to that letter.

If the measures are arbitrary and there is no exact science behind them, I would sooner that the Government admitted that, because at least it would be an honest approach. As they have not done so, I cannot support these measures this evening.