Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 5:54 pm, 1st December 2020

I hope that that is not a consolation. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Like so many hon. Members, I face an extraordinarily difficult decision today. The national restrictions were supposed to get a grip on the virus—a short, sharp shock of sacrifice so that we could start to return to a normal way of life in the run-up to Christmas. Instead, my constituents are being asked to come out of the national lockdown into a stronger set of local restrictions than they had before. That is a tough ask, not made any easier by the inadequacy of robust data to support the proposals in front of us; what data we have is frequently inconsistent. The arguments on both sides of the debate have been well rehearsed this afternoon. There is no perfect answer. There are nuances, doubts and what ifs, but the vote is binary—yes or no—and we are paid to decide.

Last week, I met local entrepreneurs who have recently set up restaurants in the town, exactly the businesspeople we need to make Aylesbury a place where people want to live, work, visit and invest. They are haemorrhaging money, despite the very generous support scheme set up by the Chancellor, because they do not meet the right criteria. I want to help those people.

Tier 1, however, was not enough to stop the spread of the virus. My local hospital is close to capacity, and only now are we able to catch up with the missed operations from the lockdown earlier in the year. I receive emails from constituents who are desperate for operations that have been delayed, and whose physical and mental health is in peril because of the wait. That is before the emergency cases—heart attacks, strokes, diagnoses of cancer, car crashes or other accidents.

I have therefore looked at the conflicting evidence and listened carefully to the arguments in the House today. I have carefully considered the views of constituents who have written with passionately held opinions, and I have spoken to doctors I know and trust. I do not have enough information to make a perfect decision. In that position, I must err on the side of caution.

I must ask myself a brutal question. In a month’s time, do I look in the eye of someone who has lost their job, or maybe even their home, because of the decision I have made and the vote I cast tonight? Or do I look in the eye of someone who has lost their parent, or who now has a terminal diagnosis because of the decision I have made and the vote I cast tonight?

I will vote with the Government—but never did I expect to utter those words with such a heavy heart and such reluctance. The restrictions go against my every instinct. I realise that many in Aylesbury will not thank me for my vote tonight. I appeal to the Prime Minister and others making the decisions to keep our time in tier 2 to an absolute minimum, to assess incredibly carefully whether the restrictions in each tier really are justifiable and proportionate, and to talk to local leaders, so that next time we are asked to vote, we can all look all our constituents in the eye and assure them that then we did the right thing.