I do not think it is controversial to say that we are not in a place where any of us would choose to be right now. It is not a time for taunts about U-turns or to respond with personal or flippant remarks; our constituents need grown-ups in the room.
The Secretary of State requests that the House get behind his decision, but if he is to achieve that his approach must change. There needs to be less personal attack and greater clarity. We all need to listen more carefully to voices whose opinions differ from ours, from the frontline to the experts and all Members of this place.
I am as determined as the next right hon. or hon. Member to see the back of the pandemic. With more than 7,000 excess deaths since March 2020 in England alone, not one of us should want to prolong this tragic loss of life. But without a realistic and determined strategy, we risk continued failure to contain the threat. If all Members are to truly get behind any such strategy, it must be forged with as broad a consensus as possible—cross-party and respectfully with the devolved Governments. I firmly believe that that is the only way we can move towards an end to this crisis and the elimination of community transmission.
Such planning should encompass all relevant areas of Government, ensuring that disbursement of financial support always results in equitable consequentials. There must be some movement from the Government to address the devastation inflicted on the 3 million who have been excluded from support; repeatedly telling them how generous the Government have been to everyone else only serves to pour more salt on their wounds and lacks any semblance of humanity. The compelling case for the retention of the extension to legacy benefits, the £20 universal credit uplift, is a move supported by 60% of people across the UK. Indeed, there is a well-trodden shopping list of issues that some in this House would argue a case for, and I believe that they do so for the most honourable of reasons.
The most pressing of matters, of course, is our direct response to the threat of the virus to life. We know that we cannot firefight our way out of this current position, if that is how we got to this place. Vaccines are welcome, but the science has yet to bear out their impact on the transmission of coronavirus. As the virus remains prevalent and circulating in the community, the risk of further mutation remains.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said that this has been “the toughest year” that any staff member “can remember”, and that NHS England is back in the “eye of the storm” that it faced earlier last year. The handclapping on the doorstep and the warm words of appreciation ring hollow without recognition and proper reward. The resilience of cancer services has again been severely tested, and Parliament must consider, monitor and scrutinise the short-termism of the cancer recovery plan. We need a plan for the future, and it needs to be one with consensus.