Health Measures at UK Borders

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 27th January 2021.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:52 pm, 27th January 2021

I would like to make a number of comments before I come to the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I was here yesterday reeling off the endless measures at the border that have been put in place since January last year, including Foreign Office advice; statutory instruments, regulations and powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020; quarantine; passenger locator forms; test and release; and banning flights and travel from specific countries. It is important to recognise the incredible work we have done in this country on the vaccine, with our world-leading vaccine programme.

However, we are in a very different situation from last year because of the additional risk to public health caused by new variants. We should be focused on the new variants, because they could be less susceptible to and have implications for the vaccine. So it is important that we reduce risk by reducing the number of people who enter our country who could be a new threat in terms of the variants and mutations. We have already implemented numerous measures and protections to reduce that risk, but we are announcing today a number of new, additional levels of protection at our disposal. Some are forthcoming with regard to hotels, and I will come on to the specifics in a moment.

The hon. Gentleman made the point about travel. The fact of the matter is that there are reductions in travel already; the number of people travelling has reduced by 90% compared with the number travelling at this time last year, but obviously that number will become lower through the various travel bans that have been put in place. He has touched on enforcement measures, the isolation assurance service and police enforcement. A number of new measures—enhanced measures, I should say—will increase the checks that will take place. For example, from tomorrow the IAS will be checking more than 5,000 people and will also contact those who have arrived 10 days prior, in the way in which it has been doing and is naturally being asked to do with regards to self-isolation.

I have spoken today about an enhanced police presence at ports, borders and airports. There will be an increase of about 1,000 targeted follow-up visits a day, and that at a time when the numbers are reducing. That speaks about the stringency of these measures and speaks to the point about giving assurance on these particular enforcement measures.

It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman, naturally, is being critical of Government measures. As I said yesterday, and as I have said on a number of occasions and will say again today, from January last year we have had a layered approach to our measures at the border. That is clearly about the travel ban—a ban on travel from countries that pose a risk, or high-risk countries. Measures are in place that I have outlined, and we are building on those. For Labour Members to claim that they have been calling for tougher restrictions since the start of the pandemic is nonsense; that is simply not the case. Labour has been flip-flopping, as I said yesterday, by calling quarantine a blunt tool or a blunt instrument. The shadow Transport Secretary, Jim McMahon, said that quarantine measures should be lessened. There is clearly inconsistency in the position of the Labour party, and we have always taken an approach of managing risk.

Nick Thomas-Symonds made a point about support packages, and work is taking place with other Government Departments—we are working together on that. Discussions with hotel chains are naturally under way. It is not for me to talk about them right now, but a lot of work is taking place. Again, it is important to recognise that these measures—indeed, all measures—have logistical and operational implications as well as challenges. We will work through those practicalities with all our stakeholders and partners. My colleagues in government will come to the House, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, to provide those updates, whether that is on hotels, sectoral packages, or the dialogues that are taking place.

The British public recognise that this is a deeply challenging period for our country. No one would dispute that these are difficult times throughout the global pandemic, but there is no simple or single binary approach that can be taken. It is right that we manage risk and that we do so with this layered approach. The British public, our constituents, would like all political parties to come together at this important time, to consider how we can bring in and support these measures, so that we can protect public health.