Coronavirus Act 2020 (Review of Temporary Provisions) (No. 3)

– in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 19th October 2021.

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Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 3:01 pm, 19th October 2021

I beg to move,

That the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should not yet expire.

Since we set out our road map out of lockdown in February, we have reopened the economy and lifted restrictions in four steps, carefully removing the rules that have governed our daily lives during the pandemic. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also emerged from lockdown on similar timetables and life in the UK has returned ever closer to normal.

One of my first actions as Secretary of State was to announce that we would proceed with step 4 of the road map on 19 July and, in doing so, shift the country’s main line of defence from lockdowns to vaccinations. We could do that because our vaccination programme has created a vast wall of defence. We have given nearly 95 million vaccines, with more than eight in 10 of every man, woman and child in the UK over the age of 12 getting at least one jab and some 79% receiving at least two. It is a remarkable achievement and now that our boosters have begun, they are reinforcing that wall of defence still further. The latest estimates show that our vaccines have prevented over 24 million infections, over 260,000 hospitalisations and over 127,000 deaths.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I very much agree with the Secretary of State about the success of our vaccination programme. Does he have any concerns about whether the third dose for those with a compromised immune system and the booster dose for everyone who has had two doses is going fast enough? Are there steps that the Government can take to speed that up to put us in the strongest possible position ahead of the winter?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my right hon. Friend for the scrutiny that he has provided of the Coronavirus Act 2020 through the Government and in many other ways over the last few months. It has been very valuable, certainly to me. On his specific question, the third jabs, whether they are for those who are immunocompromised or booster jabs, are critical over the next few months. As of yesterday, we have administered some 3.7 million jabs. It is off to a good start but we need to continue to work hard to increase the uptake. That is exactly what is happening and certainly will be over the next few weeks with a big marketing campaign about to begin as a way of trying to boost that. He is right to raise that issue.

The Coronavirus Act has been instrumental in our response to the pandemic. It has helped to steady the ship in stormy waters. It has protected the NHS in its hour of need by allowing tens of thousands of medical and care staff to register with the NHS temporarily, including nurses, midwives, paramedics, radiographers, social workers and many others; by keeping public services going, including ensuring that our courts and local democracy could function; and by providing a vital lifeline for people and businesses across the country, supporting 11.7 million jobs and providing 1.6 million business loans.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I am taking part in a Westminster Hall debate, but I need to ask this important question. I understand the lockdown measures, but will my right hon. Friend ensure this time, God forbid, if things do get worse, that whatever happens, he will keep the schools open, because we know the damage to mental health, educational attainment, lifelong learning and lifetime chances that school closures have brought to our children?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

During the pandemic, my right hon. Friend has done a fantastic job of drawing everyone’s attention, rightly, to the impact that the measures—the lockdown measures in particular—have had on children, especially those in school. I hope he would agree that the plans that the Government have set out, including our primary plan of relying on vaccinations, treatments—there are ever more treatments, which is fantastic news—testing and surveillance, is the right way to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.

With all the measures that we have taken, it is clear that we are now in a new phase of the pandemic and that we are learning to live with the virus. Throughout this public health crisis, we have always sought for our provisions to be proportionate to the threat that we face. Parliament has rightly been given the opportunity to scrutinise this legislation every six months. We do not wish to keep provisions in place any longer than they are absolutely necessary, especially those that are limiting the freedoms that rightly belong to citizens.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

The Secretary of State says that this House has had time to scrutinise the legislation, but 90 minutes every six months to scrutinise the Act really is not enough time for Parliament.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Lady is right to point to the importance of scrutiny. Of course, it is not just the time that we have for debate now or the regular time we have had since this Act has been on the statute book. Scrutiny is also provided in other ways: for example, she will know that Select Committees have looked at the Act, with parliamentarians represented and taking evidence. That is just another way to make sure that the Act is getting the scrutiny that it deserves.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset

No one disputes the success that some of these measures have had but there is a strong resentment—which, I have to say, I share—in many quarters about giving any Government extension to powers that are quite as blank as these are. Have the Government considered any other mechanism for allowing extension for a lesser amount of time or are there alternatives by using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which many of us feel should have been used from the outset, rather than presenting this gift-wrapped to the devolved parts of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I understand my right hon. Friend’s concerns and, rightly, many people across the House share those concerns. He will know that when the original Bill was brought to Parliament, the Government said, rightly, that any measures would be kept in place only for as long as necessary and that they would have to be proportionate. Even before coming to the House today with the recommendation to expire seven of the non-devolved provisions in the Act, 13 have already expired. He also pointed to alternative ways that some of these measures, if necessary, could be taken, and that is a very valuable suggestion. For example, I believe that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is before Parliament now, my colleagues are looking at some of the provisions on courts and keeping the remote working of courts going. So there are possible alternatives and he is right to draw attention to that.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

The Secretary of State was not originally responsible for this. The issue that my right hon. Friend Dr Fox raises was first raised on 23 March 2020 when we were first putting the Coronavirus Act into law. The point made at the time was that the Act is not necessary, because it replicates many other pieces of legislation, and that the Act alone allows the Government to act without recourse to the House, which is not true of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 or the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. That is why it is wrong: because it does not have to come back to the House every time it takes away another piece of British freedom.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Like my right hon. Friend Dr Fox, my right hon. Friend Mr Davis makes an important point. He will understand that now that the Act is in place, it is important that the Government act promptly and quickly at any time when we can retire, expire or in some cases suspend measures in it; that there is regular scrutiny of the process; and that I and other Ministers come to the House whenever we can to expire its provisions or, if they are to continue, to justify them.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

The Act has always been presented on the Floor of the House as an all-or-nothing Bill; MPs never have an opportunity to change, amend or scrutinise it, so I think that the Secretary of State is just a little misleading in how he is presenting it to the House today.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

Unintentionally misleading.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Thank you for that intervention, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think that I have been very clear not only about the history of the Act, but about the importance of Ministers coming forward for regular scrutiny to set out which provisions can be expired or suspended, or if expiry or suspension are not possible, why the provisions are necessary. That is the purpose of our debate today.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I think the problem for the Secretary of State is how the Government acted in the past by not bringing things to the House for debate; I know that the chairman of the 1922 committee, my hon. Friend Sir Graham Brady, used a lot of force to try to get them to do so. We are being asked to take something on trust from the Government when their previous behaviour towards the Act has been—how can I say it? —not very good.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

First, may I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? He makes an important point in his valuable intervention. What I can say, which I certainly hope will reassure him, is that the Act will be regularly reviewed, that parliamentary scrutiny from all quarters is very welcome and that any powers retained in the Act need to be properly justified—they must be necessary and proportionate. That is the case that I am setting out on behalf of the Government today.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

A lot of us feel that this legislation should now just lapse, because there has been a material improvement in the situation. There are other powers should things go wrong, and this House could grant powers in the space of a few hours if there were a new and unpleasant crisis. Why do we have to have these powers hanging over our head when there does not seem to be a need to use them?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

What I can tell my right hon. Friend is that there are provisions that we hope to keep in the Act, subject to the House’s will today, which are still necessary. For example, there are provisions that protect NHS capacity with respect to temporary registration of nurses and other healthcare professionals. There are similar provisions for the care sector; there are also provisions that provide support packages for those whose jobs may have been hit or who have to take time off work to meet the self-isolation requirements. There are provisions in the Act that I think are still necessary; I will speak about some of them in just a moment.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that by leaving the Act intact, albeit with certain restrictions, he is leaving the opportunity for extreme measures to be taken relatively simply and with limited reference to this House, as Dawn Butler mentioned? A lot relates to pressures on the NHS; those could come because every winter the NHS is under pressure or because catching up on services puts it under pressure. I am interested to know how on earth my right hon. Friend will work through the next few months to understand what is an undue amount of pressure on the NHS that might require him to take the actions in plan A or plan B, or potentially even further actions.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

In our response to the pandemic, we have set out clearly our plan for the autumn and winter; I have certainly done so in the House. We certainly expect more pressure as we head into winter. We have been very open about that; it is why the covid vaccination booster programme and the flu vaccination programme both remain important. However, there are provisions in the Act that I believe are still necessary and proportionate to help with the pressure that my hon. Friend refers to, such as the registration of healthcare and social care workers and the power to discontinue healthcare assessments for people being discharged from the NHS. I think that it is wise—especially as we head into the winter, when we do not know just how significant the pressures will be—to have that flexibility.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

Would my right hon. Friend go a little further? As a medical support worker, I can tell him that there has been very little effort to follow through on a programme begun last year to encourage people to return to being patient-facing. They need to remain engaged; the Act is a good start in that process, but it does not appear to have been developed in any way. I agree absolutely that my right hon. Friend needs to keep those provisions in the Act, but he needs to develop them more than has been done so far—particularly because if we face a bad winter and possibly the resurgence of this or another virus, we will need those people. They need to remain engaged.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that point. We need to keep working on it, but it might be helpful to know that under section 2 of the Act, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has been able to register temporarily some 14,000 nurses, midwives and nursing associates in England, and the Health and Care Professions Council has been able to register more than 21,000 temporary paramedics, operating department practitioners, radiographers and other professionals. That has certainly helped the NHS and the care system.

We have already allowed 13 of the 40 temporary non-devolved provisions in the Coronavirus Act to expire, and at the most recent six-month review we deemed a further seven provisions and part of an eighth suitable for expiry. Last month, as we published our autumn and winter plan, I came to the House to set those out.

Some of the provisions that we are recommending for expiry are some of the most stringent aspects of the Coronavirus Act. They include section 51, which relates to potentially infectious persons and which has been used only 10 times and not since October 2020; section 52, which gave powers to issue directions relating to events, gatherings and premises, and which has never been used; section 23, which relates to time limits for urgent warrants under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and which is no longer proportionate to this stage of the pandemic; and section 37, which allowed for the disruption of education for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, and which continues to be unused.[This section has been corrected on 22 October 2021, column 8MC — read correction]

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

The Secretary of State has been extolling the virtues of parliamentary scrutiny, which, as many right hon. and hon. Members have stated, has been sadly lacking of this Act and in its renewal debates. Will he give us a cast-iron guarantee that should he decide to bring forward vaccine passports, we will get not just a full parliamentary debate, but a vote on any such measures?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I think that the Government have already been clear that should we try to bring forward what the hon. Lady calls vaccine passports, it would be a decision for the House and it would be a vote. If that happened, we would have to justify it to the House.

In addition, we are expiring sections 56, 77 and 78. Taken together with the 13 out of 40 temporary non-devolved provisions in the Act that have already expired, that will mean that half of the original 40 temporary non-devolved powers in the Act will expire early.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

I welcome the lifting of the more draconian measures in the Coronavirus Act, including section 52 and schedule 22, which gave significant and unprecedented powers to the police relating to events, gatherings and premises, with no protections for the safeguarding of freedom of expression. Most of those powers are mirrored in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Will the Secretary of State go back to his Government and secure an agreement to remove the more draconian elements of that Bill before its next stage?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said, but I think the Government have already set out clearly the provisions that they intend to expire or suspend, subject to the will of the House today, and explained why they have focused on those provisions. I can also inform the House that we recommend the suspension of the remaining unsuspended parts of schedule 28 and section 58.

I am sure the whole House will welcome this news—the latest steps that we are taking towards a more normal way of life—but the winter just around the comer is a cause for caution, with the twin threats of covid-19 and flu still uncertain. In line with our autumn and winter plan, we intend to retain the temporary provisions that remain essential to our ongoing pandemic work, including sections 2, 6, 14, 38, 45, 50 and 75, which cover vital aspects such as supporting the NHS to help it to retain emergency staff and enabling statutory sick pay to be provided for people who are self-isolating. We will review this legislation again in the spring.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

Will my right hon. Friend explain in detail which of the measures that the Government seek to retain could not be implemented alternatively by means of the Civil Contingencies Act or the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend will know that there are numerous measures that the Government are planning to retain. To do proper justice to his question, I would have to go through them one by one and try to link them with every single Act, but I should be happy to meet him or write to him giving him the proper detail, because I think it was a very fair question.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I think I have given the hon. Lady enough opportunities to intervene.

We have come so far and achieved so much as a country because of the sacrifices of the British people and the dedication of our fantastic public servants. We are learning to live with the virus, so we can face the winter ahead with an ever greater degree of confidence. There is no doubt that we will continue to experience bumps on the road—covid-19 has not, of course, gone away, and flu remains an ever present danger—but I am confident that the steps that the Government have set out today strike the right balance, removing unnecessary stringent measures while retaining the tools to fight infection wherever it might arise.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 3:22 pm, 19th October 2021

We do not oppose the renewal of the Act and we will not oppose its renewal in the Division Lobby, but I do have huge sympathy with the Members who have raised concerns about the way in which the Act is scrutinised and asked questions about whether there are alternative means of putting this legislation on the statute book. The main reason we will not oppose the Act is the provision of statutory sick pay from day one and not day four, which was the case before the Act received Royal Assent. Given that we have a Chancellor who has been very keen to cut back universal credit, I am not convinced that if the Act fell today the Chancellor would carry on paying statutory sick pay from day one, and would find time to introduce an appropriate Bill. However, I urge Ministers to try to find a better way for the Act to be scrutinised.

Let us think back to March 2020—and I remember it well. A deathly silence was falling upon our streets, as we knew that a deadly pandemic was set to spread with ferocity. We knew that the House had to act with urgency and haste. Indeed, I, as shadow Health Secretary, was invited to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister, to meet Dominic Cummings and to meet various officials, to discuss in principle agreeing to this Act on a cross-party basis. The then Health Secretary invited me to the Department of Health and Social Care on numerous occasions to sit down with him and his officials to discuss the content of the Act. We proceeded on a cross-party basis because we understood the gravity of the crisis that we were facing.

Measures were put in the Act that we had asked for, such as the provision of statutory sick pay from day one, but other measures were put in the Act that we had not asked for, although in the circumstances we were prepared to go along with them. One of the things that we asked of the Government, working with Mr Davis and other Members, was a renewal of the Act every six months, on a regular basis. From memory, I think we may have asked for a renewal every three months, but we will have to double-check with Hansard on that front. We also asked for the ability for various aspects of the Act to be expired.

Perhaps I am naive, but I did not anticipate that 18 months later the Act would be renewed again on the basis of a 90-minute debate not allowing Members to scrutinise this properly—and given the way in which the House has decided to debate it, Members cannot even table amendments and have their point of view expressed on the Order Paper. I strongly encourage the Government —the Executive who control the business of the House—to try to find a more satisfactory way in which the Act can be properly scrutinised, particularly if the Government are minded to renew it again in six months’ time rather than expire it, as was originally intended.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument. Given what he has said, would it not be a good idea for the Opposition to vote against the motion and perhaps defeat the Government, so that the correct procedures could be in place tomorrow?

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Gentleman tempts me. I can understand that if the Act fell, there would be time for alternative provisions to be put in place, but I am afraid I do not have confidence in the continuation of this particular Treasury, which is keen to find savings in the public finances, to provide statutory sick pay from day one. Voting down the Act today would be voting down statutory sick pay from day one, and I do not want to see the Government revert to providing it from day four. That is why, although I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s point, I am not prepared to vote down the Act.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments with the greatest of interest. He is concerned that there is not sufficient scrutiny. Will he compare and contrast the attendance in this short debate on the Government Benches with that on the Labour Benches? I count three of his Back-Bench colleagues at the moment.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The right hon. Gentleman is better than that, with respect. He is very experienced, and he knows full well that right hon. and hon. Members have various responsibilities as Members of Parliament. Come on! That was akin to those ridiculous tweets that we sometimes see going around, saying that an important issue is being debated in Parliament and asking why the Benches are empty and so on, when it is an evening Adjournment debate.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, but there is an underlying point. On many occasions since March 2020, the Opposition have absented themselves from providing effective voting opposition to measures that the Government have proposed, often affecting the rights and liberties of individuals. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that he is balancing all the issues involved in the restrictions that result from the continuation of the Act with the single purpose of continuing statutory sick pay for three days, and that because he is not prepared to test the willingness on the Government Benches to support him in any measure he would turn down this whole measure, I think that what he is handing us is giving him a little bit short of what he might expect.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that if the Government wanted to bring forward a separate Bill to pay statutory sick pay from day one—and to increase the level of statutory sick pay, which is not currently at a satisfactory level—that would of course have our support. However, that would have to come from the Executive. It is unlikely to come from Back Benchers, although I am confident that, should such an opportunity present itself, the hon. Gentleman would find himself in the same Lobby as me on the question of paying enhanced statutory sick pay.

A number of provisions have been taken out of the Act that restricted liberties and freedoms. We raised concerns about those provisions six months ago and 12 months ago, and we are pleased that they have been lifted from the Act, particularly those sections that gave the power to detain potentially infectious persons, which have been used for a number of prosecutions, every one of which was found to be unlawful by the Crown Prosecution Service. Hon. Members from both sides of the House made that point in the six-month debate and in the original debate 12 months ago, so we are pleased that the Government have listened to those Members and to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said that those powers ought to be repealed. They have now been removed from the Act.

There are some sections whose removal from the Act we would question. A lot of my local government colleagues have asked why the powers that enable local authorities to meet remotely have been removed from the Act. Would it not be better to allow local authorities to come to their own decisions on whether they want to continue to hold online meetings in the next few months? I am not quite sure why we need to remove that provision from the Act.

Of course we would not want to lose statutory sick pay from day one, but the Secretary of State also referred to the emergency legislation covering healthcare workers. This is important because it means that we can get recently retired workers back on their licences and back onto the frontline. We would not want to lose that from the Act. The Act continues to allow remote participation in court proceedings to take place, which we believe is needed in the current circumstances.

The Act was not the legislation that brought in the lockdowns, including the local lockdowns for my home city of Leicester and areas such as Burnley, Bolton and Calderdale, which, sadly, were put into localised lockdown in the past year or so. None of us wants to see those lockdowns ever again. Nobody wants to see a national lockdown, and nobody wants to see local lockdowns. I understand that the Government have quite rightly ruled out further lockdowns, but the public health crisis is not over. That is why we still need some of the provisions in the Act. Covid has not gone away. We can learn to live with the virus, but that is not the same as pretending the virus no longer exists. Yesterday, we recorded close to 50,000 infections, more than 7,000 people were in hospital—with nearly 800 in ICU—and every day on average 100 of our fellow citizens sadly die from this disease. A decision on vaccination in schools by the appropriate committee was delayed, but record numbers of children are now infected. In the past three weeks, we have seen an average of 10,000 new covid infections every day in schools and thousands are missing school as a consequence.

The ongoing pandemic is making existing inequalities worse and worse, so we need some of these provisions to stay on the statute book. However, we need to go further as well. As I have said, I never want to see another lockdown again, either locally in my home city of Leicester or nationally. There are a couple of things that I hope the Government will consider in order to avoid further lockdowns and to avoid needing some of the most draconian measures in the Act to return.

First, we need to fund public health properly in the spending review. The virus thrives on health inequalities. The Secretary of State rightly referred to health disparities and stalling life expectancy in Blackpool, but his Government have presided over public health cuts of £43 per person per year across Blackpool, which are some of the largest in the country. Secondly, we need substantial investment in ventilation support for businesses, public spaces and schools. Better ventilation has been proven, time and again, to reduce the transmission of covid. In addition, it brings other health benefits.

We know that vaccination is waning and that parts of the programme are stalling. The wall of defence is crumbling, so we need to encourage those retired clinicians who helped with the initial vaccination programme to help again. We also need to encourage those retired clinicians who did not help out last time to consider playing their part. That is why the clauses in the Act on the emergency registration of healthcare workers need to remain on the statute book.

We also need to fix the booster programme. As of Friday, only half of eligible over-80s had received their booster jab. Charities including Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care UK are warning that the third-dose programme for the immunosuppressed has been a “chaotic failure”, with between 55% and 60% yet to be invited to get a third dose, as of Friday. What are the Government going to do to scale up third jabs and boosters? Will the Government consider pop-up clinics, for example? They were successful in the previous round of vaccinations.

Our case rates are concentrated among the young, but only around 30% of children have been vaccinated. One problem in getting vaccinations out to children is that there are not enough staff, which is another reason why we need the emergency registration provisions to stay on the statute book to try to encourage more retired clinicians to join the children’s vaccination programme.

The Secretary of State is now allowing children to book a vaccination in a walk-in centre for half-term, but it is half-term this week in some parts of the country, including in Leicester, so can that part of the programme start today rather than waiting for next week?

There are still parts of the country, including Leicester and many London boroughs such as Brent, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets, as well as parts of the country that were in lockdown last time such as Blackburn and Pendle, where second-dose rates are still below the national average. What will we do to drive up vaccination rates in those parts of the country that were in lockdown last time and where vaccination rates are still too low? Will the Secretary of State consider guaranteeing mandated paid time off for vaccination and mandated sick pay for people who need to take a couple of days off due to side effects or due to feeling unwell, as people sometimes do following a vaccination?

We will support the Government in renewing this Act, although we want them to find a better way of scrutinising its provisions. We are concerned about the infection rates we are seeing. The embers are burning bright again and, because we were world leading on vaccination, we could be world leading again on the waning of vaccination. We need a plan to drive up boosters, to drive up third doses and to drive up second doses for those who have not had them. This disease remains lethal, especially to the frail, to those with underlying health conditions and, obviously, to those who are unvaccinated.

Let us strengthen the vaccination programme, let us pay proper sick pay, let us ensure fresh, clean air in public buildings and let us properly fund public health. Remember that the Select Committee reported last week that the Government’s handling was one of the worst public health failures in British history. This is no time for complacency, and I hope Ministers act now.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

There is a limited amount of time for this debate, which needs to finish at 4.31 pm, and I want to give the Minister 10 minutes to respond. There are more people standing than indicated to the Speaker’s Office that they wanted to speak, which means there is even more pressure on time. I ask hon. and right hon. Members to confine their speeches to five minutes.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 3:37 pm, 19th October 2021

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will, of course, obey your strictures on time.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has done in not continuing with some of the most offensive and egregious provisions in the Act, particularly the one enabling almost indefinite detention. I have looked very carefully at the provisions that are being continued, and all the very unwelcome powers are not being continued. Although there remain some unwelcome powers with which I might quibble and although, as my right hon. Friend Mr Davis said, there are other ways of delivering some of them, the most offensive ones have been removed, which I welcome. I therefore will not seek to divide the House. If others were to do so, I will not oppose the renewal of these provisions.

It is worth saying, because many people outside the House do not understand this point, that it is not the Coronavirus Act 2020 but the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 that has been used to deliver the lockdown measures and the other measures that people have found so very difficult. The 1984 Act remains in place and gives Ministers all the powers they would want to be able to lock down the country again—I hope that is never needed, but they have the powers if they need them. I do not think that Act comes with sufficient scrutiny, which is why I strongly support the campaign of my hon. Friend Mr Baker to reform it by better combining the necessary powers with the necessary parliamentary scrutiny.

On parliamentary scrutiny, I welcome what I detected was an improvement in the tone from the Opposition. I welcome what the shadow Secretary of State said; there was an increasing recognition that scrutiny and challenge to government is necessary. When some of my colleagues and I were challenging and opposing some of the Government measures that predate my right hon. Friend’s accession to the post of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, it felt like a lonely occupation. We were not joined by the shadow Secretary of State or by many of his colleagues, so I am pleased that he is becoming more enamoured of the concept of scrutiny, which is very welcome for the Opposition.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

May I ask my right hon. Friend to hesitate in his laudatory comments about the Opposition Front Benchers? One problem we have is that we cannot amend the provisions. The deal they did not strike back on 23 March 2020, and that they should have, was that this should have been an amendable measure. We could then have put everything right.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

That is exactly right. It is for that reason that if there were a Division I would not be voting for this legislation, because I do not think it comes with enough parliamentary scrutiny—the sort of scrutiny that there is if we use the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Would it not also help the Government’s case if they gave us more detail on which of these measures actually worked and did some good? We need more post-result audits so that we can have more confidence in some of these measures.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, which would be worth following up.

Conscious of your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me make a couple of final points. On the issue raised by Munira Wilson on vaccine passports, the Secretary of State gave half of the right answer, which was that the Government would have to persuade the House to introduce vaccine passports, and he confirmed that the House would have to vote on it. The final piece to come in his wind-up remarks is that that vote will come ahead of any decision to introduce vaccine passports, rather than there being only a retrospective vote after their introduction. If he confirmed that, he would do the House a powerful service.

The final point is to reinforce what the shadow Secretary of State was saying, and what I said in my intervention, about speeding up second doses and third doses for those who are immunosuppressed and, to release the pressure on the NHS, focusing on improvements in social care this winter. My local NHS trust—I have raised this issue with the Secretary of State privately—has made the point that some of the pressures are because it cannot get the people who have received all the hospital treatment they need out into the community, because of a lack of either residential social care or domiciliary social care. For it to deliver on clearing the backlogs of healthcare and to stop accident and emergency backing up, it must be able to get people out of the “back door” of the hospital into social care or back home. It is social care that will put the NHS under critical pressure this winter, in the next few weeks, so I urge my right hon. Friend to focus on the social care aspect of NHS pressure, not just on NHS pressure. With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will broadly obey your strictures and sit down.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care) 3:43 pm, 19th October 2021

I had a profound sense of déjà vu in preparing for today’s debate, although it is hard to believe it is six months since we last considered this and 18 months since our nations went into lockdown, during which period I have probably said everything on this subject before. Let me recap by saying that the Scottish Government support the four-nations approach to tackling coronavirus as far as is possible, while respecting differences of approach. Thankfully, the direction of travel is that we are all emerging from the pandemic and, gradually, more of our old freedoms are being restored. As I did last time, let me pay tribute to everyone for everything they have done to support us and the NHS during this unprecedented period. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has lost loved ones to covid throughout this period, and too many have—there have been more than 161,000 deaths and, sadly, the number is still rising.

When we last debated the temporary provisions, I was looking forward to receiving my first vaccination; like so many, I am now fully vaccinated. Vaccination really is a game-changer and I encourage everyone who is offered a vaccine to take up that offer. If anyone has not yet done so, will they please reconsider?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

When the hon. Gentleman says vaccination, I hope he also means vaccination against seasonal flu, which is currently at the front of my mind as this morning I had my jab in the Attlee Room in Portcullis House. Seasonal flu will potentially cause more of a problem this winter than covid. It is important to get that message across. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that we are currently not where we really ought to be in vaccinating people against flu?

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I do indeed agree. I wonder whether he has seen an advance copy of my notes, because I was coming to that very point. We are still witnessing too many infections and I worry that, when they are combined with flu, we could yet have a very difficult winter ahead for our health services—a “twindemic”, if you like. The successful roll-out of vaccinations and the protection of the most vulnerable remain essential, so I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point.

As I have said, the SNP welcomes the four-nations approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic. However, the UK Government would do well to match Scotland’s science and public health-first approach for the remainder of the pandemic. The Scottish Government have followed the science and done what they can within their power, which is why Scotland retains stronger rules on face masks, for example. As we head into what will likely be a difficult winter, the UK Government must be willing to follow the examples set by the devolved nations and be prepared to introduce measures such as face masks in shops and on transport, to protect people from both coronavirus and flu this winter.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

Scotland and Wales have national ID cards, and if plan B is triggered in England, there is a possibility that we will have an ID card in England, too. Does the hon. Gentleman feel it would have been better to have a whole-United Kingdom covid ID card, so that each nation is in sync, or does he think it is better for each nation to have individual ID cards?

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care)

I should point that they are not ID cards but vaccine certificates. As I have said, we respect the differences, and although we welcome a four-nations approach we will move differently if things move at different paces.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

On the hon. Gentleman’s stricture about the mask mandate— the requirement on which he wishes us to follow Scotland—the wearing of masks does not seem to have reduced the rate of infection in Scotland, which is somewhat higher than it is in England, does it?

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care)

I am an enthusiastic mask wearer for one simple reason that I think helps us all: it sends a very strong message to people that the virus has not gone away. I therefore encourage people to wear a mask, which also has benefits in the reduction of transmission.

The UK Government must be prepared to support people financially should greater restrictions need to be reintroduced this winter if conditions deteriorate. Failing that, they must provide the powers to the devolved Governments to do so themselves.

We in the SNP continue to have serious concerns about the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the powers in the UK Government’s Coronavirus Act 2020, and we have raised those concerns on several occasions from Second Reading onwards. It is important that Parliament has its say, especially now, as the pressure of the pandemic is easing. As I have said in previous debates, the reviews of the temporary provisions must not be rubber-stamping exercises; they must provide meaningful scrutiny, protect human rights and promote public health.

It is important that Parliament has its say on the regulations in place to tackle the biggest health emergency of our lifetimes. The Government are under huge pressure, but their decisions need the insight and legitimacy of Parliament. By giving Parliament the ability to scrutinise the schedules and measures individually, we could have gone a long way towards that aim. It is unacceptable that Parliament does not have that ability. For example, the SNP supports the repeal of schedule 21, which contains broad police detention powers. Scottish police have not used schedule 21 powers in Scotland and alternative laws could be used in lieu of the schedule.

We are not out of the pandemic yet; it will be with us for some time to come and the global threats of new variants will be with us until the world is vaccinated. We have to get this right. When I last spoke on the temporary provisions six months ago, I stated that

“more needs to be done to restore public trust in the handling of issues such as covid contracts and in the security of powers contained in the Act.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 1125.]

I fear very much that the Government are not learning lessons fast enough, particularly in respect of contracts and vaccinations.

The case of Valneva in West Lothian is a clear example. Yesterday, that vaccine company which is developing the only inactivated covid-19 vaccine in clinical development in Europe, and manufacturing that vaccine in Scotland, published positive data from its phase 3 clinical trial. I welcome the fact that the Health and Social Care Secretary has changed his views since incorrectly telling the House that Valneva’s vaccine would not get approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. We know that, if approved, Valneva will be the only inactivated, adjuvanted whole virus vaccine against covid-19 in the UK—a fantastic innovation, particularly for those who have been waiting for an inactivated vaccine. I want to know when it might be available for our constituents. I hope the Secretary of State will join me in welcoming this news, made possible by support from the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research, and recognise that it paves the way towards initial approval from the MHRA.

Finally, while maintaining health policies for the remainder of the pandemic is sensible, this must be done with the scrutiny of Parliament and the confidence of the public.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

In order to be helpful, I will impose a five-minute limit. If colleagues take less than that, we will definitely get everybody in.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 3:50 pm, 19th October 2021

We are in a profoundly different place from where we were 19 months ago when we entered the pandemic and went through a series of lockdowns. The medicines that doctors use and prescribe and the procedures that are in place are all profoundly improved. The vaccination programme has been a revelation thanks to the quality, the range and the roll-out of the vaccines. We must recognise that, today, we are in a profoundly different situation from where we were right at the beginning. We just have to look at the third wave that we are going through at the moment and at the connection between infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Those rates are fundamentally different from those in the first and second waves, so we should be taking a profoundly different approach to dealing with this virus.

All variants of concern are defeated by our vaccines at the moment, and we have every expectation that that will continue to be the case into the future. By maintaining the Coronavirus Act 2020, but with perhaps a limited number of provisions, we maintain the fundamental approach to dealing with this virus. Society as a whole and the civil service more narrowly are still looking at this challenge in the same way, and there is not, in that sense, a change of mindset.

We are approaching what will be a tough winter. No matter what happens, we will have a very difficult winter. That may be due to the coronavirus itself or to influenza, but it will also be due to the very significant build-up in waiting lists and in conditions that should have been investigated 18 months ago. We know that these cases are building up and that it will create a huge amount of pressure on the national health service.

I want to focus today on the care sector. Some 18 or 19 months ago, we would have had cross-party consensus on the fact that the care sector needed fundamental reform. That is far more true today than it was back then. It is clear that the care sector needs far more resources today than it needed then. There is a shortfall of about 100,000 carers. With the compulsory vaccination approach that has been taken in the care sector, the Government are expecting another 40,000 carers to leave. That will create huge problems not only for the carers, but for the residents themselves.

In my constituency, the care sector is already under tremendous pressure. Some people are leaving because of the pressure that they are under, and some because they choose not to be vaccinated. Some of them are finding employment in the national health service. They are leaving the care sector and going into the national health service to provide care there, but at some point we may be imposing vaccinations in the national health service as well. We do not know how many will leave the NHS at that stage, but if vaccinations in the NHS stand at about 90%, we could be looking at a loss of more than 100,000 people.

We have concerns about people being transferred out of care in the national health service and into the care sector. We know that the situation is going to get substantially worse as we go through the winter and more carers leave the care sector, but we do not yet know when the same approach will be imposed on the national health service. I therefore ask the Minister: what is the Department’s thinking at the moment? When will we impose compulsory vaccination on the NHS, just as has been imposed on the care sector, and what impact will that have?

We need a fundamental reset in our approach to dealing with the coronavirus. The circumstances are fundamentally different now, because of medical advances and so many other things. We have the opportunity to reverse the decision on the care sector. We want to keep carers caring where they want to be caring. We ought not to be imposing this decision now, because in a couple of weeks it is going to be too late. I am concerned about plan B and the possibility of ID cards or covid passes—

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central 3:56 pm, 19th October 2021

Today really feels like groundhog day. The Government are again pushing through the Coronavirus Act with no scrutiny from Parliament. I do not know what it is about this authoritarian Act that the Government love to push through. Some 18 months ago, the Bill was nodded through—understandably, in a way, but it was never, ever proportionate. As the Secretary of State said, it was fast-tracked legislation. It contained really draconian powers, including the powers to postpone elections, close borders, detain people not suspected of a crime, ban gatherings and remove safeguards for disabled people. This is the mother of all Parliaments and we should always have the opportunity to scrutinise Government legislation. That is what we are elected to do. This all-or-nothing approach does not wash; it is wrong.

As a parliamentarian, I want to get my control back. I want to get back my powers to scrutinise the Government. The Government should not be the sole decider of legislation. We live in a democracy, not an autocracy. The Government should not be making all the rules themselves. That said, I am pleased that some of the most draconian parts of the Act have now been expired. I had a meeting with the Minister and am pleased that she listened to my concerns. Section 51 and schedule 21 —the powers relating to potentially infectious persons—have now been removed. As has been said, every single charge under schedule 21 was wrongful. Those 292 charges were incorrect, and that meant 292 distressed people who were already distressed during the pandemic.

We have to make sure that the Bill is fit for purpose, and ultimately it is not. It therefore needs to be scrapped and there needs to be a new Bill. I am already the sponsor of a Bill that has been presented to the House: the Coronavirus (No. 2) Bill. If we were to vote down this Act today, we would have 21 days to bring forward a new Bill. There is already one that is ready—oven-ready, some might say. [Interruption.] You liked that, did you? My Bill is properly ready to go.

This Government have proved time and again that they cannot be trusted. It is one rule for them and one for us. The latest person that we found had broken the rules was the Prime Minister himself, as his wife’s best friend went around to theirs for Christmas dinner, while other people dined alone throughout Christmas. As I have said, if we voted down this Act, we would have 21 days to bring a new Bill to the Floor of the House. We can do that and we can do it quickly.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new role and I appeal to him to consider one more vital change. I urge the Government to review every fixed-penalty notice issued under the coronavirus and public health regulations, and to establish an appeals mechanism, because people cannot appeal at the moment. Between March 2020 and June 2021, the police processed 117,213 fines. Let us not forget that we had no chance to scrutinise provisions when the Government raised fines from £960 to £10,000. The Guardian revealed that people of colour were 54% more likely to be fined than white people. I say to colleagues in all parts of the House that we should never be forced into an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to legislation. That is not our job. We are parliamentarians and we need to scrutinise legislation. Twenty-one days is enough time to consider better legislation. As we have the Coronavirus (No. 2) Bill, based on Liberty’s “Protect Everyone Bill”, I say to every single Member of this House that we can do that.

I am clear that we need to repeal and replace the Coronavirus Act not just because it is dangerous with regard to our rights and our liberties, or because it served the purpose that it was meant to 18 months ago, but because we must do better. We must learn the lessons. I am part of the Science and Technology Committee and there is a joint report that says that this Government have failed on so many occasions. This is an opportunity where we can do better and where this Government can do better. Let us do better, not just for us but for the country.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am going to reduce the limit to four minutes but it should stay at four minutes if I do it now.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 4:00 pm, 19th October 2021

I agree with every word of what Dawn Butler said. She made the point that we took the Bill through the House in one day and it was in fact unnecessary because the power was already replicated in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. That was not just my opinion on 23 March—it was also reiterated by the Speaker’s Counsel, who actually wrote the Civil Contingencies Act, so that makes the point in terms.

Some improvements have been made in the proposal before us today, and that is good. However, as the hon. Lady said, we had forced quarantine, effectively house arrest, for the whole population; schools shuttered; cancelled elections; lone doctors being allowed to section people, an astonishing removal of civil liberties; families being unable to hold the hands of their loved ones; dog walkers in Derbyshire being embarrassed; and people being stopped because they had coffee on a walk in the park. This is not the sort of thing that is policing by consent in the United Kingdom. As she said, of 292 cases brought by the police, not one stood up—not one. That is an astonishing statistic, and we should remind ourselves every day this Act is in place that that is the case.

The other point, which the hon. Lady did not make much of but I think is important, is that of accountability. The point of bringing the Government back here—any Government, by the way, not just this Government—is to improve decision making; to make them make the right decisions. We have just had an astonishingly thorough report from two Select Committees that has pointed out that the Government have made mistake after mistake after mistake—mistakes that cost thousands of lives. The one that leaps out at me is the treatment of care homes, but that was only one part of it: there was also the triaging system. All of it led to thousands of lives being lost. Those mistakes might not have been made if the Government had to justify every element of their strategy throughout these past 575 days. What I said back on 23 March—that this was an unnecessary Bill—I believe still today. I agree that the way to do this is to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 4:03 pm, 19th October 2021

I agree with the comments of Mr Davis and Dawn Butler.

Given the sweeping and draconian powers that this Government granted themselves under the cover of an emergency, Liberal Democrats only very reluctantly supported this unprecedented legislation for an unprecedented crisis back in March last year, when we knew very little about the virus. I am proud that my party pushed hard for a three-monthly review of these powers, which then secured us the six-monthly review. But at each renewal, as has been said so eloquently, there has been limited opportunity to scrutinise or to table or debate amendments.

While there were important measures in the Act relating to benefits, furlough and registration of healthcare professionals, the Government have had ample time since to legislate properly, with proper scrutiny, for those important measures, yet they chose not to. Instead, unnecessary, far-reaching powers encroaching on our civil liberties have twice been renewed, with minimal debate—measures such as detention of potentially infectious persons that I believe have actually resulted in 295, not 292, wrongful prosecutions. That is why Liberal Democrats have consistently voted against the renewal of this Act.

Ministers have proved, as has already been said, that they did not need many of the powers they awarded themselves on restricting gatherings or closing down education settings. I hope and pray we never close any schools again, and I hope that the Secretary of State will give us a cast-iron guarantee on that. Throughout the pandemic, the Government have used existing public health legislation or guidance to impose restrictions, so I am glad that they have finally seen the light and are today expiring many of these controversial measures. It is not before time, but once again we have been granted merely 90 minutes to discuss the remaining legislation. I am afraid that we will see this casual approach to our civil liberties once again with vaccine passports, given the number of flip-flops and U-turns we have had on that subject.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments to me earlier that there will be a vote of this House. I reiterate the question of Mr Harper about whether we will get a vote in advance of any vaccine passports being introduced, because the track record we have seen with the Coronavirus Act 2020 does not fill me with any confidence in this Government. I urge them to stop riding roughshod over this Parliament and to allow us to do our duty as elected representatives and properly scrutinise, amend and vote on measures that fundamentally curtail our liberties.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 4:06 pm, 19th October 2021

I refer to the declarations I have made relating to the Covid Recovery Group. When we rammed this Act of Parliament through, I stood over there in Committee and said it would bring forward a dystopian society. I had no idea then of just how dystopian it would be. I could never have imagined that two friends could draw the attention of the police for going for a walk with a coffee. I could not have imagined the complexity of the rules around social and childcare bubbles, which caught out even the Prime Minister—or, if not caught out, at least drew the scrutiny of the media. We should never have got ourselves into a position where the rules were so complex that whether someone could have a friend round at Christmas was a question worthy of scrutiny in a major newspaper.

As for care homes, I will share a brief part of a quote from a constituent. He said:

“Just before my wife died was our 50th wedding anniversary and her 77th birthday. I was allowed to look through an almost closed window for the 50th but talking was almost impossible…on her birthday.”

Some of us have only been married for 25 years. Who among us could possibly imagine how that must have felt? I could read the rest of the quote, but there is not time and it is too upsetting.

My goodness, what a dystopian time we have been through. One of my greatest fears is about the fact that the Conservative party has been on this side of the House while we have done it, because only one party, with the possible exception of the Lib Dems on occasion, can really say it is a party of Government that stands for freedom, and that is the Conservative party. With great respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—he is a great man who believes in liberty—it will be difficult for all the people who stayed in the Cabinet and took these decisions to say that they stand for freedom in the years ahead. I am absolutely determined to recover from the position we are and have been in, but we will need a Government who can stand for freedom and do it with a great deal of sincerity, for all my respect for my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I know this has been an extremely difficult time for them, but we need a change of heart.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Harper. The substance of the motion before the House is relatively inoffensive, compared with what we have been through. I hope the House will not divide. If it does divide, I will not vote for the motion, but abstain, because we should do this sort of thing in a different way. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for expiring the schedule 21 and schedule 22 powers.

The point is where we have come to. Of course the substance of the law matters, but it is about the presentation. There are people now outside who do not understand what we have done and have started falling into conspiracy theories, and it is hardly any wonder. I was accosted on the street outside by some people who had perhaps had a couple of drinks and recognised me. They were shouting at me about this Bill, which was not very welcome after the day we had had, but they have fallen into the idea that the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been used to lock us down, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean said, it is not true; it is the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which still hangs over our heads like a sword of Damocles.

The Secretary of State, for all my faith in his good character, has only to walk into his office and sign a piece of paper and we will all be locked down at home again. It is the most extraordinary power for one man to hold over us all, and that must be changed. That is why I am grateful to Lord Sumption for giving me the outline of the 1984 Act reform that I hope the Secretary of State will look at. I appeal to him in good faith. He is a believer in liberty. We will need to change how the 1984 Act powers are exercised if we truly are believers in freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

It is time for these powers to lapse and be replaced with legislation that can be more considered. I hope that the legislation just goes through today because, as I say, it is relatively inoffensive, but we will need to turn the corner and show the public that we stand for freedom and that in the long run, after we have coped with coronavirus, their rights are sacrosanct and we will never, ever do to them again what we have done in the past couple of years.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East 4:10 pm, 19th October 2021

We need to have a frank and honest discussion about where we are on covid. It is now clear that the Government’s covid strategy is again going badly wrong with fatal consequences.

We need to be clear that our country currently has the world’s second highest number of new cases and the world’s second highest number of hospitalisations. At the start of this month, more than 200,000 pupils were off school due to covid. Even on the vaccines roll-out, we are falling behind: we have slipped to around 12th best in Europe. Over the past month, there have been double the number of deaths compared with the same time last year. Most worryingly, the current rate of daily deaths would amount to 40,000 deaths per year.

We should be in no doubt that many of those deaths are avoidable. People are dying as a direct result of the Government’s refusal to implement basic public health measures. I am talking about not lockdowns, but the kind of measures that are normal in many other countries. We are not doing them because the Government want to pretend that they can draw a line under covid, but we cannot just wish it away.

Where is the plan to require masks on public transport and in shops? Where is the plan for sick pay at real living wage levels? Where is the plan to tackle high infection rates in schools with the simple measures being asked for by the teaching unions and parents? Where is the plan, more than 20 months on from the start of the pandemic, to give people proper sick pay, as I said, so they are not forced into work when they are ill? Getting those basics right now could still save thousands of lives. We know that because the Government’s own scientists have said so. The Government have a moral duty to act, but instead they are sleepwalking into another deadly winter.

Some of the measures being debated today for the renewal of the powers of the Coronavirus Act are needed, but most of what we are discussing is irrelevant to the debate we need to have to tackle high cases as we go into winter. The Government are not giving MPs the opportunity to debate the wider public health measures that we urgently need. For that reason, I will not be supporting the Government in any vote today.

Time and again during the pandemic, the Government have acted late, and have cost lives by doing so. I urge them to act now and bring in the simple measures that we know can make a difference and save lives, which are masks on public transport and in shops, better ventilation in workplaces, a strategy for tackling high infection rates in schools, and sick pay at real living wage levels for all who need it.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 4:13 pm, 19th October 2021

I begin by expressing my gratitude to all the healthcare workers in my constituency and across the rest of the UK. They have had an incredibly hard shift and they have coped with it admirably.

I do not want to rehash comments that have already been made about the Government’s avoidance of scrutiny when putting forward the Act. It cannot be avoided, however, that the legislation being brought forward is confirmation of the indictment of the Government and their failure to manage covid effectively. They have put all their eggs in a single basket—the basket of vaccination—and their insistence on vaccination as a single-strand strategy and the abandonment of the non-pharmaceutical interventions mentioned by Richard Burgon have allowed the spread of the delta variant throughout our communities. We are now hearing that the roll-out of the booster programme has run into problems, and we are also hearing of the emergence of a new strain of the delta variant that may well be vaccination-resistant, which should cause us all great concern.

Other questions related to this are just as important as the vaccination programme, such as how do we respond to this virus when or if vaccinations stop working? There is lots of research happening in the States. I have friends who are microbiologists working in that field in New York, and they have developed monoclonal antibodies that are very effective in treating covid. That is something I would like to know more about this Government taking a principled stand on.

The other point I want to make is about the use of vaccine passports. The point has been made very clearly today about the risk of their intruding into the lives and privacy of citizens. I would say that, in my view, without a comprehensive infection control strategy in which there is robust testing, non-pharmaceutical interventions and a clear programme of surveillance, vaccine passports are little more than a gimmick. They do not provide any information of great use. They do not tell us whether a person has had a good immune response, whether they are currently infected or whether they are currently infectious, so they are of no real benefit, but are a great intrusion into civil liberties.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I will be very quick. I am not sure where I stand on vaccine passports, but I do know where I stand on the fact that one of my constituents, who was vaccinated in England and then vaccinated in Scotland, cannot go to university courses because the four nations strategy does not actually allow them to talk to each other and she cannot get a pass or a certificate that says she is double vaccinated.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which I was not aware of until now, but I am certainly not the person to speak to in defence of vaccine passports. Quite frankly, I really think they are a gimmick and a sticking plaster. I would say that we have collectively missed the boat. We have spoken about the risk of influenza infections in the winter and, as that approaches, if we had maintained some form of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as maintaining the use of masks in public spaces and on public transport, we could have helped manage both the risk of covid and the risk of winter influenza.

In closing, I would just ask the Government to begin to look at and prepare for what strategy they are going to employ should vaccination cease to be an effective treatment for this pandemic.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:18 pm, 19th October 2021

It is a pleasure to be closing this debate, and I thank hon. Members from all across the House for their contributions today. It is clear from the speeches we have heard—and, indeed, from the fact that the House can meet at full capacity once again—that we have made so much progress in our fight against covid-19. This is thanks to the perseverance and resolve of the British people, and also to our vaccination programme, which has now given first doses to over 85.9% of the population of the UK over the age of 12. It is this life-saving work that has disrupted the once inevitable link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths, and that has allowed us to start carefully reopening our society and our economy once again.

This battle forced us to take unprecedented steps in pursuit of a lethal virus, and the Coronavirus Act has been a vital weapon in our armoury, but we have said throughout our response that we did not want to keep these powers in place for any longer than we have to and that the House performs an essential role in scrutinising the measures every six months.

In 2020, and shortly after the one-year review, we came before Parliament to remove provisions from the Act that were no longer needed. So far 13 of the non-devolved temporary provisions have already been expired and, as pledged in our autumn and winter plan, we are looking to expire even more of these provisions and will lay regulations very soon to make this happen so that we can continue down the path to normal life.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

May I invite my hon. Friend to remind the House and the country that the instincts of the Government sitting behind this Act were benign and in support of public health, not malign and vindictive and trying to erode liberties? These were unprecedented times that required emergency action. Those actions have paid dividends; they were difficult but right. The intention was benign not malign, contrary to what some of our colleagues seem to suggest.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Government were acting in very difficult times and had to take unprecedented measures, as he rightly said.

The Secretary of State explained the provisions in detail in his opening statement, so I will not repeat those that we will be expiring but they include some of the most stringent measures in the Act such as directing the temporary closure of educational institutions, the detention of potentially infectious people, and enabling Ministers to restrict or prohibit gatherings or events. Meanwhile the powers in the Act that we are retaining are those that are critical to our response to the pandemic; after all, as the Opposition spokesman rightly said, this virus has not gone away. We are facing a difficult winter, a time when we have seen from experience that the virus poses a particular threat, so we are keeping in place provisions that are fundamental to our response, for example to make sure the NHS is properly resourced and to support statutory sick pay for those who are self-isolating.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I rise to repeat the point I made to Neale Hanvey. It would be very good if the NHSs in all four parts of the kingdom were to get together and ensure that those who have had one vaccination in one part of the kingdom and another in a different part could have a piece of paper that allows them to, for instance, attend a lecture. At the moment, at least one of my constituents is not allowed to go to a lecture because she had one vaccination in England and one in Scotland, and the NHS in Scotland does not recognise the England one and the NHS in England does not recognise the Scottish one. What is going on? It is mad.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I reassure my right hon. Friend that there are ongoing talks across all the devolved nations and the interoperability of the devices are being looked into; work is under way on that.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

Will my hon. Friend also scrutinise the Bill, as a number of colleagues have mentioned this afternoon, to find those bits that were inserted as expedients but probably need to be refined a little and perhaps given a different statutory basis, such as the certificates in section 19, which for many years have been a nice little money-earner for members of my profession but a burden on the deceased’s estate and which really are not necessary?

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Of course we keep every aspect of the Act under review and will continue to do so.

Members have made a number of compelling points and I would like to address them and respond to some of the questions raised. The shadow spokesman raised the issue of vaccinations and I am pleased to report that 3.6 million booster jabs have been delivered to date over a very short time period. This week sees the launch of a communications campaign on the importance of flu jabs. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced earlier, the national booking service will open for vaccination bookings for young people shortly and letters will be sent to parents and guardians of children aged 12 to 15 over coming weeks inviting them to book the vaccine online or by calling 119. Jabs will continue to be delivered in schools and if the child has already been invited through their school they do not need to act on their invite unless the parents wish to do so. This is a further option for parents to get their children vaccinated.

In response to my right hon. Friend Mr Harper, on 23 September, the Government laid out their plans for parliamentary scrutiny should there be a need for vaccine certification. The Government recognise the vital importance of parliamentary scrutiny. In addition, there was a call for evidence, which closed on 11 October. I trust that my right hon. Friend was able to contribute to that.

My hon. Friend Chris Green raised the issue of care workers. My father was in a care home for seven years. I know from personal experience that care workers become part of the family and play a really important role.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

Before my hon. Friend moves on, may I press her a little further? She rightly says that the Government recognise the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. That is welcome, but my question was very specific. The Secretary of State committed to the House’s having to make the decision about vaccine passports, and my question was whether the House would be asked to make that decision in advance and not retrospectively. Can the Minister confirm that the House will be asked to make that decision in advance of any move to implement vaccine passports, and that it will not be asked to approve it retrospectively?

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Covid certification will be brought in under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which, as my right hon. Friend is aware, allows for emergency measures. We will do our utmost to bring forward the vote in Parliament before any enactment of the need for covid certification.

I return to the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West. A consultation about making vaccination a condition of deployment in the NHS and wider social care closes on 22 October. We will consider all the responses in due course.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

Does my hon. Friend share my constituents’ perplexity and confusion that the Government think it is suitable to have compulsory vaccination in care home settings—that has been their intention for many weeks—yet they are still confused or undecided as to whether that is equally relevant in the NHS? Carers are going from care settings into the NHS at the moment.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I reiterate that we are consulting at the moment for the NHS and other social care settings, and we are not moving the dates that we have already set for vaccination as a condition of deployment in care homes.

The hon. Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), my right hon. Friend Mr Davis and my hon. Friend Mr Baker raised the issue of unlawful convictions. I reassure them that since April 2020, the Crown Prosecution Service has reviewed all prosecutions under the Coronavirus Act, and it continues to do so. As such, the issue is primarily administrative, rather than one of the wrongful use of powers provided by the Act. That policy of review by the CPS has provided an effective safeguard. All incorrect charges made under the Act and reviewed by the CPS have been overturned, and updated guidance has been issued to the police.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

I wonder whether the Minister will also consider the fines under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act and whether there will be an appeal mechanism. Will she push for that, please?

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I will take the hon. Lady’s comments on board. The progress that has been made with regard to unlawful convictions has been really helpful.

We have come so far in our fight, but we still have a long way to go. This pandemic is not yet over, and the steps we are proposing will give us the support we need to continue our fight against the virus while restoring yet more of our precious freedoms and the important experiences that we really love.

I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The question is Motion No. 4 as on the Order Paper. As many as are of that opinion, say Aye. [Hon. Members: “Aye.”] Of the contrary, No. [Interruption.] Could I have the Noes again?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am afraid I fear the mood of the House is not to have a vote. The right hon. Gentleman would have to rustle up a few more people to really get the sense that we required a vote—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am sure they will. The Ayes have it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should not yet expire.