Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 6) Regulations 2021 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:45 am on 15th December 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench 11:45 am, 15th December 2021

My Lords, I was interested in the comments we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, and slightly surprised at how much of his speech I agreed with—in the sense that there is a danger from a constant stream of new variants, each provoking tactical responses in our own country. Therefore, I repeat the point I made yesterday at Question Time: it is in our national self-interest to ensure not only that people in this country are protected by vaccination but that people across the world are protected, because that will protect us in the future. It will stop us having these debates every two months, six months or year, ad infinitum.

The other point I will make in response to what the noble Lord said is that he is correct that we should not make this a debate between extreme positions, where you are either 100% right or 100% wrong. I am not 100% in favour of the detail of everything that is in these three SIs—but I am 100% sure that I am going to vote for them if the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, decides to divide the House.

There is a process by which we reach compromises and balances: between the threat to health from the virus and that of not having an NHS functioning as it normally does; or between the threats to mental health from the fear of contracting the virus and those from isolation—not being able to participate and work, and all those things. How we draw those balances is a very delicate exercise and it starts, as others have said, with medical and scientific advice. That must be the rock and the foundation, but of course there is a political dimension—a value weighing-up and a judgment to be made about the comparative harms and how we get our best way through.

I will make one last point about the dangers of an extremist position—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, actually takes an extremist position. The danger comes when, after the advice, the Government’s view and their proposals, and then parliamentary scrutiny and challenge, to get it as right as we can on balance, there is a sense in the public that the political is playing too large a part; and that a Government—this Government—will actually be deterred from taking the action that they need, and are advised, to take, and which we need them to take to protect ourselves.

Other noble Lords will have seen the streams of responses to the email of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, from people saying, “I’m sorry I can’t be there but I’m in bed with Covid”. On public confidence, let us face it: the current public adherence, on which we all depend, to the regulations before us will be damaged by the fear that they are not based fundamentally on the science but on fears of losing political support in the very narrow environment in which we operate. That would undermine public confidence. As others have said, it is absolutely vital that we go through this process with scientific advice, government recommendations and parliamentary scrutiny, and do the best that we can in those circumstances.