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 12:30 pm on 15th December 2021.

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Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative 12:30 pm, 15th December 2021

My Lords, I shall try to be very brief. First, I want to thank my noble friend the Minister. He arrived in his job at a particularly difficult time. There has been turmoil, but he does his job with great sensitivity. I hope he will excuse me if I in any way ruffle his collar today. He said that we do not yet have a complete picture of the latest variant. That is absolutely the case and I want to press him on it a little. I find it difficult to simply accept that we must follow the science. What is the science? Science is not God and scientists are not messiahs. There are some pretty inadequate scientists, as well as some very gifted ones. Our job is to listen and learn, not simply follow blindly.

I have tried to listen carefully through this debate and many others, but I still do not understand the difference between a passport and a mandatory certificate—I hope the Minister will forgive me. I have been asking for a debate on passports. This is a very difficult issue which you can see from many different sides, but it is central to this policy. I have been asking for that debate ever since the start of the pandemic but we still have not had one. I still do not understand why all these new regulations have come in just days after we abandoned the red list on international travel, but there are many things that do not necessarily fit together easily in these difficult times.

There are many costs associated with any policy, no matter how well intentioned it might be. One cost I think we will be discussing for many years to come is the impact of these policies on the mental health of this nation, particularly the younger population. I wonder whether the Minister has looked at the increase in self- harm among young people or the number of attempted suicides. This is a real issue, yet we do not have impact assessments on any of these things—this is the debate we had yesterday. The Government are not doing enough to keep us informed or to allow us to debate the many issues associated with this pandemic.

I will ask the Minister three brief questions about the tidal wave that we are now experiencing. Of course, we want to be properly prepared for contingencies and cannot wait until we have answers to all the questions before we act. However, could we be told how many deaths have so far occurred from omicron in this country? I would have thought that an important, fundamental building block of any policy. Of those deaths, did the person die from omicron or simply with it? That is a very important distinction. Were those deaths of people who had been vaccinated or were they the unvaccinated? I do not know the answers to these questions and that certainly affects the way I would make up my mind about this policy. We need to know these basic figures.

As we have just heard, Covid has the capacity to ruin lives, but our reaction to it also has that capacity. We must seek a proper balance, rather than simply going blindly down the road of saying “This is the science; we must therefore do this without any debate at all”. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Robathan for raising these issues today, because we need to debate them. If I were in his position, I suggest that I would not push this to a vote. However, he has done us a service in allowing us to discuss issues which would not otherwise have been properly discussed. We have been in pandemic circumstances for almost two years and too many outstanding questions have still not yet been answered. I hope that, through impact assessments and other means, the Government will make even more effort to answer the questions that we need to have answered.