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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 12:30 pm, 15th December 2021

My Lords, as an aside, I begin with a reflection on how this debate illustrates how outdated our political frames and the arrangement of our political furniture are, with the idea that we have two sides of politics. That clearly does not reflect the way our politics is operating now. I must respond to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who asked how many deaths there have been from omicron; he appears to have learned nothing from the past two years about the exponential spread of viruses and the delay between infection, hospitalisation and death.

I caught the No. 29 bus down this morning. I saw, as I have seen pretty well throughout the last two years, the public in advance of where the Government thought they might be. The bus was largely empty. Everyone on it was wearing a mask properly. I was seeking to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, because I wanted to say how honoured I would have been to do so and to express my respect for his presence and speech today. It is an utter rebuttal to the claim of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, that we are all free to make our own decisions. None of us is free to choose whether or not to breathe. We all have to breathe the air in this Chamber and wherever we go.

That brings me to the first of my two points. We could be debating some very different SIs today, ones based on both the science and a response I had from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in July, when he was sitting where the Minister is now. The noble Lord said then that

“ventilation is critical—but it is also challenging.”—[Official Report, 21/7/21; col. 335.]

Instead of these SIs, we could be debating SIs that allowed for an emergency scheme for entertainment premises—concert halls and theatres—to have on the door, as restaurants do for food health, a rating for ventilation. People would be able to choose which venues they went into based on the real measure of risk that they presented. We could see another SI that would have an emergency programme, as the National Education Union has for many months been calling for, of installation in schools of not just carbon dioxide meters but ventilation and filtration systems. We are seeing isolated trials popping up, but not those things.

However, we cannot see emergency SIs such as those because such long-term schemes would take many months to implement. But they are long-term schemes that should have been implemented many months ago. I turn to a British Medical Journal editorial from July, which says that

“workplaces, healthcare facilities and education providers” must

“pay greater attention to the cleanliness of the air”.

This editorial was written by world-leading microbiologists and engineers.

Over the past two years we have seen a public who have done amazing things, shown an amazing grasp of reality and adapted their behaviour accordingly. Sadly, we have seen a Government which have not lived up to their responsibilities and have been totally focused on one prong of defence—vaccination. I absolutely support and agree with the huge drive for vaccination, like many Members of your Lordships’ House; my booster is booked for next Monday. I am holding out for that and hoping to survive until that point.

I turn to the other SI, on vaccine passports. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made some very powerful points about the medical faults in this. I will pick up another concern, which I raised yesterday when we were talking about vaccination for deployment in health and care. If we send a message to people that vaccination is something that we have to force them to do, it risks building resistance and being counterproductive. We want to get to a situation where every person for whom it is medically possible is vaccinated, and has chosen to be. That requires a fairly large ask—trust in the Government—but above all it requires a programme of education and outreach, which we have clearly not seen nearly enough of.

In the other place, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, while expressing great reluctance, voted with those opposing the vaccine passport SI before us. I must admit I feel rather torn at the moment, because I think the SI is dangerous and counterproductive, but I feel extremely uncomfortable with people making different arguments grouped in the same space, so I have not quite decided what to do. But I want to see a Government allowing people to keep themselves safe by taking on what the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, accepted was crucial in July, which is ventilation.

I also pick up the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on global scale. No one is safe until everyone is safe. The Government are not doing nearly enough to get vaccines around the world, so we will see more risks. In picking up on how people can keep themselves safe, whatever the Government pass, we will see people not going to entertainment venues and rearranging their lives. That means that people and businesses will need public support, on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. We also need people to be able to keep other people safe, which means proper and full sickness payments when they have to self-isolate, as they should.