Support for People and Businesses in Wales: Covid-19 — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:35 pm on 21st October 2020.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Assistant Whip 3:35 pm, 21st October 2020

On the point made that was made by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, a telephone conversation took place last week between the First Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; I am afraid that I cannot find the relevant part of my speech, but I know that that phone call happened. During that discussion, the First Minister indicated that he would bring forward this lockdown and indicated the date that it would start, and he asked for the financial support that the hon. Gentleman refers to. He was told very clearly that the Chancellor’s new scheme would apply on a certain date, and the Chancellor implored the First Minister not to bring in the lockdown on the dates proposed. The point is that the Chancellor and the First Minister had that discussion and knew each other’s position. The First Minister still decided to go forward with that lockdown, and therefore it is the First Minister’s responsibility to come forward with the proposals to support affected businesses in Wales.

I suppose there is one thing that we all agree on: a lockdown has an enormous impact on business. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It will cause people to lose their jobs and businesses to close—it will leave people worse off. We all agree on that, which is why we are arguing, to some extent, over how much money we can find to support those businesses. If we all accept that, we need to be careful before we introduce lockdowns.

The hon. Member for Cardiff North mentioned the science. The Government are following the science of people such as the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, who said—today, I think, or certainly earlier this week—that local lockdowns are working and are likely to be effective. The World Health Organisation said that lockdowns can be effective but should be used as a last resort. The Government have to take account of the fact that although a lockdown can temporarily suppress the number of people going into hospital, it will also have the impact that we all know about on people’s jobs and livelihoods.

In the long term, the inability to diagnose patients with things such as cancer will ultimately have an impact on lives. I was talking recently to a senior, established dentist in south Wales, who told me about the number of referrals each year for oral cancer, which are first discovered by dentists. Because so many dentists are now not operating, or are not operating the same service, fewer people are going to see the dentist. Therefore, fewer people are being referred for oral cancer consultations, and at some point in the future a number of people will lose their lives because of an undiagnosed form of cancer. That is absolutely inevitable; it is just not going to generate a headline.

A responsible Government must take account not only of what is going on here and now in the NHS with covid, but of what will happen in the longer term when people lose their jobs, or when they are not diagnosed as early as they should be for diseases such as cancer. It is a very difficult tightrope to walk. I do not envy anyone in the Department of Health or in No. 10, and I do not envy Mr Gething or Mr Drakeford; they both have a very difficult job to do and I do not doubt that they are doing their utmost. I certainly am not going to play politics or suggest that, because they are taking a slightly different course of action from that of the UK Government, they are doing something dangerous. However, we have a right to question what all of the Governments are doing.