7.25pm 30 Dec 2020
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1646), dated 24 December 2020, a copy of which were laid before this House on 29 December, be approved.
This House legislated explicitly for specific arrangements to govern the celebration of Christmas, and no sooner than the House had risen itself for Christmas, the Government, by ministerial fiat, changed those arrangements. We are asked this evening to give retrospective legislative approval to the changes that they made. We are in the absurd position of being asked to vote for the ghost of Christmas past. Sometimes in a democracy, process has an importance.
I am constantly—daily—confronted by individuals and businesses facing ruin, notwithstanding the huge investment that they made in covid-secure premises and procedures. What we have never had, and what we have always been asking for, is the cost-benefit analysis that the Government made on each of the restrictive measures that make up the menu of their tier system.
I do not for one moment question the motives of Ministers. I do, however, question their ability, in exactly the way that I question my own ability.
When the House rose, the lobby of Government scientific advisers—a lobby, we should remember, that had already publicly expressed their frustration that their earlier strictures on how Christmas should be celebrated had not been fully taken on board by the Government—announced that they had discovered a new strain of the disease so much more transmissible than the earlier one. They bounced the Government. Whilst I have to accept, of course, the possibility that they may be right, but I know this: were I presented by such a lobby of eminent scientists—eminent people leading in their field—and told that they had discovered this new emergency, and that so many more people were going to die, and unless I did what they said, I would be responsible for their deaths, I would find great difficulty in having the wherewithal to identify and ask the right questions to be sure that they were on the money, or 100 miles from it.
What I would certainly want, and what I believe the Government need, is an alternative source of expertise—a competitive source of expertise—particularly statisticians leading in their fields, who would be able to furnish me, to arm me, to arm Ministers, with the right questions to ask about the validity of the modelling and the data. It can only improve the decision-making process.
But what is really galling in all this is then to hear on the airwaves Professor Ferguson being interviewed, giving his wisdom to the nation once again, to all intents and purposes as if he were still a key Government adviser. I do hope that the Minister winding up the debate will be able to assure us that that is most certainly not the case.
I was always rather jealous of Poole, Christchurch and Bournemouth, because our infection rate in the New Forest was substantially lower than theirs, but they turned out to be in tier 2 and we were in tier 3. Now we are all together in tier 4.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we are now in tier 4, but in statutory instrument No. 1646, which was laid before this House on 29 December, we were in tier 2. Today—one day later—we are in tier 4. Is that not a mockery?
The reality is this. These are the questions that my constituents put to me, and I am reduced to saying, “It’s one of life’s great mysteries.” The decision-making process is entirely opaque. That is why I voted against it when I had the chance.