Stephen Hammond – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Hammond, the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

At the outset, we should all acknowledge just how difficult and complex the task of responding to this virus is, and therefore I commend the Prime Minister on his caution and the approach he is taking to easing the restrictions. Last night, he committed yet again to an increase in testing, to reinforce the health messages.

I welcome, as others have, the appointment of Baroness Harding. It seems to me that she has tasks in three timescales. The first is to ensure that there are more tracers and that we employ those tracers we have committed to employ. Secondly, the test response times, which have been of differing quality and speed, need to be speeded up. Into the medium term, this country will be greatly served by having much more widespread temperature screening, followed by more immediate access to antigen ​tests. As we have seen with the Prime Minister’s ambition to increase testing, as the capacity increases, we must look to a much wider group of people who are eligible for testing—obviously, after key workers, including those in the NHS.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) was right; when this is all over, integration of social care and health is going to be key. That ambition was set out in the Government’s long-term plan. When this is over, the Government must go back to that long-term plan, commit to integrating social care and healthcare operationally, and look at new ways of financing social care, for this crisis has shown that there will be increasing and new demands on the social care system.

The continuation of restrictions on our normal way of life is welcome, as it is keeping the virus under control, but the initiation and continuation of those restrictions are undoubtedly causing anxiety for many about jobs and livelihoods, including for many businesses. The Chancellor’s comprehensive economic package has been necessarily and understandably focused on the key costs of property and wages, but the Government will obviously be looking to wind down that support package. We must do that cautiously, as we are doing with easing the restrictions on health. As my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester has also pointed out, the job retention scheme has done much to prevent widespread unemployment, and as we look to wind it down we need to do so in a tapered and measured way—for example, by moving from 80:20 to 50:50, or by decreasing the number of employees continued in furlough.

The other big cost is obviously property. Many sectors have had virtually no income during coronavirus, and yet have had no help with their business rates relief. Even at this late stage, I have been contacted by dentists, osteopaths, physios, veterinary surgeons, providers of shared office space, suppliers to hospitality, financial advisers, retail premises and language schools in my constituency, to name just a few. Some of those businesses need help now. If we want a vibrant economy and society after coronavirus, I would urge the Government—even as they think about reviewing the support and winding it down—to remember those businesses and offer an extension of that support.