The speech made by Andrew Murrison, the Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire, in the House of Commons on 14 December 2021.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a doctor and vaccinator.
Statutory instruments Nos. 1400, 1415 and 1416 are without question relatively modest, certainly by comparison with the restrictions that currently apply in similar jurisdictions, and it is a very good thing that they will fall on 26 January. Nevertheless, I urge Ministers to think about the rapidity with which the evidence is changing. Currently, the evidence from South Africa is relatively positive: I am particularly impressed by the fact that mean hospitalisation in this particular wave is 2.8 days—it was previously eight days with the beta variant predominant in South Africa, whereas we have had delta, which is worse. From that, we can deduce, because it is the same population with the same demographic issues, that this variant is relatively mild. That has to be our working hypothesis, but we really do not know. We are struggling for evidence and the evidence appears to be evolving by the day. It seems to me unreasonable for the public to see their representatives leave this place for two weeks when they would expect us to be here to hold the Government to account on a real-time basis, which would require the House to sit next week and the following week, inconvenient though that may be for a lot of colleagues. I urge Ministers to give that some thought so that we could consider, for example, the advice on working from home that is currently having a significant impact on sectors of the economy.
SI No. 1415 is permissive, for which I congratulate the Government. I welcome it, and it should avoid another pingdemic. The advice about taking a lateral flow test every seven days is sensible, but only if, of course, lateral flow tests are available. I have heard that they are not available today in my constituency and hope that Ministers will attend to the issue as best they can.
I cannot get too excited about statutory instrument No. 1400, on face coverings. The best evidence published last month in The BMJ’s meta-analysis suggested that the wearing of masks had some effect on transmission, so it is the least we can do to wear the wretched things. The measure extends the list of venues that require people to wear a mask, but as we have all seen—those of us who use public transport and shops—the prevalence of mask wearing has increased in any event, thanks to the good sense and good will of the British people. We should encourage that at all times.
Statutory instrument No. 1416, on access to venues, starts to get a bit more sticky. The Secretary of State’s workmanlike recasting of vaccine certificates as an alternative to a negative lateral flow test yesterday was very helpful, but it was not helped terribly much by the remarks attributed to the chief medical officer earlier today that seemed to suggest that protection against transmission for vaccinated people is rather less than many of us had previously hoped. That did nothing to advance the case that the Government are trying to make, but I am more relaxed about that particular SI now.
I am slightly concerned about the SI on regulated activities. If a recent negative lateral flow test is okay under SI No. 1416 and, to an extent, SI No. 1415, why is it not okay for healthcare workers? With respect to my colleagues, the difference between the BCG and hepatitis B vaccines for those in the national health service who perform exposure-prone procedures and the situation we are discussing here is that there is an alternative to demonstrate that a healthcare worker poses no threat to their patients: a lateral flow test conducted very recently. It seems to me that, given the Regulatory Policy Committee’s damning assessment of the measure and the likelihood that as a result we will lose quite a few people in a health and care system that can scarcely afford to lose people, we need to look at alternatives to keep people in, not least because even the vaccinated will feel the pressure of some of their unvaccinated colleagues leaving. This could be something of a perfect storm in the winter months, and I hope Ministers will look again at whether we can have lateral flow testing—on a daily basis if we like, as I have had when I have been jabbing—as an alternative to insisting on vaccination.
I ask Ministers please to examine the issue of quarantine hotels and the requirement to bang people up. That is completely untenable, given the change in advice. I am surprised that Treasury lawyers have not already been advising Ministers that it is not appropriate, and I suspect there will be a wall of cases if those people are kept locked up when they should be released, in accordance with Ministers’ very welcome announcement today on the red list.