Antony Higginbotham – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Antony Higginbotham, the Conservative MP for Burnley, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

Let me start by thanking all the staff at Burnley hospital, and our carers, for their incredible dedication, as well as the volunteers of Burnley Together, and other groups who continue to support those who need it most. Through this period we have seen the incredible fortitude and generosity of the British people, and businesses up and down the country, including in my constituency, have stepped forward and played their part in manufacturing what we need.

One sector that has been particularly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is the travel sector. Airlines have seen their business models collapse, and I warmly welcome the action taken by the Government so far, which has undoubtedly saved millions of businesses and jobs. I ask that they keep an open mind about any additional support for airlines that might be required, and look at measures provided in the United States as an example.

When travel restrictions are lifted and the global economy starts to tick over once more, this country will rely on the trade deals currently being negotiated by the International Trade Secretary in order to bounce back. ​For that to work, we must have the links needed to keep goods and people moving. I mention the travel sector to talk not only about airlines, but about the wider supply chain. As many Members of the House will know, Burnley and Padiham make up one of the northern areas at the centre of advanced engineering and manufacturing, supplying the components needed to build aircraft, and the engines that power them. Sadly, one of the largest local employers in my constituency has just announced more than 200 job losses, reflecting the deteriorating outlook for the aviation sector over the medium term, with airlines holding on to their existing fleet. Those jobs are high skilled, highly paid, and vital to keeping the UK at the cutting edge of manufacturing and engineering. They are jobs that Burnley, which had a higher claimant count than the national average before this crisis, desperately needs.

My ask to the Government is for any policy decisions that could have unintended consequences to be considered holistically. The 14-day quarantine for international arrivals will definitely have some merit for some countries for a short period, and the Government have my support. As a blanket policy, however, it will only kick the aviation sector when it is already down. The job losses that could follow will ripple through the entire supply chain.

With a clear, sustainable strategy of test, track and trace, such measures can be limited to dealing with an initial spike or specific hotspot areas, and not as a long-term solution. For test, track and trace to be effective, though, we need to get testing to a sufficiently significant scale, in terms of both the number of tests available and the number of test centres that exist to deliver them. That is how we can ensure that capacity is always hit. I encourage all Members to read South Korea’s playbook on how it flattened the curve there and developed a test, track and trace system. There, testing is done not only en masse, but also in small K-Walk-Thru booths, rapidly increasing how many people can get tested because it can be done closer to home. That is a model that could also be deployed in airports.

For track and trace, the development and deployment of the NHS app will be critical, and it can easily be mandated at entry ports to the country, to help to ensure that our approach is sustainable in the long term. I know that the Government are looking at both options for the tracing app, with the one currently being trialled reliant on a central database instead of taking a decentralised approach. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but whichever method is chosen, it is vital that it is chosen quickly, because any delay in selecting a model and getting the app out there, or any change further down the line, will only delay when we can start to adapt to our own new norm.

Let me finish by paying tribute to the enormous amount of support already put in place by—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. I am sorry, Antony, we have to leave it there.