Graham Stringer – 2021 Speech on Covid-19 Restrictions

The speech made by Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, in the House of Commons on 14 December 2021.

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was trying to help you with the intervention by withdrawing from the list, but I am grateful to be on top of the list for the Labour Benches.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) the Leader of the Opposition when he says that the Prime Minister is a threat to public health. I think that that is absolutely right. I draw a different conclusion from my hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench on how we should respond: not by being irresponsible but by taking a look at the way the Government have dealt with the whole of the covid crisis from the very beginning to what they continue to do.

I am a member of the Science and Technology Committee. Together with the Health and Social Care Committee we produced a 150-page report. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members have had the time to read it. They may not agree with its conclusions, but it contains very valuable information. The key point, which a lot of the press missed, was not that the Government followed the science on the issue but that they got into a groupthink with the scientific advisers and did not challenge them. They assumed that science was something handed down on tablets of stone, whereas it is not. It is a process and it needs challenging by those of us who have responsibility in this House for making laws and policies, and by other scientists. We seem to be repeating that process.

My Committee had as a witness this morning Susan Hopkins. Let me say that at best—if I can use a word somebody else used—the advice we were getting from her as an adviser was opaque. The information we were getting was opaque when it should be transparent. This time last week, the Deputy Prime Minister stood up and said there was no plan to go to plan B. Some 36 hours later, we were starting plan B. Why was that? What was the scientific advice given?

We were told fairly definitively that no such advice was given to change the view. What changed the view was that the Prime Minister was in a state of crisis and under pressure from his own Back Benchers and everybody else. That is not a sensible way to make decisions. It is not a sensible way to make decisions to put forward statutory instruments that say—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) was waving a sheet about, which may or may not have been the impact assessment—that no impact assessment has been done.

Mr Steve Baker

I have in my hand the impact assessment for vaccination as a condition of deployment in health and care providers—I was not able to get in earlier. I feel confident that the Front Benchers will know that the estimate is that 88,000 people will leave the health sector, 73,000 will leave the NHS, 15,000 will leave the independent health sector, and 35,000 workers will leave domiciliary care. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is reason enough to vote against imposing this on the nation?

Graham Stringer

That is very interesting. It is also interesting that papers circulated by the Vote Office said there was no impact assessment. That does not impress me.

The point I was just about to make—I do not know if other hon. and right hon. Members have noticed this—is that the 355-page Act passed at the start of the epidemic, the Coronavirus Act 2020, is barely being used. The Government could have used the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to bring in some of the restrictions that they have placed—maybe necessarily, maybe unnecessarily—on people’s freedoms. The difference between the 2004 Act and the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 is quite simply that much less scrutiny is available under the latter. Once regulations are passed, if there is not a sunset clause, they last. The Government should not be rewarded for unnecessarily using tough authoritarian legislation when other legislation was available that would have allowed more scrutiny.

The Government have refused to give information. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) began his speech by saying that different people have different views and weigh the factors of civil liberties and health in different ways. That is absolutely right, but the Government will not tell us the costs and benefits of their policies. We now know that three quarters of a million people have failed to be tested for cancer. This is not a win-win situation. Cancer patients who are yet to be tested will eventually die because of the decisions being taken, because services are not available; some people will die of covid.

To come to the right decisions, this House needs all the information available, but it is not coming from the NHS and it is not coming from Government Ministers. That is why I will not give the Prime Minister the benefit of my support for the way he has arranged to respond to this covid crisis.