James Sunderland – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by James Sunderland, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.

Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this most important debate. Covid-19 is a devastating enemy and it is right that parliamentary time should be given to debate its causes and effects. Given that so many people remain on the frontline, I wish to pay my own tribute to key workers right across the UK and beyond who continue to serve others. I also wish to pay my respects to the families and friends of those who have been so gravely affected.

In my constituency, I have been proud to witness the superb provision of life support to those in isolation. Within Wokingham borough, the hub at St Crispin’s leisure centre has been a beacon of community spirit, and I have been privileged to deliver food to families who cannot venture out. Well done to everyone at Wokingham citizens advice bureau, Link and all the volunteers, who have done so much. In Bracknell, many others have come together to support Healthwatch ​Bracknell Forest and involve Community Services. I say thank you to them and to both Wokingham Borough Council and Bracknell Forest Council for underwriting this vital provision, and for their fiscal responsibility.

As for central Government, there has been a commendable and entirely conditions-based approach to the pandemic. The word “unprecedented” is often overplayed, but it is quite true that there is no policy precedent for covid-19 and the Government have rightly needed to feel their way on medical and scientific advice. Now is not the time for media hysteria, nor for political point scoring. Indeed, the time for a public inquiry will come and the benefit of hindsight is a powerful weapon, but it is time for an incremental approach to easing the lockdown, based upon common sense. As I stated yesterday, it is not down to the UK Government to regulate every aspect of people’s lives, nor is it for the media to seek definitive clarity on every permutation of what we can and cannot do. It is in fact for us as individuals to follow the guidelines, maintain social distancing, respect others and hence prevent further loss of life.

In the short time I have left, I urge the Government to think carefully about further mitigation in key areas. First, the decision to impose 14 days of quarantine upon entry to the UK by air will have a devastating effect on individuals, businesses, our global ambitions and the airline industry, particularly in constituencies such as mine that are closely to major airports. At a time when we need the economy to start breathing again, we must consider whether testing before or immediately after arrival will suffice, and ensure that we do not disincentivise air travel. Getting our children back into schools and our staff back into work is also essential. For our country to pay for our public services and enviable support measures, we need to re-stimulate the wealth creation that comes from a vibrant economy. Although many in the Cabinet are conflicted, it is our duty to keep people safe, while we also ease lockdown, and I believe that social distancing remains the key. If people are given the personal responsibility to ensure that the virus does not spread, we will all be able to carry on with our lives as before.

Lastly, formalised testing arrangements need to be rolled out more widely into care homes. Councils need to know whether they will be reimbursed in full for the expenditure incurred as a result of covid-19. We must find a reliable antibody test, and of course money can be no object in our exhaustive hunt for a vaccine.