Wes Streeting – 2021 Speech on Covid-19 Restrictions

The speech made by Wes Streeting, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 14 December 2021.

I begin by acknowledging that there are sincere and deeply held views on both sides of this debate and, indeed, on both sides of the House. I respect those who take a different view from the one I will be outlining on behalf of the Opposition, but we owe it to our country to have a debate worthy of the finest traditions of this House.

In the light of comments made in recent days by at least one Conservative MP comparing these measures to the situation in Germany during the 1930s, it should not be for me, as shadow Secretary of State, to point out that we are not living in the 1930s and that the Secretary of State and his team are not Nazis. On their shoulders rest the health of our nation and the responsibility to protect our NHS. Indeed, it is a responsibility we all share. They need our support, and they are owed better treatment than they have received from some on their own side in recent days and even this afternoon.

No matter how dysfunctional the Conservative party has become, the country can rely on Labour. We will act in the national interest, as we have throughout the pandemic, by putting public health before party politics and supporting the motions under consideration this afternoon. We do not do so lightly. Throughout the pandemic we have asked the British people to make big sacrifices to support the national effort against coronavirus—sacrifices that have impacted on lives, livelihoods and liberties. Whenever this House considers such measures, we owe it to the British people to explain why they are necessary. We believe these measure are a necessary response to the omicron threat, necessary to protect ourselves, necessary to protect the ones we love and necessary to protect our NHS.

We cannot yet be sure about the severity of the omicron variant, but we can be certain it is spreading, and spreading fast—faster than any other variant. Even if a smaller proportion of omicron victims are hospitalised, the rapid advance of the virus through the population could see large numbers of people admitted to hospital during the months in which the NHS is under greatest pressure. There should be no complacency about this. The winter months present the greatest pressures on the NHS in any normal year and, as we know, this is far from a normal year. The NHS is contending with winter pressures, a serious backlog, the delta variant and now the omicron variant. When people invoke the story of the boy who cried wolf, of the warnings that came before but never materialised, they should remember that, in the end, there was a wolf.

Many of the challenges facing the NHS are understandable, given the unprecedented challenges of the covid-19 pandemic, but we have to be honest and acknowledge that confronting these challenges has been made much harder because we went into the pandemic with NHS waiting lists at a record 4.5 million, 100,000 staff vacancies and 112,000 vacancies in social care. It is not just that the Government did not fix the roof while the sun was shining; they dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards.

Now the NHS is locked in a race against time: a race against the fastest variant of covid-19 we have seen to date and a race to get as many people boosted as possible before the end of this month. The Opposition support the Government in that task, and let me say on behalf of all of us in the Labour party to every NHS worker, every GP, every pharmacist, every public health official in local government, every member of our armed forces and every volunteer stepping up to meet this enormous task that we are with them 100%. If anyone can do it, they can.

John Stevenson

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the Labour party did not support mandatory vaccinations for care workers but has changed its mind for NHS workers?

Wes Streeting

I will outline our position on that, but the hon. Gentleman will have to be patient because I will come on to that later in my speech.

We need to buy the NHS and its helpers some time. The measures put forward for consideration today are an attempt to do just that by slowing the spread of the virus whilst trying to protect Christmas so that people can enjoy the festive season safely, by limiting our interactions in the workplace, by wearing face coverings in settings where the virus finds it easier to spread, by testing before we attend large indoor gatherings, and by getting behind the booster roll-out to ensure that everyone is protected.

Mr Perkins

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we are all very conscious of how important this time of year is to the hospitality sector, but does he agree that the greatest threat to the hospitality sector is not restrictions of the type that are before us today, but the sense that the virus is out of control, and widespread cancellations across the sector? So these restrictions enable the hospitality sector to survive in this really difficult time, but also enable us to take proportionate steps to ensure that the spike does not get out of control.

Wes Streeting

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, one of our primary reasons for supporting the measures for consideration today is that we on the Labour Benches support business, and we want to support it through a particularly difficult time, when normally trading would be at its busiest.

The goal in the end must of course be to learn to live with the virus. That means effective vaccination, antiviral treatments, and public health measures that have minimal impacts on our lives, our jobs and our businesses. So let me take each of the measures in turn and explain why Labour supports them, and no doubt take interventions.

First, on mask wearing, no one enjoys wearing a mask—I certainly do not, but it is nothing compared with the costs that more draconian restrictions have on our lives, livelihoods and liberties. Masks are simply a price worth paying for our freedom to go out and live our lives during this pandemic. They are proven to be effective, and not only that, but in times of rising infections, when people are feeling increasingly cautious, it is vital to our economy that people feel safe boarding a busy bus or entering a crowded theatre. In our view, the Government should never have got rid of the requirement to wear masks in those settings, but we know why they did. We have counted, in recent weeks, hon. Members on the Government Benches not wearing masks. I am glad to see that compliance has risen somewhat considerably. We know that the Prime Minister no longer has the authority to lead his own party, but I am grateful that Members on the Government Benches have at least listened to their Health Secretary.

Turning to the vaccine pass, and testing to enter nightclubs and large events, I welcome the fact that the Government have listened to representations from Labour and responded. The Labour party has argued consistently against vaccine passports and insisted on people having the option of showing a negative test. Further, we argued that such passes should not be required for access to essential services. On both counts the Government have listened and amended the proposals, and we can support the measure before us today. It is not a vaccine passport. It is, in effect, a default requirement to show a negative test to enter venues where the virus is most likely to spread, with an opt-out available to those with an NHS covid pass.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point on that. Is not the reality that if we did not introduce these measures there would be a danger that our night-time economy—pubs, venues and other events—would have to shut completely? So this pass is actually a pass for freedom to allow us to continue to enjoy activities that otherwise would be shut down, and the libertarians opposite should be welcoming it, not bemoaning it.

Wes Streeting

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Let me be clear: we in the Labour party support this approach because we support British business. This is about giving people the confidence to go out and about despite the presence of omicron.

Neale Hanvey

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. I wonder whether he shares my concern about reports over the past couple of days that there has been an absence, or a lack, of lateral flow devices to be sent out for testing. What is also alarming is the lack of support for the domestic diagnostics market and the manufacturers in this country of lateral flow devices that are much more accurate and reliable and superior to the current Government lateral flow devices. If these devices are to make a difference, we must have the best quality devices in place.

Wes Streeting

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, in order for this measure to work as effectively as we would wish, there has to be an adequate supply of lateral flow tests. I heard what the Secretary of State said yesterday about the availability of testing, but it is no good if the tests are in the warehouse; they need to be available to people where they need them, when they need them. We have had supply issues and those really do need to be resolved, not least in the light of other measures, which I will come to shortly.

Sammy Wilson

Does the shadow Secretary of State not accept that rather than giving confidence to people, these measures, and the background against which they have been introduced, have actually reduced confidence? We have predictions of 75,000 deaths and we are telling people that they cannot go to venues unless they have certain tests; the experience in Northern Ireland is that the hospitality industry has already lost millions of pounds in orders coming up to the Christmas period because people are afraid to go out.

Wes Streeting

I will say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is my understanding from dispatches from the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle)—of course, Northern Ireland is ahead of England on this—that he had a perfectly nice time out last night enjoying the best hospitality that the people of Northern Ireland have to offer. I think people are drawing confidence from this. Let me also say that we should draw on the experience of other countries. Look at countries with strict covid passport rules, such as Italy, France and Denmark; all have seen their retail and recreation sectors fare far better than those here in the UK because there has been consistency and confidence.

With passes and lateral flow tests, venues can operate at 100% capacity, punters can be confident that they are safe to attend and enjoy themselves, at this time of year the show goes on, and everyone stays in a job. Without these measures, with rising infections and more hospitalisations, we would risk seeing the Government forced to impose more draconian measures on these sectors, shutting down our cultural sector and collapsing the economy once again. I think we should be confident about this.

Let me address the tension—it is a reasonable question—in the message that people should work from home if they can but that they can go out. I make no apology for trying to safeguard social interactions between people, their families and their friends at Christmas time. I also make no apology whatsoever for supporting our hospitality industry, which has been battered by the pandemic and which enjoys our support—our confident support, our full-throated support, and our support at the table and the bar in the coming days.

Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)

Can we take it from that that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of extending the certification, or vaccine passport, to all venues?

Wes Streeting

For now, we think the Government have struck the right balance. The measure is limited to nightclubs and larger venues. However, as the Secretary of State knows, we listen to the chief medical officer, we listen to the chief scientific adviser, we listen to the scientific advisory group for emergencies, we listen to the NHS and we make decisions based on evidence. If ever the Government want to come forward with further proposals, we will consider them in a genuinely bipartisan way and we will act in what we believe to be the national interest. I do not think anyone would expect less of us.

Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)

With the covid passes, there is the option of using a lateral flow test or double vaccination. Does the hon. Member recognise that double vaccination, which many people will use, gives a very false sense of security? We know that someone can be vaccinated and still transmit. Most of the people we know getting covid at the moment have already been vaccinated. Double vaccination is not very effective, and it will give a real false sense of security.

Wes Streeting

I think the hon. Member should look at the evidence from our friends on the continent, which is that this approach not only works in giving people confidence to go out and enjoy themselves, but encourages people to take up vaccination. On that basis, I think the Liberal Democrats ought to reconsider their position.

Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)

The shadow Secretary of State has obviously spoken to lots of people and he is really concerned about transmission. Could he tell the House the Labour party’s view on how much transmission is reduced by two vaccinations?

Wes Streeting

I direct the hon. Member to the SAGE advice, which is that there is some evidence—I would not put it any stronger than that—on the reduction of transmission. As I say, our primary reason for supporting the measure is to give people the confidence to continue to access hospitality and an added incentive to take up vaccination. On both those tests, our friends on the continent have shown us a better, effective way forward. I dare Government Members to suggest that France, for example, given its history and culture, is not a country that values liberty strongly.

Let me move on, because I must make progress. For the passes to work, people must be able to access tests easily and readily. We cannot continue with the situation in which tests are out of stock and unavailable to the public who are required to take them—not if covid passes are required to work and not if close contacts of covid cases are to be able to take the daily tests required. This morning, the Government’s website showed PCR tests unavailable throughout England, and the only region where lateral flow tests are available today is the south-east. We need immediately to resolve such technical issues and the practical issues of test delivery. The measure on daily testing is the one measure that seems to have united the House in agreement, so the Secretary of State really needs to get a grip and ensure we have access to the tests we need.

On the flexibility to work from home, we have called for workers to be given that flexibility for months and we support the guidance for them to do so where possible. I have addressed the contradiction in respect of people working from home and going out to Christmas parties. We want to protect people’s ability to enjoy Christmas safely this year, which is one of the key arguments for the measure. By limiting people’s interactions at work without disrupting their ability to do their work, we thereby lower contacts and infections and hope to preserve people’s ability to go ahead with the social interactions that they cherish most at this time of year.

As the Prime Minister rather clumsily and unhelpfully tried last week to open a “national conversation” on mandatory vaccinations for the country at large, I wish to make it crystal clear that we do not support mandatory vaccinations in general. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said this afternoon—not the first time he has had to clean up the Prime Minister’s mess. We believe the vaccine is safe and effective and that everyone should choose to have it. I cannot give any stronger endorsement than to say that I have had my first two jabs and will be having my booster on Thursday. I would not take the vaccine or recommend it to others unless I believed it was safe.

I recognise that mandatory vaccination for NHS staff is a difficult issue for colleagues from all parties and in our NHS, but the NHS has asked us for it, patients want it and we are persuaded that the threat of omicron makes it even more important for staff to be vaccinated to protect themselves and to protect the public they serve.

Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)

I draw the House’s attention to my declaration, as a practising NHS doctor, in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for the consensual way he is approaching today’s debate and for the many points he has made with which I agree. On mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff, before I could train in medicine I had to have a Bacillus Calmette-Guérin injection for tuberculosis and a hepatitis injection; otherwise, I could not have practised medicine. It was about protecting my patients. It is the duty of all healthcare professionals to put their patients first, which is why it is absolutely right that they should have mandatory covid vaccinations. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Wes Streeting

I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman said. Infection control is going to be a real challenge this winter because of the nature of the omicron variant. By ensuring that the NHS workforce is fully vaccinated, we will protect not only patients but staff, who already put themselves in harm’s way enough. As the hon. Gentleman, who speaks with real knowledge and expertise, said, this is not a new precedent: NHS staff are already required to inoculate themselves against other diseases. It is a professional duty. The NHS clearly believes that the April deadline gives sufficient time to persuade the workforce to protect themselves, their patients and their loved ones without there being an exodus of staff.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

I supported the requirement for people working with vulnerable people in care homes to be vaccinated or, if they would not be vaccinated, to be removed from direct contact with vulnerable people. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me—I did not get a chance to ask the Secretary of State—whether this proposal for members of the NHS who have not been vaccinated will affect only frontline staff who interact with the vulnerable, or whether it will apply to people throughout the NHS who might have no contact with the vulnerable? That will affect the way I cast my vote today.

Wes Streeting

I hope I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that it will not be a case of saying to people, “If you don’t take up the jab, that’s it—you’re out.” There will also be the opportunity for redeployment to other roles where vaccination would not be mandatory. I hope that gives him the reassurance that he needs.

Barbara Keeley

My hon. Friend is handling his speech in just the right way. There is a balance of rights here, and patients have a right to be treated by staff who are fully vaccinated to protect them. I have a constituent who is clinically extremely vulnerable. She contacted me to say that she was not willing to go to her necessary hospital appointments once she realised that the hospital staff were not fully vaccinated. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have to think of that pretty large number of clinically extremely vulnerable people in this country?

Wes Streeting

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

We have heard the arguments in outline: this is about protecting staff and patients; it is not a new precedent; and there is a professional obligation, which makes it slightly different from the experience in the social care workforce. I will come on to talk about what the Government need to do. Those are broadly the arguments—

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Wes Streeting

If the hon. Gentleman just lets me make this point, I will certainly give way.

Those are broadly the arguments, but I would ask Members on both sides of the House to think about those NHS staff who go to work every day feeling unsafe because their colleagues are not vaccinated. If that is not persuasive enough, I ask them to think about how they would feel if a loved one were treated in a clinical setting or care home by an unvaccinated member of staff through whom they contracted covid and, with it, serious illness or worse. If I lost a loved one through serious illness in those circumstances, I am not sure that I would be very forgiving about the decisions made by Members of this House.

Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)

I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but that is not what the results of the survey of NHS staff in the healthcare and social care workforce found, which was that 55% of people in the NHS were against this proposal. How does he respond to that?

Wes Streeting

I have no doubt whatsoever that opinion in the workforce is divided. I do not dispute that, and it is divided partly because people resent the mandate. Ultimately, however, it comes down to this. It is not just about the broad arguments I have outlined or the specific cases we might be confronted with without this protection; we have to ask whether we as a House think it is acceptable for people working in health and social care, who have a duty of care to their patients, to say, “I am making a choice to put them at greater risk. I am working against the very principles that encouraged me to sign up to my vocation in the first place.” That is why, on balance, I think it is the right measure, but I will come on to talk about the way in which we need to take the workforce with us and what we need to do ahead of April.

Andy McDonald

My hon. Friend is setting out his response to these proposals with great care. On the vexed issue of mandatory vaccinations, does he acknowledge that 97% of those in my trust have been properly vaccinated and that a significant proportion of the remaining 3% are new starters making their journey towards proper vaccination? It is therefore not that clear. We have heard the responses from the British Medical Association, Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, Unite, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the GMB and the Royal College of General Practitioners, who are opposed to making vaccination mandatory and prefer persuasion to coercion. Does he not think that we should be adopting that approach?

Wes Streeting

That is a helpful intervention from my hon. Friend. Let me be clear: I absolutely acknowledge the views that have been put forward by the royal colleges and by staff trade unions. Government ought to take them seriously and work heavily with them in this next phase, where there is still a window for persuasion. I also point the Government to the success that the Welsh Labour Government have had in persuading the workforce; there is much to learn and time available, and we have to work in a spirit of partnership.

Several hon. Members rose—

Wes Streeting

I will say more about that in a just a moment, because the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), at the back, has been very patient.

Simon Hoare

I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. May I endorse and welcome what he said at the start of his speech with regard to comments about the Nazis? I called that out yesterday and he was right to do so at the Dispatch Box. I was looking through my inbox from the start of the pandemic and lockdown, and almost every person working in the care sector or the NHS in my constituency was saying, perfectly legitimately, “When the vaccine is available, we must be at the front of the queue, because we are dealing with the vulnerable and it is our duty to get vaccinated.” I do not think that has changed, and I think he is absolutely right, as is the Secretary of State, to say that those caring for the most vulnerable in society should, to try to reduce the risk that they face, be vaccinated.

Wes Streeting

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have a big effort to boost the booster this month and we have to boost the workforce as well, and make sure that people are supported.

Dame Angela Eagle rose—

Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab) rose—

Wes Streeting

This is a difficult decision—two Members from the same region—but my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), right in the corner, has been very patient, so I will give way to her. I will then come to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle).

Kim Johnson

I appreciate my hon. Friend giving way. He is making an excellent speech; however, the British Medical Association has identified some serious concerns about mandatory vaccines—the fact that we have a chronically under-staffed NHS. Does he believe that this policy is likely to have a significant impact and cause more harm than good?

Wes Streeting

That is such an important point, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it. There is a reassurance I would like to offer her and a call to action that I would like to issue to the Government. The reassurance is that there were concerns about what would happen to the social care workforce, which very much influenced Labour’s position on that statutory instrument at the time, but we did not see the collapse in the social care workforce that was warned of and there was lots of evidence that there was a positive impact on take-up.

I say to the Secretary of State and his team that if they are asking the health and social care workforce to do their duty as professionals, the Government must show greater respect to their professional voice and experience—on pay, conditions and workload. It is often said that the NHS runs on goodwill, so I would like to see the Government showing greater goodwill in return and engaging with the royal colleges and staff trade unions, not just on the plan for vaccine roll-out to their members, but on the debate about the future of our health and social care systems and the big workforce challenge.

On vaccinations, there is still precious time to do the work on persuasion. I have met the trade unions in recent days, including a great meeting with Unison yesterday—I should declare that I am a member of Unison. Unison had some really helpful advice and practical feedback about the kind of conversations with occupational health that are making a big impact in giving staff the confidence to choose to take the vaccine well ahead of the deadline. Of course we would much rather persuasion than compulsion.

Ms Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)

In St Helens, 99% of care home staff are vaccinated, and at Whiston Hospital, the best one in the country, 91% have had the first vaccine, 89% the second vaccine and 64% the booster. That has all been done with persuasion, not with the threat of the sack. These people are in a vocation. It is not just a job to them; they believe in the patients. We must not get to the stage where we are threatening people. The GPs have even been involved in persuading the care home staff. Everyone has been involved for some considerable time and that is the way to do it—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)

Order. Let me just make this clear: more than 40 people wish to speak this afternoon and if people make interventions, it is simply not fair on those at the end of the list who will be trying to speak later on. The hon. Lady is only one of many. The shadow Secretary of State is being very fair, as was the Secretary of State, in answering all the questions, but I must ask people to be reasonable.

Wes Streeting

It may have been a speech rather than an intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I thought it was a very good one, and I welcome what my hon. Friend has said.

Dame Angela Eagle

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that anti-vaxxers are using vicious and very effective psychological propaganda to upset and worry people who may be vaccine hesitant, particularly about issues with fertility, whether the vaccine is halal and all those things? Does he agree with me that the Government should do much more to counter this very vicious and damaging propaganda?

Wes Streeting

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. This comes back to the point I made about the Government engaging with the staff trade unions and the royal colleges. Whatever their policy position on having mandatory vaccination, the Secretary of State will find in them willing allies who want to help the Government to persuade colleagues to engage with them and to deal with some of these dangerous conspiracy theories that are knocking public confidence, and creating real fear and anxiety entirely without basis. When the Minister for the Cabinet Office concludes later, I hope that he will set out how the Government plan to engage and that he will give an undertaking to work with the staff trade unions and the royal colleges, because that would do so much to achieve the objectives that we all share, but also to raise morale in the workforce, who often feel that they are slogging their guts out for the Government, but do not get the hearing they deserve.

Bob Seely

The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech, and I apologise for interrupting him, but on a point of science, will he just accept that he has got it a little bit wrong? Someone having the vaccine does not stop them spreading it; it just makes it much less likely that it will harm them badly. Someone can have the vaccine and still spread it, and to imply otherwise is just wrong.

Wes Streeting

The hon. Gentleman has called repeatedly from a sedentary position that I do not know the science, but I have said nothing of any sort to contradict the points he has just made.

With respect to Conservative Members, particularly those who oppose these measures, what they are missing is that it is indisputable that the booster does provide greater protection than the first and second jabs, that vaccination—full stop—provides better protection, and that if we are talking about NHS pressures and workforce pressures, the biggest danger is that the virus sweeps through the health and social care workforce, knocks a load of people out in the middle of the busiest period for the NHS, and then the system topples over. I do not know why it has to be explained again and again to Conservative Members that the objective is to protect the NHS and to stop it toppling over at a critical time. The points about the severity of the virus and the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing transmission or serious illness are largely secondary. We know that the virus is spreading, and doing so rapidly, and we know that if it rips through the health and social care workforce, that is the biggest risk to the NHS—that is what will topple it over. Conservative Members’ constituents will not thank them one bit if they allow that to happen.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and putting his case very forcefully. On the issue of coercion versus persuasion and involving trade unions and the royal colleges in NHS managers taking the staff with them, what was not respected by the Secretary of State when he was asked about redundancies is that this is a retrospective change in people’s terms and conditions, and even people who are vaccinated will be resistant to the change being imposed upon them. We have to go forward carefully and take the staff with us. Will my hon. Friend urge the Government to work with the royal colleges and trade unions to take this forward?

Wes Streeting

My hon. Friend makes such an important point. Going back to the staff surveys, particularly given that the overwhelming majority of staff are vaccinated, it is not that they do not want their colleagues to be vaccinated, but that they have concerns about the way in which the Government are going about this. We accepted from the Government and from NHS England a very clear view that omicron has raised the stakes in this regard, which has had a big bearing on our position. It is very difficult for me and my colleagues on the Labour Benches to put ourselves in a position that is on the other side of the argument from the NHS and from the public, but the point about engagement is really important. The Government must work with and take the workforce with them. It is not good enough for us to just clap for the NHS, or clap for carers; we must work in partnership with them and respect that these are people who have given their lives to public service and caring for others. They do care. They will instinctively be on the right side, but they just need some persuasion, some patience and genuine engagement and that is where the Government have gone slightly wrong.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)

My hon. Friend started off his speech in an excellent way and has got better as he has gone through it. I say that, but I will almost certainly not be in the same Lobby as him on some of the votes this evening. There is a general point to the specific point that he is making on vaccines, which is that the Government should be clear, explicit and transparent on every issue that they raise if they want to take with them people who are not just worried about vaccines but worried about this whole affair. Repeatedly, the Government have refused to do a cost-benefit analysis on the impact of their policies. We have before us now a number of statutory instruments without impact assessments. Does he agree that that information should be available?

Wes Streeting

Let me say to my hon. Friend that, in his intervention, he started off well, dipped in the middle and then got better at the end. He made some absolutely fair points about impact assessments and transparency. In fact, I can see the Vaccines Minister waving impact assessments at me, so I am sure that she will make them available to my hon. Friend.

It comes back, as we have discussed at various points today and previously in relation to these sorts of restrictions and measures—it is how I began, and will begin to close, my contribution—to how we really cannot be complacent when it comes to public support, public compliance and public consent for the measures that we are considering. We know that we have asked so much of the British people and they have played their part. We also know that recent events have dented their trust and confidence and their willingness to comply, because they have seen No.10 saying one thing and doing another. That makes it even more important that, when we discuss measures that impact on people’s lives, livelihoods and liberties, we have these sorts of exchanges, look over the evidence rigorously, test each other’s assumptions and come to a conclusion.

With some of the exchanges that we have heard today, people across the country on both sides of these arguments can at least take some reassurance from the fact that, when these matters are under consideration, we do take them seriously. The Government could do a little better sometimes on bringing measures forward in advance of their implementation and on setting out the rationale and argument, and not just assuming that, because measures have been supported by the public previously, they will be supported today. I think we have public support for the measures under consideration this afternoon, but we should not be complacent about it. That is why it is right that we spend so much time exploring these issues.

Several hon. Members rose—

Wes Streeting

I shall take one or two more interventions and then I shall conclude.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

My hon. Friend is making a very important point: we need to make decisions on the evidence that is available. Does he agree that having the debate today and passing these measures tonight is urgent? We have heard that the doubling rate of omicron is shortening. If we are to protect the public, our families, our communities, and the NHS in the run-up to Christmas and beyond, these measures need to pass today.

Wes Streeting

I agree with my hon. Friend, and particularly in this city. The reproduction rate of this virus is shortening every day and the numbers that the Secretary of State set out in his opening remarks should concentrate minds before people walk through the Division Lobby this afternoon. Fun though it might be to see the Government in hot water and struggling in votes, it is not in the national interest and that should be the thing at the forefront of our minds.

Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one thing that will reassure Members across the House is a commitment from the Government at the Dispatch Box that, if further restrictions were to come into play, a vote will be had in this House?

Wes Streeting

I agree with the hon. Lady. I appreciate that she is a newer Member of the House but I dare say she watched our proceedings before being elected, and we cannot have spent so much time talking about parliamentary sovereignty only to then throw it out of the window in the next Parliament, so her point is well made. The shadow public health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and I have already agreed: he will bring the dinner, I will bring the pudding, and we will see if the Commons shop is doing crackers on discount if we meet over Christmas.

Finally, and seriously, we think there are areas where the Government can go further without impacting on people’s lives, livelihoods and liberties and should do so. On ventilation in schools, young people have borne the brunt of this pandemic and we owe it to them, to their education and to the staff who support them to make sure that their schools are properly ventilated. They cannot wait until October next year for a review to be published; we need action now. In winding up, can the Minister for the Cabinet Office say something about that? On jabs for young people, the Christmas holidays seem to us to be an ideal time to get young people vaccinated, so when do the Government think we can see action on that front?

Finally, on statutory sick pay, as we have heard very powerfully from my hon. Friends, there are people out there who are forced to choose between doing the right thing by their families and doing the right thing by public health because they simply cannot afford to isolate at home. So we again implore the Government to act by making sure that higher statutory sick pay is available to people immediately so that they can afford to do the right thing.

We have not played games with these votes: we are not exploiting the divisions in the Conservative party to inflict defeat on the Government for the sake of scoring political points. The threat facing the country is too serious and Labour takes our duty to the country seriously. The Tories may be in disarray but the public can rely on Labour to keep the country safe, to do the right thing and to support these measures today, and we trust the British people to do the same.