Miriam Cates MP responds to queries about Dominic Cummings
Following receipt of a number of emails about the Prime Minister’s adviser, Mr Dominic Cummings, and his movements between 27th March and 14th April - I recognise and understand that many people feel a great sense of anger at this situation. We have all done our best to follow the law and guidelines to play our part in protecting our communities, and this has required great personal sacrifice.
We all have to make our own conclusions about what Mr Cummings did, but as a Member of Parliament I have also taken seriously my job to pass on the feelings of my constituents to the Government - and this is something that I will continue to do.
So many of us here in Penistone and Stocksbridge have made huge sacrifices over the last ten weeks. We are enduring hardships that we never thought we would have to face, and I know we are all desperate to see loved ones again. It is absolutely right that those who are responsible for making the rules abide by them, and I fully understand why reports that Mr Cummings may have broken the lockdown rules have provoked anger and hurt in so many.
I therefore welcomed the decision for Mr Cummings to make a full statement to the public to explain his actions at a press conference in Downing Street on the afternoon of Monday 25th May. In the statement, Mr Cummings gave an extensive account of his wife’s illness, his fear that he too would become ill, his worries for the safety of his child, his decision to travel North to Durham and his movements whilst there. I will not repeat the full details here; the statement is widely available online and I would encourage people to watch it in full.
Having listened to Mr Cummings’ statement and carefully considered the facts as we know them, I want to set out why I believe that he did not break the law or the guidelines.
During the ‘lockdown’ it has always been the case - even before restrictions began to be eased - that there are four allowable reasons for leaving your home.
- To go shopping for essential items,
- To go to work if you can’t work from home,
- For exercise,
- For medical reasons or to care for vulnerable people.
These four exceptions have been repeated regularly throughout the lockdown, and I have advised many constituents with specific personal queries about in which situations they may go to work, care for vulnerable people and make essential journeys.
We have heard the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer repeatedly urging people to leave their homes if they need medical attention and the Home Secretary telling people they may leave home if they face threats of violence.
The day after lockdown began, Jenny Harries, the Deputy CMO said:
‘Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance’
And I draw your attention to the legislation enacted on the March 26th around ‘the reasonable excuses’ for leaving your home which include:
‘to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care […], to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;’
‘If you have children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.’
Mr Cummings made clear that he left his London home because he believed he would be unable to safely look after his small child if he too became ill, and that he returned to London because he falls into the category of a ‘critical worker’ who cannot work from home. In this way, I am satisfied that Mr Cummings did not break the guidelines.
The Durham Police Constabulary confirmed that Mr Cummings did not break the law in making his journey to Durham to self-isolate. They advised that he might have made a minor infringement in travelling to Barnard Castle, but that they would be taking no further action because, in doing so they would be treating him differently to anyone else and that would be wrong. Most importantly they considered any possible infringement to be minor as social distancing measures were noted to have been followed throughout.
There are several other points that bear some consideration.
Mr Cummings’ wife became very sick, but she did not display a high temperature or persistent cough and at no point did she test positive for COVID-19. When the family travelled up to Durham, it was not the case that they were breaching ‘isolation’ rules, because these rules apply to people with COVID-19 symptoms, and because Mr and Mrs Cummings were reasonably making plans for the safe care of their son.
No social contact
One of the criticisms of Mr Cummings is that many people in this country have not been able to spend time with their families, or even attend funerals because of the restrictions imposed, and that Mr Cummings somehow felt that he was above these guidelines. However, Mr Cummings made clear that he stayed in a separate property and had no close contact with any members of his extended family in Durham, and the only interaction was shouted conversations from some distance. You will be aware that it has always been the case that anyone may take supplies and medicines to the home of a family member during the lockdown, and I know many constituents across Penistone and Stocksbridge have been supporting family and friends in this way. In the same way, Mr Cummings sought essential practical support from his extended family during the time of his illness; he has made clear that this was in no way a social visit and he did not attend the funeral of his uncle, who had recently died with COVID-19.
Reducing transmission of COVID-19
The principle behind all the guidelines has been to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Mr Cummings sought to minimise the chances of transmitting the virus, for example by not stopping during the drive from London to Durham, by having no physical interaction with those outside his household, by not leaving his family’s property whilst symptomatic and by making sure that, if emergency childcare was required for his four year old son, this would be provided by his 17 year old niece, someone who would be at extremely low risk from the virus given her age.
Rights of parents
In the UK, we have a fundamental understanding that parents have legal responsibility for the welfare of their children, and the right to protect them within the law in the way that they see fit. No one, whatever their job, should have to surrender these rights and responsibilities. We are in a dangerous position if we seek to make judgements about how other people should look after their own children and criticise their actions without knowing the full facts and understanding the circumstances. Not many of us can know how it feels for your family home to be a regular target for violence and protests and so we should be careful before passing judgement on how a parent should best act in the interests of their child’s welfare in this situation.
I appreciate that Mr Cummings is a controversial individual and there have been repeated, and inaccurate, stories in the press about him over recent months. Some of these inaccurate stories, for example about police warnings, repeated visits and asking elderly parents for help – all of which appear to be false – have sadly stirred up peoples’ anger and frustration. I also understand that this is a time of stress, strain and hardship for all of us and the suggestion that someone might think themselves above the rules that we are all working so hard to follow is difficult to bear.
Mr Cummings is not above the rules – none of us are – but he should also not be judged more harshly than anyone else.
In my maiden speech in the House of Commons, which seems like a lifetime ago on 11th February, I talked about the need to heal divisions in our nation. I said:
‘The vast majority of us want to make this nation a better place for everyone who lives here. We may disagree – sometimes passionately - about how that should be done, but if we can respect each other’s motives, leave the labels behind, be slow to judge and quick to forgive, then the healing will begin.’
Threat of violence
Mr Cummings and his family have had repeated threats of violence at their London home, putting their personal safety under threat. No one, whatever their job, or political affiliation, should have to face this kind of harassment, and I understand why Mr Cummings reasonably believed that his sick wife and young child would not be safe at home if he also became ill (and he did indeed become very ill). As a parent myself, I cannot imagine what it would feel like for my family home to be a target for violence and protests, and I will always defend the rights of parents to take whatever action within the law that is necessary to protect their children. Some of the complaints against Mr Cummings centre around a belief that he faced the same conditions as everyone else during the pandemic. But anyone who has viewed footage of aggressive reporters outside his family home and seen that his parents’ Durham home has now also become a target will understand that Mr Cummings faced and continues to face exceptional circumstances that most of us will never experience.
Different people may disagree passionately with Mr Cummings’ politics, and others may have acted differently if their families had faced similar circumstances to his. But I respect Mr Cummings’ motives, and, in all this, I believe that he was guided by love and care for his family. From Mr Cummings’ statement, I believe he tried hard to protect the wider public, that he acted reasonably and legally, and that he took seriously his responsibilities as a parent.
I fully understand that you may not agree with my assessment, which I have taken time to arrive at, but I hope that the above explains why I have reached this conclusion.
Miriam Cates MP