Returning to a society of freedom and responsibility
Last night I voted against the Government's Plan B measures, including introducing compulsory vaccination of NHS staff, and COVID certification passports.
Writing for Unherd, earlier in the week, I asked, whether we want to live in a society where Ministers can - with no notice — impose serious, damaging restrictions on individuals instead of trusting us to behave responsibly? Do we want a society where people are judged and discriminated against by their health status?
In the debate, I also spoke about my concerns about the, as yet, non peer-reviewed modelling which was being used to call for these measures. In particular, the assumption that Omicron causes the same severity of disease as Delta, and that the length hospital stay is the same - as each day passes these assumptions become more out of date.
Public Health debate - December 14
I think most people understood that vaccination was the route back to normality. Despite the fact that 95% of adults in the UK now have antibodies—I accept that there may be some reduction in the protection from antibodies, but there is certainly no evidence for any reduction in T-cell protection—we are being asked to impose more restrictions on lives and livelihoods.
I have looked in detail at the modelling done by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. We need to be clear that they are models, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, not forecasts or predictions. They are based on some pretty major assumptions, such as that Omicron causes the same severity of disease as Delta and that the length of hospital stay is the same. Those assumptions are becoming more out of date by the day.
There is no known benefit to the measures that we are trying to implement, but there will be inevitable harms.
On working from home, we saw research last week that suggests that those working from home are 11 times more likely to experience domestic abuse. Masks sound innocuous in their own right, but they send a signal across society, including in schools, that people should panic and fear. We have already seen schools close today and say that they may not return in the new year. That 100,000 ghost children have not returned to schools since lockdown should be a warning to us of the unintended consequences of potentially small measures.
I cannot support vaccine passports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) said, they are discriminatory and segregate people. We have a proud tradition in this country of standing up for minority views, even when we do not agree with them. In the rush to get jabs in arms, we should not throw that tolerance and respect to the wind.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham about the mandatory vaccination of NHS staff. It is about not the ideology of whether people should be vaccinated but the pragmatic reality that we will lose tens of thousands of staff at a time when we can least afford it.
This is no longer really a debate about whether masks work or who should have a vaccine. It is about who we are and what kind of society we are creating for our children. Do we really care about the freedoms that we all took for granted before 2020? People roll their eyes when Conservatives and libertarians start talking about civil liberties and freedoms, but freedom is not an abstract ideology.
Freedom is what enables my constituents to see their family, comfort the dying, go to school and go to work. That is what freedom looks like.
After 20 months in and out of restrictions, we have to accept that there has been a permanent change in the understanding of what liberty is in this country, which is why I cannot support these measures.
I urge the Government to return to a society of freedom and responsibility. Our constituents deserve that and they will rise to the challenge.