I wanted to explain why, with a heavy heart, I backed the new measures on exiting “lockdown 2” by implementing an updated Tiered system from December 2nd. Having listened to the debate, read and digested the options, attended a call with the Prime Minister this evening alongside my colleagues, whilst also weighing up all the relevant factors and evidence, as well as the wide-ranging thoughts and concerns of constituents, I believe it is the most viable way to push through the tricky next two Winter months ahead to continue to control this pandemic, whilst allowing as many businesses and sectors to reopen and support trade while enabling schools to continue.
The recent lockdown has proven to be a helpful and successful tool, with our national infection levels falling and the R rate now back below 1. The Government promised to end this lockdown on December 2nd and has fulfilled that promise, despite unjustified scepticism from the Opposition benches.
The Prime Minister, in his opening statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, stated “the national measures which are now shortly ending in England have eased the burden on the NHS and begun to reverse the advance of the virus. Today, the R is back below 1 and the ONS survey is showing that signs of the infection rate are levelling off and Imperial College London has found that the number of people with Covid has fallen by a third in England since 2nd November. But while the virus has been contained, it has not been eradicated. The latest ONS figures suggest that out of every 85 people in England, one has Coronavirus; far more than in the Summer between 24th November and yesterday, 3,222 people across the UK lost their lives... so we can’t simply allow the current restrictions to expire for the reason he gives with no replacement whatever. With the spread of the epidemic varying across the country, there remains a compelling case for regional tiers in England and indeed Mr Speaker a compelling necessity for regional tiers.” For the full statement to the House, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-ministers-statement-to-the-house-of-commons-on-coronavirus-regulations-1-december-2020
The full debate on Tuesday can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-12-01/debates/27DE3E44-807A-4596-AD7C-946314AC3E2A/PublicHealth
The current scientific advice is, while the previous tiers reduced the R rate, they were not quite enough to bring R below 1, which is critical. The tiers therefore need to be strengthened. These tiers are designed to keep the R below 1 and therefore allow areas to move down the tiers, rather than simply escalate as the epidemic grows. Applying a tiered system through smaller areas, ie based on local districts, is not currently feasible, particularly in urban areas and cities – where people cross between district areas daily. But smaller areas will be looked at within these next two weeks.
My colleague, the Health Secretary Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, made a deeply passionate speech in the House of Commons this evening following his own step-grandfather dying of Covid-19 last month after catching the virus in Liverpool, saying “this means more to me than I can say... my step-grandfather Derek caught coronavirus in Liverpool and on 18 November he died. We've lost a loving husband, a father and a grandfather to this awful disease. So from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you to everyone in Liverpool for getting this virus under control. It's down by four-fifths in Liverpool. That's what we can do if we work together in the spirit of common humanity. We've got to beat this, and we've got to beat this together."
Fortunately, West Sussex is now towards the lower end of the criteria used to determine which Tier areas are in. If we all continue to do our best to follow the rules, as everyone has continued to do so brilliantly over the course of this terrible year, we could be looking to move into Tier 1 sooner rather than later, with a vaccine roll out imminent.
This Government chose not to employ a short, 2-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown and was widely criticised by the Opposition benches for weeks. However, having seen the situation in Wales, which is returning to stricter measures this weekend, this has vindicated the Government’s decision on this – which the Opposition have failed to acknowledge.
If we had followed the Opposition’s advice earlier in Autumn, we would perhaps be facing a full lockdown over December, which would signal even more pain for businesses and livelihoods across all sectors, who often rely on the increased trading we see in the weeks before Christmas.
This has been a truly horrific year for so many and no Government or MP would ever wish to be in the deeply unpleasant position we faced, with no easy options.
The Leader of the opposition, the Rt Hon Sir Keir Starmer MP, has chosen ‘to sit this one out’ by ordering Labour MPs to abstain, despite many Labour MPs saying they support a return to a tiered approach which will save lives and support our local NHS. It is hugely irresponsible to abstain from a vote this important and will risk undermining the national effort to beat this virus. The Opposition are sitting on their hands and refusing to offer real alternative solutions.
Looking forward, I was very pleased to see the recent announcements concerning the success of vaccine trials, particularly following the announcement about the effectiveness of the UK-based, and Government backed, Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine. We have secured access to 355 million vaccine doses already and once we can start rolling vaccinations out, the need for these localised restriction will gradually reduce and we can return to normality. This is the vital next push.
I recognise you may not agree with me, the PM and the Government in this stance. We are all desperate to get back together as soon as possible and rebuild the country’s prosperity. I believe these measures will help us to achieve that aim and not let us lose the progress we have made. We must work as a Government non-stop to move forward beyond these difficult times. We must keep our resolve and then we can enter the lighter days of the new year and begin rebuilding our economy knowing our sacrifices where not in vain and our NHS services have been protected and supported. Once we have achieved this, our families, loved ones and friends are able to come back together - we as a Government can then focus again on our wider priorities we were elected on 1 year ago.
I thank you for your understanding, forbearance and patience. I truly hope we can return to tier 1 in two weeks.
The following support is being provided to businesses across ALL tiers:
- Extending furlough until the end of March for all parts of the United Kingdom.
- More support for self-employed people across the United Kingdom. Increasing support to the self-employed from 40 per cent of trading profits to 80 per cent for November, December and January.
- Extending the application deadline for loan guarantee schemes
- Temporarily increasing Universal Credit.
- Providing a £500 payment to support those on low incomes who have been asked to self-isolate.
- Business premises legally forced to close, either under local or national restrictions, can receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month in England.
- £1.1 billion will also be provided to Local Authorities to enable them to support businesses which are not forced to close but are facing reduced demand due to the new national restrictions.
- Offering a 12-month business rates holiday for eligible businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, as well as nurseries, estate agents and bingo halls, will pay no businesses rates for 12 months, from 1 April 2020.
For those in tier 2, the following support is available:
- Providing grants of up to £2,100 a month for businesses in hospitality, leisure and accommodation sectors. These cash grants are designed to help businesses not forced to close but find themselves severely impacted by tier two rules.
- Providing grants of up to £3,000 a month for pubs and bars unable to offer a substantia meal.
- Councils will receive £2 per head of their population per month from the Contain Outbreak Management Fund.
For those in tier 3, the following support is available:
- Supporting businesses forced to close with grants of up to £3,000 a month. Business premises which are legally forced to close, either under local or national restrictions, can receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month in England.
- Providing additional public health funding to councils. Councils will receive £4 per head of their population per month from the Contain Outbreak Management Fun