Sir Iain Duncan Smith opposes bringing in a second lockdown before the tier system has had a chance to have an impact and calls for an urgent economic impact assessment to show what the damage will be to our economy, livelihoods, lives and people’s wellbeing and mental status.
I rise in sadness, because I simply have to say to the Government that I cannot support them today, and I want to set out the reasons why.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary—I have supported him enormously in every task he has had, and I stand behind him on most of these charges—that this is difficult; the Government face the most terrible compromise and consequences. I obviously feel for them and I want them to succeed, but we are taking arguably the second largest decision that any Government have taken since the second world war. The first was back in March. Locking down an economy plunges individuals and businesses into a terrible state of lost jobs.
We are doing this on the basis of SAGE’s advice on Saturday—it was leaked on Friday night. I thought that the leak was appalling. Whoever did it should it be sacked, strung up to dry, made to come here to apologise and grovel out the door on their hands and knees, and beaten on the way out. What they did was appalling because they bounced the Government. I would like to think that the Government would have spent their time investigating the data that was presented to them, which has subsequently unravelled in the past few days. I would have loved them to have looked at it carefully and understood it. For example, SAGE talks about reaching 4,000 deaths by December, but even Professor Whitty said yesterday:
“I think all of us would say that the rates will probably be lower than that top peak…I think there has been some rather overblown rhetoric on this.”
Well, it was SAGE’s overblown rhetoric, in case he missed the point. The reality is that that figure has turned out to be incorrect. Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London has said that he believes that the rate is now at 1, and is falling after some plateauing. There is good evidence that, across the board, the tier system is beginning to work.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not able to stay for the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—he must have been busy—but she made the point that I want to make now. As she has said previously, many of the tests were looked at before the tier system has a chance to bite. I thought that what the Prime Minister did back in October, when he chose to go for a tier system, was brave because SAGE was arguing for a circuit breaker. By the way, I hate the term “circuit breaker”. It is a euphemism that is appalling. It is not a circuit breaker, it is a business breaker and, as the Prime Minister said himself, it is a very big decision. It is a decision that damages lives, and the people who will be damaged by it will be the poorest in society, because they will lose their jobs. The loss of a job is not just an income problem. It is about self-respect; it is about status; it is what someone does. It is about how someone stands up in front of their family and shows them that they are bringing money back to the house and improving their lot.
All these measures are damaging, and I believe that this decision was not necessary now. The Government could use the tier system to ensure that we press down on covid, and evidence from all the areas we have looked at in Liverpool and the north-west shows that levels of the disease are beginning to come down. I believe that further such pressure would work. All the data that are now unravelling do so on the basis that, as we move into a full lockdown, the damage to the economy will be enormous. I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether we may now urgently have an economic impact assessment to show what the damage will be to our economy, livelihoods, lives and people’s wellbeing and mental status, and I will oppose these measures tonight.