Vaccine Passports Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Vaccine Passports

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) for the even and balanced way in which he introduced the debate. We should start with principles. The first is obviously the ethical principle that no one should be subject to any medical procedure without informed consent being given. That is not just the current law; it dates back thousands of years in medical ethics, and we should stand by it.

Secondly, we in this House should speak up loudly and clearly for progress and science. Vaccines and medicines have transformed societies and the lives of millions around the world. Look at the diseases that have been controlled, or in some cases nearly eliminated: diphtheria, whooping cough, polio—owing to our age, Sir David, we knew people who had polio, but it is incredibly rare now—measles, rubella, human papillomavirus and hepatitis. Of course, there has also been the elimination of smallpox. That is a triumph of science, and we should proclaim it loudly against the sceptics. We should also applaud it. Harold Wilson talked about the white heat of the technological revolution, and that is where we should be.

That brings us to practicalities. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) that our industry would be perfectly capable of producing secure validated certificates. I would hope, therefore, that the Government are engaging with industry on how it would produce such certificates were they to be introduced. Indeed, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency produces millions of driving licences for us every year. It is perfectly sensible, and actually imperative, for the Government to run those things in parallel. We do not have to wait, quite bluntly, for the Council of Europe, or indeed for Departments here, to decide on the ethics before pursuing the practicalities.

This is inevitable. Other countries will be opening their airports to those who are able to enter with a certificate or passport—however we describe it—and airlines will be eager to carry passengers there. The public will be keen to travel. Therefore, we need to do this in an orderly and practical manner. Also, let us not forget those who work for airlines and at airports, and the hundreds of thousands of our citizens who fear for their job—many of them have lost their job already—as well as those in the travel industry.

If we are able to produce such certificates, we should perhaps also consider domestic settings, in order to be able to get many of our industries back to work sooner rather than later. Many businesses are teetering on the brink and employees in the hospitality industry, at sports venues and in the entertainment industry—which is something we do rather well in this country, and which is one of the attractions—are worried about their job and their future. We should be backing them.

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Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I cannot give my hon. Friend many answers today, as the review has just started, but what I would say to him is that, in all of this, we have to remember that the reason why we are charting our way out of this situation is, yes, in part due to fantastic science and the success of the vaccine programme, but also that members of the public have taken care of and taken responsibility for themselves and other people. We have not legislated for that to happen; it has happened because people feel motivated to take responsibility. We have to remember in all of this that, even though we are very used to passing laws talking about enforcement and all those other things, ultimately this has been about the British public taking responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities.

I thank the hon. Member for Hartlepool for setting out at the start of the debate why this is not a call from anti-vaxxers or covid sceptics. It is not. Legitimate questions are being raised about our freedoms and the practicalities and the implications of this for people who are disproportionately affected by covid. The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the degree of control we have over decisions that may be taken in international forums. As I understand it, any international agreement would be years off; an initiative spearheaded, for example, by the World Health Organisation, would be many years down the line. We are in control of what we decide about our own borders and our own systems, but clearly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and others are talking to international counterparts to get something that makes sense and also to learn from good practice.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about those who are not able to have the vaccine. People have spoken about physical health conditions, but there are also mental health conditions. I have been speaking to people who have a severe phobia of needles and could not in any way be injected. I know that vaccine companies are looking at alternatives, but at the moment we do not have those alternatives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) spoke very powerfully, as he always does, about our freedoms. As an aside, I will say that I looked up the powerful Patrick McGoohan quote that he gave from “The Prisoner”. I have to say that my hon. Friend did not say the preceding two lines, which were:

“I will not make any deals with you”,

and,

“I’ve resigned”,

although he has used those in other debates. But he does make a very powerful case about the practicalities. Would this actually have a practical effect if we were to bring it in? He raised very important points about equality. I can confirm that those are in the terms of reference for the review. Also, I hope he will take some comfort from what Ministers have said in the past about papers for having a pint. I think that that is the approach that people want to take, but it is right that we look at these issues and look at them in a transparent way. Again, this debate will help to inform and steer the review.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Is not one of the fundamental rights the ability to work? Huge numbers of our citizens are not able to work. Many have been made unemployed. Many are teetering on the edge because their businesses are on the edge. Surely the vaccine taskforce has shown us how we can move prudently and at pace, and perhaps we need to be getting a bit of urgency into this.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those comments and, indeed, for his contribution in the debate. He is right. I think that everyone in the House, no matter which side of the argument they are on, wants people to be able to get back to those freedoms that we had perhaps taken for granted—the freedoms not just to be with our loved ones and to have a social life, but to earn a living. The cost of the last 12 months to individuals in not being able to do that has been devastating. We all understand that. That is why we want to look at all the practical measures we can to give people as much certainty as possible in future. We need to ensure that the review looks at the practicalities: what would be the upside if this were to come to pass?

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) spoke about the importance of evidence, particularly of the effect of the vaccine on transmission rates. Like other hon. Members, she also discussed pregnant women. In a week when we have been looking at how women are short-changed in a variety of ways and while many women going to job interviews still complain about questions about whether they are pregnant or planning a family, anything that put further weight on someone’s having to demonstrate why they did not have a certificate would be very disappointing indeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) focused on the importance of trust and the fact that, ultimately, trust is how we are going to get through this—we have to rely on that, rather than having so much focus on Government action. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke eloquently about the absolute issues of civil liberties and certain individuals who may be missing out—particularly those who will be vaccinated later in the programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) emphasised that we have to listen to others’ experiences and ideas. The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) raised the issue of international travel, which I have addressed, and the fact that people are more likely to be open to data being shared if there is a benefit to them from doing so. That is what we need to come back to in this review: what is the benefit to our citizens of doing this?

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, asked about employees. Again, the matter would be for individual employees. My understanding is that contracts would have to be rewritten if vaccination were to be made compulsory. On the back of his comments, I pay tribute to all healthcare professionals who are doing an incredible job in phoning up individuals who have concerns about taking the vaccine to reassure them. That is the way to do this, and a huge effort is being made to give people confidence that they can take it.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) raised the issues of evidence and transmission and of those who are highly marginalised. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) also spoke about those issues, and he and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) both spoke about the dangers of creep: if such things happen, where will it all stop? Those points have been well made and will have been heard by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) spoke about the dangers of people being coerced into taking the vaccine; I point him to the very clear statements that the Prime Minister has made on that subject—that no one should be coerced or forced to take the vaccine; it is a personal choice. Enormous numbers of people are taking it, of course, including the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), whom I congratulate on getting his. I hope it was a positive experience. He will, I am sure, have been very moved by the work that not just healthcare professionals but volunteers are doing. Good luck with the second jab!

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), the spokesman for the SNP, rightly said that the main effort needs to be the vaccine roll-out. I agree and hope that we can take a four-nation approach on these other matters. We want simplicity and consistency for all our citizens.

The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) raised a number of questions, some of which I think are answered by the terms of reference and the publication put out today. She is right that we want to have all efforts behind the vaccine programme. People are taking the vaccine because it is good for them and it is good for other people. We need to remember that that is why we are winning this battle against covid: it is personal action by our citizens, doing the right thing. I assure her that we will not let up on our public health campaigns either.

The vaccine programme continues to be successful, and I thank all who are contributing to it. We look forward to the economy’s unlocking and to getting back to what we remember as normal—whether that is being able to see loved ones, to attend a protest if we wish to, or simply to enjoy a pint in a beer garden with roses in bloom—but if we are to get back to that, we must also focus on the practical things that must happen. Hon. Members have touched on those practical and ethical issues, but I think they have also summed up the public mood: people want to get back to normal and they do not want to be told what to do. If we are going to do anything in this space, it must be of practical benefit and it must be something that the public would wish to be done.

I thank all hon. Members for contributing to the debate, which I am sure will help to shape the review. It will not be long before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be back to report on the findings.