This is a difficult time. I know that. I have tried to help as many people as possible through the challenges we’ve all faced. And I have listened carefully to many people who’ve written to me with their concerns over recent days, weeks and months. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but I’m always willing to listen.
Indeed, I share the grave concerns many of you have about imposing further, tough, national measures – given the economic and emotional hardship already caused by this deadly virus. Like you, I backed the ‘local lockdown’, tiered approach, requiring strong local action and leadership to help our nation through. I hoped this would mean that, in Hampshire, we could all get back to some sense of certainty and, maybe even, normality. Sadly, this has not been the case.
Unfortunately, we’ve all seen some of the scenes in areas that were meant to be in the highest tier, with the most restrictions. By comparison, it is no surprise to any of us that we have one-sixth the coronavirus rates of other parts of the country. A tiered approach worked for us. For now. For, in a matter of weeks, our unseen adversary may well have found its way down the highways and byways of Britain, trying to catch us out.
I am a believer in personal responsibility. And I believe that man has pooled personal sovereignty for generations for one core purpose – to keep us safe. That was, is, and will remain the first duty of government.
Eagle-eyed observers, with elephant-like memories, will recall that I have never been afraid to speak my mind in Parliament. I have never been constrained in the way I vote. In the last two Parliaments, I have rebelled countless times. I did so because I did not believe that certain policies were to the betterment of you, Hampshire, or our great country.
And it is in that same vein that I tell you now, that HM Government deserves our support today. Other sceptics share this view; on reflection, many of you may too.
You will have seen that the data has been subject to much more rigorous scrutiny than last time by various Members of Parliament from Greg Clark to Steve Baker. Mr Clark is Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, which took the time to scrutinise the data publicly; Mr Baker went to Downing Street with three scientists who were critical of the ‘lockdown’, in order to interrogate the data fully, and neither he nor they could refute the science, though I know he has suggested that he may still not vote for these tough new measures.
The point I’m making is that neither Parliamentarians nor Cabinet takes these decisions lightly – we will only enact restrictions because, in our judgement, on balance, we only do so when we believe it is necessary. The conclusion of the Cabinet is that unless we act now, we could see double the number of deaths – or more – over winter, compared with the first wave. Of course, we all hope to crush this second wave but, faced with these figures and armed with all the evidence, the Cabinet’s collective judgment is that no alternative but to take further action at a national level. As a result, on this occasion, I will be supporting the new measures.
It will help make sure that hospitals, like ours here in north Hampshire, aren’t overwhelmed – and that patients can still receive amazing care from our dedicated doctors and nurses. To ease the pressure on business and individuals, HM Government is stepping up again – the furlough scheme is to be extended; more money is to be given to local Councils to protect the vulnerable; and schools, colleges and universities are to be shown support so that our children still get the education they deserve.
Coronavirus is an ever-changing landscape, so it is only right that HM Government continues to review its policies and decisions and respond to the needs of the British people. Parliament will continue its work to scrutinise legislation.
And I will continue to work hard for you.