A year after the lockdown, may I begin by thanking people in my constituency? Of course, I thank the core workers, whom we recognise so often, in the NHS and in education, but also those on the supermarket tills, public sector transport workers and those who have been delivering to our homes and who have kept our lives going. They do not always get the mention they deserve. I also thank the community groups and volunteers who have silently and often invisibly managed to keep our communities afloat. Above all else, I thank the men, women and children in all our constituencies who have forgone the basic human pleasures of family and friends and made sacrifices to keep the rest of us safe—very unlike, I have to say, the selfish, reckless and self-indulgent individuals who were rioting close to my constituency, in Bristol, last weekend.
I would be dishonest if I did not say that I resent having to vote for a six-month extension to these rules, given that they are out of step with the lockdown path set out by the Government. However, I also accept that we have no alternative, given the legislative position in which we find ourselves, so I will support the Government today. After looking back on how we have handled this, including the legislative elements, we need to ensure that, when the same or a similar situation happens in the future, we do not allow such long periods for the Government to hold emergency powers without the House of Commons being able to regularly review them. A six-month period where the Government have such powers is out of step with our constitutional conventions in this country. It is certainly out of step with what I regard as the principles of conservatism to allow the Government that leeway, so I hope that will change.
There has been a lot of talk about the concept of passports. I will say something briefly about that. In international travel, we are all used to the concept that we cannot cross a border without having immunisation. That is a perfectly reasonable thing for any country, including the United Kingdom, to want to do. It is when it comes to domestic issues that I think there is a real problem. Were the Government to try to compel individuals to carry some proof of either immunity through vaccine or a negative test, that would be completely unacceptable in a country where civil liberties are held so highly and are so prized. However, we as Conservatives should be careful not to constrain the private sector in how it chooses its customers. If companies—whether airlines or pubs—choose to have particular customers in particular ways, that is up to them. I would not like a Conservative Government to intervene in the freedom of the private sector to choose its customers. We cannot pick and choose which freedoms to protect and which to disapply.
On the concept of a third wave, it is not a third wave; it is a continuing wave. If a population does not have immunity to a particular pathogen, it will continue to spread until community immunity increases, either through vaccination or because of recovery from infection.
We have to ensure that we do better globally. We have not done well, as a global community, on this pandemic. We have mrNA technology, which should make it much quicker for us to deal with any emerging pathogens, yet we have a global pandemic disaster on our hands. We have to recognise that, if we are going to do better in the future, we have to have global protocols. However, we cannot have global protocols without global metrics—and we cannot even decide exactly how to measure the number of people who have died from the pandemic. We have a long way to go and, when we look at how we handled it, we need to look at how we handled it as an international community. A global pandemic requires global solutions.