It was great to hear the Prime Minister say today that the Government’s policy will continue to be based on data, not dates. It would have been wrong to give in to those who wanted a premature lifting of restrictions on the basis of the calendar rather than the available scientific data, but it would also be wrong to continue unnecessarily with restrictions if the data said that it was safe to lift them. If data is right in one direction, it has to be right in the other. I hope that there will be sufficient flexibility in the mechanism that the Government have set out today to respond more quickly should the data continue to improve.
The strategy has always been clear. It has not been to drive covid deaths down to zero, because that would be ridiculous and out of step with everything we know about medical science and historical experience; it has been to stop the medical services becoming overwhelmed. As we see greater levels of immunisation, with a reduced risk of that happening, I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General that that is the No. 1 basis on which we should make decisions.
Our vaccine results continue to be terrific. It is one of the best cases we can make for the Union of the United Kingdom that we have been able to buy and distribute vaccine across the whole country in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. There must be a lot of egg on a lot of Euro faces tonight, given the information we have about the AstraZeneca vaccine. It would perhaps be a source of some amusement even in this House, were it not so serious, that the idle chatter and uninformed comments from senior European politicians will undoubtedly have cost lives.
We should be trying to get a vaccine dividend for the British people, given the success of our vaccine programme, to get back as quickly as we can to normal.
The NHS will face staffing issues, as we have to deal with not only the new vaccines but the second doses of vaccine at the same time, and I would like to hear from the Minister how we will deal with that. It is right for us to share vaccine with the developing world. It is not a case of altruism. In a world that is interconnected and interdependent, the longer the pandemic goes on, the more variants we will see, and therefore it is in our mutual self-interest to deal with it.
Finally, it is time to get Parliament back. The mechanisms we have had are better than no Parliament, and Mr Speaker and his staff deserve credit for that, but if it is good enough to get the schools as institutions back, it is good enough to get Parliament back. Three-minute monologues that are uninterruptible are not the same as the robust debate that we need.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will give way, almost reluctantly, to my hon. Friend.
Being in Parliament gives the opportunity for individuals to intervene in debates and have a more rigorous debate on these issues. Is that not a benefit to being here?
Proving the point that show is always better than tell, my hon. Friend is exactly right. We have to not just hold the Government to account on the issues of the day but have genuine debate in Parliament about the whole range of issues that will become live once we start to get complete control over the covid pandemic.
It is time that we set out a programme for immunisation in Parliament for Members, Members’ staff, our security staff, the catering staff and even the Lobby. On that subject, I am more than happy to volunteer my services, if for no other reason than I have always believed it is fine to mix business with pleasure.