It is very difficult to ignore these calls from senior leaders in the opposition parts of Parliament. The question is how will the Government stop arguing for different approaches and start collaborating with these people so that our nation gets into a much stronger position for the very near future. Inevitably these are not the full set of issues that were raised yesterday but they are some of the vital aspects. The first paragraph refers to what has gone wrong so far.
Keir Starmer: In the first wave of the pandemic, the Government were repeatedly too slow to act, and we ended 2020 with one of the highest death tolls in Europe and the worst hit economy of major economies. In the early summer, a Government report called “Preparing for a challenging winter” warned of the risk of a second wave, of the virus mutating and of the NHS being overwhelmed. It set out the preparations the Government needed to take, and I put that report to the Prime Minister at PMQs in July. Throughout the autumn, track and trace did not work. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advised a circuit break in September, but the Prime Minister delayed for weeks before acting. We had a tiered system that did not work, and then we had the debacle of the delayed decision to change the rules on mixing at Christmas. The most recent advice about the situation we are now in was given on 22 December, but no action was taken for two weeks until Monday of this week.
He goes on to talk about the impact on people in businesses and the impact on people on very low incomes and then he touches on the issue for people impacted by education.
Keir Starmer: We all recognise the huge damage that closing schools will cause for many children and families, but Prime Minister knew that closures might be necessary, so there should have been a contingency plan. Up to 1.8 million children do not have access to a home computer and 900,000 children live in households that rely on mobile internet connections. Can the Prime Minister tell us when the Government are going to get the laptops to those who need them? He has spoken about the 50,000 delivered and the 100,000 more, but 1.8 million children do not have access to a home computer, so real urgency is needed as we go into the coming weeks. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about telecoms companies cutting the cost of online learning. It is vital that they do so. I am assuming that will happen straightaway, because we cannot delay.
Sadly the response is
Boris Johnson: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who made some sensible points, in addition to some slightly party political ones. On the political points, it is worth remembering that the waves of coronavirus we have seen across western Europe in the last few weeks we are also seeing here, with the additional pressure of the new variant of the virus. Most people understand that….The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about laptops and devices, and quoted a figure of 50,000. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will make a statement later about what we will do to support teachers and pupils.
Later on Caroline Lucas asks a question and sadly there is no meaningful response to that issue either.
CL: It is extraordinary that, yet again, the Prime Minister did not say a word about the Government’s test, trace, isolate and support system. Vaccination and lockdown are essential tools but they do not replace the need to trace infections and isolate cases to help break the chain of transmission. It is an enduring scandal that we still do not have an effective contact tracing system, despite a whopping £22 billion being thrown at private companies and consultants, so will the Prime Minister fix it, including by ensuring that people can afford to self-isolate if they have to? Will he increase statutory sick pay and widen the eligibility criteria so that the nearly 2 million people locked out of it can finally benefit? Will he increase the value of support payments and offer hotel accommodation if people need it?
BJ: We have increased the support for those who are self-isolating and, obviously, have increased the penalties for those who fail to do so when they are asked to by Test and Trace. It is an absolutely vital part of our fight against the disease. What it has done, which I think people do not appreciate, is that it has actually allowed this country to have an incredibly detailed understanding of where the disease is and what kind of disease we are fighting. The UK is actually conducting 47% of all the genomic tests in the world to establish what is going on with the coronavirus and all its mutations, so NHS Test and Trace is a remarkable advance. Is it perfect? Of course it is not, but it is also indispensable to our fight against the disease, as is, of course, people’s self-isolation when they are contacted—you must self-isolate.
We clearly need more connection between these people so that the way that our nation is assisted will benefit from their understanding.