Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
Many of the arguments relevant to the debate have already been eloquently made, not least by my hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Mr Baker), for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and for Bolton West (Chris Green). I shall begin with the concept of international versus domestic. I am far less concerned with vaccine passports focused on opening up borders. It is not unusual to need a host of jabs to travel to certain places, and I have happily proven my vaccination status on, for example, yellow fever when visiting Tanzania. That is right and fair, but domestic covid certificates, whether used by public services or private businesses, would be intrusive, pointless and wrong. I fear they would be tantamount to moving vaccination on to a more mandatory footing.
The World Health Organisation released a statement only a couple of months ago, saying that it was opposed for the time being to the introduction of vaccine passports. That said, there does appear to be a global push towards these restrictions on individual liberty. In my opinion, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), was right when he stated that vaccine certificates would be “discriminatory”.
I want to be clear that, when my turn comes, I will be having my jab, and I encourage everybody to have their covid vaccination when offered it. However, the vaccine passport concept would have a disproportionate impact on groups in our society where vaccine hesitancy is at its highest. We cannot allow a position where significant numbers of Britons are turned away from jobs and services on the basis of their vaccination status.
Moreover, as other hon. Members have said, some people cannot be vaccinated. There are groups that are medically advised to avoid vaccination, from pregnant women, as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) mentioned, to people with other health conditions, such as a young woman in my constituency who wrote to me, who suffers from epilepsy but is otherwise healthy. She is desperate to return to her university and continue her education. Should she not also be allowed to take part in our society?
The implication for young people at large would indeed be immense. At present, most young people have not been offered a vaccine. Vaccine certificates would result in young people facing more stringent social restrictions than others, all through no fault of their own.
Importantly, a vaccine certificate scheme may also be counterproductive, with research showing that compelling people to take vaccines does not necessarily result in the higher uptake that we all want to see. Individuals are best placed to make their own choices. I am incredibly proud of the progress the United Kingdom has made in vaccinating the population, but that should be used to set people free, not to restrict their freedoms further.
I close with this view: I fear that, should vaccine certificates become commonplace, they would inevitably expand and endure beyond the immediate challenges of this pandemic. I do not believe that should be allowed to happen.