Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
I refer Members to the declarations that I have made in relation to the covid recovery group.
“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own”—
I quote, of course, from the popular 1967 drama “The Prisoner”. It seems to me that nothing has changed in some people’s desire to treat us as commodities to be managed by the state, yet what has changed is the availability of technology to make it so.
I am very grateful to my constituents who have written to me about this matter. We have had a prior debate on this subject, or at least a debate in which I raised this subject, and I thought that the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), had ruled out vaccine passports. I am very grateful, therefore, to have this opportunity to hear from the Minister at this stage in the review through this petition, and I am grateful to the petitioners.
I also thank Big Brother Watch, which has provided a very helpful brief, with nine reasons why covid passes must be stopped. I will briefly race through as many as I can squeeze in. First, they will be unnecessary due to the availability of effective vaccines. Indeed, the Government’s amazing success in rolling out vaccines means that those most vulnerable to covid-19, and soon anyone who wants and is medically eligible for a vaccine, will have a high level of protection from the virus. That means that hospitalisations and deaths associated with covid will fall drastically, and overbearing controls on society will not be justified.
I know that the Government are now looking at covid status certificates, which bring into play the issue of mass testing. Of course, the ground has been sown with salt on the issue of false positives, I am sorry to say, often by some apparently eminent people who lamentably neglected the practical evidence from hospitals of real people with real disease, so I hesitate to bring up the issue. But it has to be said that, as we reach an era of low prevalence of the disease, if we carry out mass testing on asymptomatic people, the issue of false positives will undoubtedly be relevant. We need to hear from the Minister what she is going to do to ensure that people who test falsely positive with lateral flow tests, and indeed PCR—polymerase chain reaction—tests, do not end up deprived of their liberty unnecessarily. We very much need to hear from the Government about that.
Of course, vaccine passports would be discriminatory. They would have the effect of socially and economically excluding people who have not had either a vaccine or a recent test result. It is of course unlawful under equality law to discriminate against people with protected characteristics, including age, disability, pregnancy, religion or belief—I underscore belief. I shall have my vaccine when I am offered it, but there will be various people for various reasons who will choose not to do so.
Effectively making vaccines mandatory by implication through covid status certification could be counter-productive. The evidence from across Europe shows that if people feel compelled to take vaccines, it puts them off. It would implement, of course, a checkpoint society. It would mean passes for the pub—if you want your pint, Sir David, you will have to show your papers. I did not think that is the society that we wished to live in. A surveillance state would be instituted. There would be mission creep. Passes would be irreversible and divisive, and of course they would infringe on the autonomy of the individual. I lament that I do not have time to go through each of those points in detail, but I will certainly provide the brief to the Minister afterwards.
I want to finish with another quote from “The Prisoner”—something that I ask people advocating for these certification regimes to bear in mind. No. 2 says:
“We can treat folly with kindness…knowing that soon his wild spirit will quieten, and the foolishness will fall away to reveal a model citizen.”
No. 6 replies:
“That day you’ll never see.”