Covid-19: Requirements for Employees to be Vaccinated

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who opened the debate, and to all the petitioners.

Like others who have spoken, I am hugely supportive of the vaccine—it works. Office for National Statistics data from November shows that, throughout 2021, the death rate was 28 times higher among the unvaccinated than among those who had been double-jabbed. It is utterly clear that the vaccine is our way out of this, and we should stand behind the evidence and encourage people to take it. But to compel people is utterly illiberal, utterly wrong and a challenge to our freedoms.

The petitioners rightly challenge us to consider how we treat our fellow citizens who are not yet vaccinated. Some are not vaccinated for good clinical reasons, and we know that they are covered, but others are hesitant—not resolutely opposed, but hesitant. Some are resolutely opposed, and a smaller number will be those who spread information that we would perhaps term “fake news”, which has a huge impact because it can lead to and feed the hesitancy of a much larger number. But for liberal, compassionate and practical reasons, we must agree with the petitioners and oppose compulsion.

Treating the unvaccinated members of our society as second-class citizens is utterly wrong. It is an attack on freedom and, as has just been mentioned, it is hardly going to win over hearts and minds. My challenge and ask of the Minister is: what are the Government going to do to step up their efforts to educate and inform, to tackle the common objections, and to answer them rigorously and regularly through challenge? Changing hearts and minds will take skill, patience and persuasion. I am certain that compulsion will do the opposite of what the Government think it will achieve.

Forcing people to be vaccinated who have chosen so far not to be will, understandably, turn hesitant people into hostile people. It will solidify resistance to the vaccine. It will give the small minority who wilfully spread misinformation the status of martyrs, making the whole exercise utterly counterproductive.

As has been mentioned, compulsion will have a particular and appalling impact on our health service at every level. We reckon that in my local hospital trust, which has three hospitals in the Morecombe bay area and more further north in the rest of Cumbria, at least 94% of NHS staff are already vaccinated, and that figure is growing by the day. To explode that by introducing compulsion is wrong on so many levels.

This might be a high estimate, but staff in the trust estimate that up to 800 staff across those three hospitals and in other parts of the NHS in our community could lose their jobs. If they are not vaccinated in a week and a half’s time, they will be on a trajectory to be out of a job by 1 April. That is an insult to those people, who have served us, kept us well, saved people’s lives and put themselves and their families in harm’s way over these two appalling years. Ministers clapped them, and now they will sack them. That is utterly wrong and ungrateful, above all else. As we have said, 3 February is just a few days away, so a U-turn now is urgent. This will cause colossal damage in our health service in a matter of days and weeks.

In our communities in south Cumbria and north Lancashire, at times, more than 50% of people diagnosed with cancer are waiting more than two months to get their first treatment. We know that for every four weeks that someone waits for cancer treatment, there is, on average, a 10% decrease in their likelihood of surviving that cancer. Thanks to figures provided by Macmillan, we know that through the pandemic, 740,000 cancer screenings were missed, and 60,000 diagnoses were missed. There are 60,000 people out there with cancer who do not know it, or who were not diagnosed until probably far too late.

That is a snapshot of the kind of pressure that our health service is under just when it comes to cancer, yet we are just weeks away from the Government potentially cutting the workforce by at least 5% in one go. That is unconscionable and wrong. Of course people must get vaccinated—I will plead with people to get vaccinated—but to compel them is an insult, an assault on liberty and counterproductive to the effort to increase vaccination. It will hugely undermine our national health service just at the moment when we need it the most.