Please find below a statement from Mary regarding the votes concerning COVID restrictions on the 14th December 2021:
Unfortunately, I was not be able to vote on the new COVID-19 restrictions today as I am self-isolating. As there is no measure for MPs to vote when they are unable to physically attend the House of Commons, my vote will not be recorded.
However, I want to be clear that I am not abstaining on this issue and, in the interests of accountability and transparency, I wanted to clearly set out to my constituents how I would have voted on each of the new measures being brought before parliament today.
Masks in Public Places
This expands the legal requirement to wear face coverings when in shops, when using public transport, and in transport hubs to more indoor settings, including, banks, places of worship, public areas in hotels and hostels, and museums. There are exemptions for those unable to wear masks, as well as when this is not practical such as when eating, drinking, exercising, or singing.
I would have voted for this measure. Masks protect the wearer and those around them from COVID-19, especially when in crowded spaces. It is a small measure that it easy to introduce, reduces the spread of the virus, and causes minimal inconvenience to the general population.
After careful consideration, I would have voted against COVID passes. As this is an extremely complex issue, I wanted to set out my reasoning in full.
Until recently, the indications from the Government were that COVID passports would involve showing proof of vaccination in order to access some events or services- essentially a vaccine passport.
I have been clear since the idea was first proposed that I am opposed to the need for vaccine passports in order to access general services, businesses or jobs in the UK. I made this commitment clearly and unequivocally in April.
I am opposed to vaccine passports for a number of reasons. The first is that it has the potential to affect civil liberties. I am instinctively uneasy about individuals having to share personal medical information in order to access a venue as I believe that people have a right to keep this information private. To ask people to demonstrate their medical record to access a service might set a damaging precedent for health privacy – for instance it potentially could lead to expectations that people would have to prove they do not have other infections, such as HIV.
I support trade unions that have raised the fact that proof of vaccination could violate employment law and I am concerned about how any such certification scheme might further embed disadvantage in terms of both employment and access to amenities.
While I support uptake of the vaccine for those who can have it, I believe that we should be aiming to encourage greater vaccine uptake, rather than establish a system that attempts to pressure people into vaccination and that could discriminate against already disadvantaged groups. As such, more must be done to support increased uptake in groups where there are problems with accessing the vaccine and/or where vaccine hesitancy is at its highest. Vaccine passports are not the way to do this.
These factors contributed significantly to my decision to vote against compulsory vaccinations for care staff.
Both I and the Labour Party have been clear that we do not support the introduction of any scheme that only provided access for the fully vaccinated. This is because a person can be vaccinated and still carry the virus, as well as concerns around discrimination against the unvaccinated.
However, the Government have now clarified that- while COVID passes will be required to enter settings such as nightclubs, bars and music venues with more than 500 people and larger gatherings of 4,000 people outdoors including sports stadia and festivals and any event with more than 10,000 people- this pass will operate in the same way as the existing NHS COVID Pass which allows for proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test.
In opposing the introduction of domestic vaccine passports, the Labour Party has been firm in its belief that any scheme must give attendees the option to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test as an alternative to vaccination status using the NHS Covid Pass app. I am glad that this concession has been won.
However, despite this change, I cannot support the introduction of COVID passes. I have significant concerns that COVID passes open the door to further measures such as vaccine passports or to set a precedent for revealing confidential medical information to access events or services.
In addition, I am not certain that COVID passes are an effective public health measure. While the vaccines reduce transmission and the risk of hospitalisation, they are far from a guarantee that a person is not carrying the virus. I worry that the introduction of COVID passes could create a complacency at a time when we can least afford it.
Instead, I believe the Government’s focus should be on encouraging people to reduce the contact they have with others, testing regularly, and to increase the vaccine rollout. As always, I believe that any increased restrictions should be met with proportionate financial support for businesses and workers, and I will be pushing for this support in the coming days.
Compulsory Vaccinations of Health Workers
I would have voted against the compulsory vaccinations for health workers.
I strongly believe that everyone who is able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine should do so. Vaccines save lives and are integral to public health. This is not debatable it is scientific fact.
However, I do not believe that COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for health workers. While I accept the argument that health staff work in extremely high-risk settings- and I would encourage all staff to be vaccinated- I have extreme concerns about making employment conditional on having a medical procedure. I believe that the focus should be on persuading staff to be vaccinated through effective public health messaging, rather than through coercion.
Compulsory vaccinations have been opposed by trade unions and trade bodies, with there being significant concerns that forcing staff to be vaccinated could result in a staffing crisis. The Government impact assessment suggested that up to 73,000 NHS staff could refuse to be vaccinated. The British Medical Association, UNISON, Unite, Royal College of Nursing, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, GMB, Royal College of Midwives, and the Royal College of General Practitioners, have all either expressed concern or opposition to the plans. Given the pressures our understaffed, underfunded, health services already face, I cannot support measures that could significantly reduce staffing levels.
I voted against compulsory vaccines for care workers, and I would have done the same for health workers.