During a Westminster Hall debate (held in a committee room) on the easing of lockdown restrictions. I highlighted my concern that the younger generation are being impacted by missing out on valuable time in school. As the risk to children of being infected with Covid is low, it is vital that schools re-open in September and the Government should give head teachers the confidence to do this.
Recent years has seen record levels of employment and I am greatly troubled by the job losses that will occur. The country needs to unlock so that people can get back to normality and minimise this impact as much as possible.
Watch my full speech below:
"Thank you, Chair, to you and your Committee, for arranging this sitting. There are far too few opportunities to debate in this place, and it is great that you have brought this alive—thanks to the petitioners for doing likewise.
It is slightly disconcerting being on this side of the Committee Room, facing you, Chair. I now know what it feels like for our witnesses. To have my predecessor up on the horseshoe makes it even more nerve-racking for me, but I will do my best.
I am particularly keen to talk about the easing of the lockdown, because in recent times I have become concerned about the impact of lockdown not only from an indirect health perspective, but because of the hit to livelihoods and a danger of a generation lost—a younger generation—from the covid pandemic. It is absolutely right that we locked down and protected the most vulnerable, but I am concerned to make sure that other voices, other concerns and issues, and indeed future pandemics are not ignored when we make the decisions about how our rules should be formed. It is therefore a great delight to be able to speak.
I pay great tribute to all those who work in particular in the health and care systems in Sussex. We have had the lowest number of covid deaths in the south-east, but we have the highest concentration of care homes. To me, that demonstrates that Sussex has been doing something well. It is important that we learn the lessons of this pandemic nationally, because clearly some things have not worked as well as they should have done. I pay tribute to everyone in Sussex for what they have done.
On the easing of the lockdown, which I welcome, I want to touch on schools. I am particularly concerned that some schoolchildren will have lost six months of their time in the classroom by September, when we hope they get back into them, although it is by no means guaranteed that they will. It is also a tragedy in terms of the attainment gap among schools.
Those schools with the resources and with the ability to put more money into the system will have innovated and have tried new things to ensure that their pupils still follow their teachers teaching by visual aids or others. Yet other schools have not at all had that level of innovation. I have certainly experienced that, and I am concerned about the young people who have lost that direction from, and interaction with, not only their teachers but having other pupils around them, their peers. I am very concerned about what has been missed out.
As we ease the lockdown, a herculean effort is essential from Government and the education sector to make sure that our schools are open in September—but we also have to consider the risks involved. We know that the chances of young people being impacted seriously by covid is incredibly low risk. We have to make sure that teachers are protected, because they may be higher risk, but the young people are not high risk. We need to take that risk factor into account when we look at what is acceptable or not. We need to take more risk in our schools in that regard, not treating them the same as a care home setting, where of course things have to be different.
I would also like to hear the Government set out very clearly to schools that they will not be absolutely strictly liable.
There are a lot of scare stories going around right now, which means that headteachers feel that they cannot take decisions that would lead them to liability. This is guidance only, and it is important that the Department for Education clarifies how it should operate and that schools do not feel paranoid about opening in September.
I also want to nod towards the lockdown easing for businesses. I represent a rural county. We do not have big businesses that can support staff like others, perhaps, where the balance sheet can. As a result, I am particularly concerned about job losses. I know that Opposition MPs have found it quite annoying when Conservative MPs stand up and talk with pride about the jobs that have been created. That has actually been one of my proudest moments as a Conservative MP, because, to me, when you give someone a job you give them hope, you give them a livelihood and you increase their life chances. For those rates to go in the opposite direction will be absolutely destroying for me.
I want to hear the Government put the message out that, again, we need to take a little more risk. We need to unlock and make sure that people are going into shops and restaurants and spending money. The Government have pumped £200 billion into this episode. There is a limit to how much can be put in. We now need to ask people to use their common sense to try to return to some normality and accept that this risk will be inherent and will remain with us. If we do not do that, there will be a whole generation of lost souls, and that concerns me greatly. I will end there, Chair. Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to speak."