The reasoning behind my vote tonight on the latest measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 and my message to all young people that the older generation owe them a debt which we will repay.
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"It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I have not always been able to follow the Government line in the Division Lobby when it has come to further restrictions, because I have felt that, in parts, they have not been proportionate when looking at the wider public health concerns, the operational state of hospitals, or concerns about our loss of liberties and making things worse.
That changed when it came to the vote on introducing tier 4 measures in my county and other parts of the country, because I could see two things. First, the vaccine is in sight, so we do not have this perpetual lockdown situation; the end is in sight. Secondly, hospital operational capacity is incredibly tight; it is on the edge. I have just heard from my chief executive, who tells me that 50% of her beds are occupied by covid patients and all the intensive care units are full. Things have changed, but I believe that we are in the final chapter if we can deliver the vaccine programme. That is why I will vote with the Government this evening.
I never thought that I would see the day when I voted in the Division Lobby to deny pupils their right to attend school, but I feel that is vital. I just want to make one point about the cohort of those being vaccinated. It makes no sense at all to give a vaccination to a 40-year-old teacher rather than that teacher’s 80-year-old mother. If we do so, we may be in a situation where that 40-year-old teacher, although they have been vaccinated, can still transmit the virus to their 80-year-old mother. With the vaccine in short supply, it is the 80-year-old mother who is in danger of losing her life, and that is what keeps us in lockdown. We will never reopen schools if we end up vaccinating teachers rather than that cohort. I really wish hon. Members on both sides of the House would see that that is the best way to get the schools open again.
The other message that I want to send is to young people. Members have rightly talked about their concern about the challenges for young people and their mental health. I feel that too, but I want to make sure that young people are not seen as victims—that we do not make them become victims. This could be their defining moment, when they give something back to the generations that went before them. It will be the sacrifices that they make that save lives.
We must make sure that we put something back. To the older generation for whom sacrifices are being made by the younger generation, I say: ask yourself what can you do to counsel and pass on wisdom to help young people to catch up in school? What can you do to offer an apprenticeship to a school leaver? What can you do to make sure that young people have the confidence to feel that they have achieved great things by making that sacrifice, like those who did during the blitz years? To all those young people, I say: you will come through this stronger. We will make sure that you are rewarded. Just as we will not let older people be killed by this pandemic, please, do not be defeated by it."