We need to balance lives, livelihoods and liberties during Covid crisis, says Ipswich MP

PUBLISHED: 10:03 02 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:22 02 October 2020

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt was one of a number of MPs who said they would refuse to take part in the unconscious bias training if it were offered to parliament. Picture: ARCHANT

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt was one of a number of MPs who said they would refuse to take part in the unconscious bias training if it were offered to parliament. Picture: ARCHANT


I wrote last week that I was preparing to support an amendment to the Coronavirus Act this week in Parliament that would mean that all further national level restrictions imposed by the Government in order to tackle Covid-19 should be subject to a full debate and vote in Parliament.

However, on procedural grounds it was not selected by the Speaker to be voted on. Following this I was pleased that the Government clearly recognised the strength of feeling by many MPs on this matter and came to the table to secure a compromise that enabled us to support the Coronavirus Act.

In the Commons on Wednesday, the health secretary stated that going forward when it comes to “significant national measures” that affect the whole of England and the UK, MPs will be able to vote on them in advance “wherever possible”.

Last week I spoke about the need to strike the right balance between protecting “lives, livelihoods and liberties”. I also believe that it’s vitally important to strike the right balance between enabling the Government to take decisions as quickly as possible to save lives whilst also ensuring there is adequate democratic accountability and that all decisions that will have huge implications for the lives of our constituents are carefully considered. I very much hope that the compromise struck on Wednesday, between the health secretary and those MPs like myself who had concerns, enables us to strike this balance.

If it had been the case that this measure had been in place a few weeks ago then both the ‘rule of six’ and the nationwide 10pm curfew would have come before MPs for a debate and vote. Regarding the 10pm curfew, I would have made the case that, at this stage, I do not believe that such a measure is appropriate for places such as Ipswich that have very low levels of Covid-19.

As it stands, I believe that the harm caused to the hospitality sector in town and the livelihoods of those who work in it would be too great to merit such a curfew when Covid-19 levels are so low. Clearly if things change (and I hope they don’t) and levels of Covid-19 increase in the town then this is something that might need to be reviewed. Ultimately this leads me to believe that curfews are most appropriate when localised.

Tackling Covid-19 and getting the right balance between protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties is not easy. As an MP I represent over 75,000 people and I don’t think there will be much fewer than 75,000 different views about how we ought to tackle this. However taking difficult decisions on behalf of my constituents and representing them to the fullest of my ability is my duty, it’s my responsibility. Whether we believe the measures in question over past weeks are right or wrong we can all agree that they have profound implications for the way we live our lives and it is right and proper that MPs stand up to their responsibility and play a far greater role in taking these decisions on behalf of their constituents.

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I say this being well aware of the fact that undoubtedly this will put me in a position where I may well end up taking decisions that not all of my constituents will agree with, nevertheless, it’s my democratic duty and I didn’t become an MP for an easy life. I didn’t come into politics to duck difficult decisions.

Particularly for the most vulnerable this virus remains a serious threat and steps must be taken to guard against this. As it happens at the moment the levels of the virus are low in our town but this is not something we should be complacent about. We are not immune and disconnected from what happens in the rest of the country and it’s difficult to predict what the levels will be in one month’s time or two months’ time.

However, what also weighs heavily on my mind are the livelihoods of all of my constituents, particularly those who have already been badly affected by the restrictions that have been brought in to tackle the virus.

I think of the 19-year-old from Chantry I met just a few weeks ago before the 10pm curfew was introduced who was working around the clock in a local bar to try and earn enough money to provide for his four-month-old daughter and who was really concerned about the possibility of the hospitality sector being closed down.

I think about the local landlords who have poured their lives into not just running a successful business but a real hub for their local community and how they might not be able to survive many more onerous restrictions.

I also think about the many constituents of mine in sectors which haven’t been so fortunate when it comes to the generous support packages announced by the chancellor.

And of course we cannot forget the huge mental health challenge we face and the way many families and friends have been separated, unable to marry, unable to attend a funeral and unable often to visit vulnerable relatives in a care home. The list goes on.

So in essence of course we must tackle the public health challenge provided by Covid-19. But we must not lose ourselves and many of the things we value most about our society along the way.

Lives, livelihoods, liberties. It’s never been more important to balance all three and appreciate the different ways in which they are all connected and to an extent dependent upon each other. Ultimately what the health secretary announced in the Commons Chamber this week, strengthening the ability of MPs to represent their constituents effectively on these matters, increases the likelihood we will strike this balance.

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