We can and we will defeat this virus, but it requires us all to work together, support those in need where we can, and follow the Government’s guidance to Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives. The Government is acting on the very best medical and scientific advice, and everyone involved is doing all they can to ensure that our NHS is resilient, and those in need are supported – physically, mentally, and financially.
I have been working in three main ways to try to assist my constituents and the Government in its response to the outbreak.
- In the past two weeks I have received an unprecedented volume of emails from many of my 65,000 constituents in Northampton North, many on issues of personal crisis to the individuals involved and many which require immediate action from me to try to assist.
I have received around a thousand such emails in the past fortnight and, with the help of my brilliant staff, all of whom are working on their computers from home, I have been able to respond to every email in my usual response time of two working days.
These emails range in content from isolating elderly residents who are unable to get their shopping, to people who have lost their jobs and income and need financial help, to Northampton residents who have been stranded overseas when airlines ceased operating and who need to get back home, and many more.
- On top of my constituency work I have been in back-to-back ‘virtual’ meetings, often for more than ten hours a day, on video and telephone conference calls, with fellow government ministers and senior officials. I am one of very few government ministers attending multiple emergency meetings every week across more than one government department- and I am working with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab amongst others. I have also been giving the government legal advice about various aspects of the current crisis.
- As well as my constituency and emergency work on the crisis my third area of work is my routine ministerial work as Solicitor General which has continued. Although the courts which generate much of my work of this type have now effectively shut down there is a time-lag of 28 days after court hearings where certain actions have to be decided by law by me and therefore those decisions have still had to be made and paperwork has still been being sent to me. My face-to-face meetings and visits have of course stopped so that has alleviated some time pressures.
This strict quarantine period began two weeks ago (Monday 23rd March) but in the weeks before and the days immediately after that shutdown I remained in Westminster whilst Parliament was still sitting and remained up to the closure of Parliament on Wednesday night 25th March. In this period I played a part in supporting the Department of Health in Parliament in its work preparing the Coronavirus Act 2020 for law. I attended meetings with Matt Hancock and others and indeed was on the front bench in the House of Commons with Matt Hancock when the Bill was taking its course through the House on the way to becoming law. (See photo above.)
The Act enacted laws to give public bodies across the UK the tools and powers they need to carry out an effective response to this emergency. Some of the proposed changes deal with easing the burden on frontline NHS and adult social care staff, some help staff by enabling them to work without financial penalty, and some support people and communities in taking care of themselves, their families and loved ones, and their wider community.
The legislation will be time-limited – for 2 years – and not all of these measures will come into force immediately. The Act allows Government to switch on these new powers when they are needed, and, crucially, to switch them off again once they are no longer necessary - based on the advice of Chief Medical Officers of the four UK nations.
The measures in the Coronavirus Act are temporary, proportionate to the threat we face, will only be used when strictly necessary and be in place only for as long as required to respond to the situation.
The Act focuses on five key areas:
- Increasing the available health and social care workforce.
- Easing the burden on frontline staff.
- Containing and slowing the virus.
- Managing the deceased with respect and dignity.
- Supporting people - financially and physically.