Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
I have been contacted by a number of constituents about vaccine passports.
The evidence about the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines in preventing infection is now gradually being published and the figures are very encouraging, although it doesn’t seem that any of the vaccines are 100% effective and we don’t yet know what impact they may have on reducing transmission or how they will cope with new variants of the virus.
I understand the argument put forward by some young and healthy people that do not feel they will be at risk from Covid, but that only looks at one part of the issue. They can still pass the virus on to someone else who is much more at risk – it may be a work colleague, or an older relative or somebody else – and that is why I think we all have a responsibility to get vaccinated because we’re not just protecting ourselves but also the people around us. I am opposed, to compulsory vaccination.
On the issue of vaccine passports, there are three things to consider.
The first is that some countries in the world are in all probability going to require evidence of vaccination before they will allow us to travel there. Therefore, UK citizens who want to travel abroad will need the UK Government to give them proof of their vaccination status. In those circumstances, the Government should of course facilitate this. The requirement for travel vaccination is not in any way new: for example, there are some countries where you have to have a yellow fever vaccination before you can enter.
The second issue concerns staff working in hospitals and care homes and whether they should have to be vaccinated because they are, by definition, dealing with people who are vulnerable either because of ill-health or age. As I understand it, some staff in hospitals are already required to have certain vaccinations (eg against hepatitis) so this is not a new principle. Speaking personally if I had an elderly relative in hospital or in a care home, I would like to think that all the staff they were coming into contact with had been vaccinated. I do recognise, however, that there is a real issue of principle for existing staff for whom being vaccinated was not a condition of their employment originally, and I suspect this may eventually fall to the courts to sort out.
The third issue is whether businesses may ask to see proof of vaccination or of a negative Covid test before they allow people to enter their premises. There is a very tricky balance here between on the one hand the freedom of individuals to, of course, decline vaccination and on the other hand the desire of businesses to be able to say to customers that if you come to us you can be sure that all of the other people who will be there with you have either been vaccinated or have recently tested negative for Covid. I am opposed to making it compulsory for businesses to ask for Covid passports, but the question is to what extent should this be regulated or banned if businesses choose to do so?
As I understand the Government’s current position, it is not saying that vaccine passport should be compulsory in this third set of circumstances, but it doesn’t think it would be right to make it illegal for businesses to request proof of vaccination status or a negative Covid test. What ministers have said is that for public services, public transport and essential shops but they will not make presentation of a Covid passport a requirement. They are also planning to do some test events, including I think the Carabao and FA cup finals, with the aim of seeing whether Covid passports might reduce the need for social distancing and therefore help businesses to get back up on their feet. You can see more information on this in the update which ministers published on the 5th of April.
There is still a large number of practical questions to be considered here, not least because at the moment not all of the population have been offered a vaccine. Therefore, I can’t see that any night clubs, for example, asking for proof of vaccination since a large part of their clientele haven’t been able to have one yet. Another question is how you cater for individuals who can’t have the vaccine – would a recent test be sufficient?
Finally, there isn’t actually a proposition on the table at the moment, apart from making Covid status certification available for those who want it, but the Government has said that MPs will have a vote if anything further is proposed.
Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour does “not support the government’s plans in their current form.”
MP for Leeds Central