Labour has voted with ministers on measures to combat the spread of Covid this winter, ensuring that all the new public health restrictions were passed despite Boris Johnson suffering a large Conservative rebellion as many Tory MPs voted against.
The Commons this evening backed requiring Covid passes for large indoor venues, despite 100 Conservatives rebelling on the vote. Mandatory vaccinations for NHS workers were approved, with 61 Tories voting against. MPs also extended mask wearing, with 38 Conservatives voting against their own government.
“We have not played games with these votes. We are not exploiting the divisions in the Conservative Party to inflict defeat on the government for the sake of scoring political points. The threat facing the country is too serious. And Labour takes our duty to the country seriously,” Labour’s Wes Streeting said.
“The Tories may be in disarray – but the public can rely on Labour to keep the country safe, to do the right thing, to support these measures today and we trust the British people to do the same.”
Labour backed the working-from-home guidance to “protect people’s ability to enjoy Christmas safely”, he said, adding: “By limiting the interactions people have at work, and thereby lowering infections, we hope to preserve their ability to go ahead with the social interactions they cherish most at this time of year.”
The Shadow Health Secretary confirmed Labour’s support for passes for large indoor venues following government ministers amending their initial plan, to accept passes only, to now include the option of showing a negative test.
Streeting also told parliament that Labour would support the rule requiring the mandatory vaccination of NHS workers, saying: “The NHS has asked us for this, patients want this and we are persuaded that the threat of Omicron makes it even more important for staff to be vaccinated.”
On face coverings, he said: “No one enjoys wearing a mask. I certainly don’t. But it is nothing compared with the costs that more draconian restrictions have on our lives, livelihoods and liberties. Masks are simply a price worth paying.”
He said the government “should go further” on both the need to extend statutory sick pay, so people are not “forced to choose between doing the right thing by their families and doing the right thing by public health”, and to use the Christmas school holiday to vaccinate young people.
NHS Covid passes, or a negative test result, will be required from Wednesday for entry to indoor venues containing more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people. This measure passed by a majority of 243 votes.
100 Tories defied the whip (98 plus the two tellers). Eight Labour MPs also voted against Covid passes: Diane Abbott, Apsana Begum, Dawn Butler, Emma Lewell-Buck, Clive Lewis, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Graham Stringer.
Health secretary Sajid Javid has said that once all UK adults have had the chance to get a Covid booster jab, people will need to have had the third dose of the vaccine if they are to be exempt from the requirement to show a negative test. Faking a Covid pass could result in a £10,000 fine.
MPs extended, by a 400-vote majority, the requirement to wear a face covering the nose and mouth in crowded indoor and outdoor venues including theatres, cinemas, places of worship and hairdressers as well as public transport. Restaurants, pubs, bars and hospitality venues are exempt. 38 Conservative MPs voted against.
NHS staff will be required to have been fully vaccinated from April 1st, beyond the existing requirement for jabs in care homes. This was not part of the government’s ‘plan B’. Javid told MPs that there are 94,000 unvaccinated health workers currently, while 91% have received two jabs. 385 MPs voted for this rule, 100 voted against.
61 Conservatives rebelled, voting against mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff, as did 22 Labour MPs. The Labour MPs were: Paula Barker, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Byrne, Margaret Greenwood, Rupa Huq, Kim Johnson, Ian Lavery, Emma Lewell-Buck, Clive Lewis, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Rachael Maskell, Andy McDonald, Ian Mearns, Grahame Morris, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Zarah Sultana, Mick Whitley, Beth Winter and Mohammed Yasin.
Three shadow cabinet members reported that they have tested positive with the virus earlier today: Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson and Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon.
This meant they could not attend and vote on the measures passed today. Reports indicate that Covid is currently spreading rapidly through Westminster, meaning that other recorded abstentions tonight may have been due to the virus.
Labour leader Keir Starmer told the public in a televised video message on Monday evening that his party would support the government, as its “patriotic duty”, in the vote today to approve the decision to shift to more stringent measures.