With over 1,200 signatories from the Two Cities and over 100,000 nationwide, e-petition 565102, relating to international travel and COVID-19 was debated in Westminster Hall today.
Cities of London & Westminster MP Nickie Aiken spoke on behalf of those people from the Two Cities who had corresponded with her over their desire to be reunited with their children in the cases of parents who share custody across borders, or those who have partners abroad but can’t visit because of the current restrictions. Some of those who have corresponded with Nickie have been part of the #LoveisnotTourism campaign and like others around the country, they have not seen their children or partners for more than 12 months.
Thank you, Madam Chair, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important Westminster Hall debate this evening.
And I'd also like to thank my Honourable Friend for the Don Valley for securing this debate. Like other Honourable Members, I've heard from many constituents recently on the issue of international travel and COVID-19 restrictions. And with over 1,200 signatories to the petition within the Cities of London and Westminster, my constituency, it is clearly a subject that is close to the heart of my constituents. And one which should rightly be reviewed in light of the new data.
No doubt we are in a very different position now to the one we were dealing with last year.
We now have the tools to facilitate both travel and health with advancements in testing as well as the exceptional vaccine rollout. That was quite simply not available 12 months ago. Indeed so much has changed, even since the government's response to this petition was published last month.
With new data suggesting that vaccines are effective and working well against the new Indian variant as well.
I do support the government's roadmap, and accept the traffic light system for non-essential international travel. But when it comes to small scale case-by-case travel for the sake of a family unit or a critical support network, I do believe that there are circumstances where we could be more pragmatic and reasonable to ensure people are not penalised for something which could dramatically affect their quality of life.
I can see how devastating family separation has been for them. These are hugely emotional situations people are finding themselves in.
And I think if people get vaccinated, as infections fall, one of the things people want to do first is to reconnect with their loved ones, particularly those abroad.
After all love is not tourism.
What is important to note is that the issue that my constituents are facing is not necessarily their ability to travel abroad. It's that issues occur when with returning to the UK.
I do not have time this evening to expound all cases that constituents have raised with me.
But for example, I have seen a number of parents unable to afford, or practically visit their children who are living with a partner overseas.
Particularly in current amber rated countries. Making parents with custody agreements exempt from hotel quarantine, for example, provided they are vaccinated, or, comply with testing on their return would make a small dent in our current guidelines, but a major impact on people's lives across my constituency and across the UK. Some of whom have not seen their children in person in over a year. That is too long to go without a hug from your mum or your dad.
Here it would be sensible to adopt an approach for those people in such circumstances, you cannot afford an upfront payment of £1,750 or, take the ten days annual leave away from work in a quarantine hotel.
With this in mind, an option could be to consider opening up the manageable payment plan for people who have a reasonable need to travel, not just those who already receive income-related benefits. And to the same end, could there be a new assessment of allowing people to isolate themselves at home, or even finding some exemptions for parents unable able to see their children under the current guidelines.
Madam Chairman, we have a world-class vaccine programme which has now administered over 60 million jabs. I absolutely believe that we need to reap the benefits of the vaccination rollout with open and sensible policies to strike the right balance between safety and real life situations. This is not to say there should be a carte blanche, but if there is a reasonable cause and proof, then I see no reason why people should not be able to travel without being subject to due stress when returning back to the UK.
I hope the Minister will accept that although we do need to remain vigilant she will accept that we will be living with COVID-19 for some time to come, and we should provide responsible but practical help for those with loved ones abroad.