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Covid-19: Vaccination Passport

Volume 810: debated on Wednesday 24 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they plan to have with the devolved Administrations about the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccination passport to enable those who have been vaccinated to travel.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to restarting the travel industry, as the Prime Minister has set out in his road map. Vaccinations could offer the route to that once we know more about the impact of vaccines on transmission and their efficacy. The UK is working with other countries to adopt a clear international framework on standards and we are committed absolutely to working with the devolved Administrations throughout at both official and ministerial levels.

Does the Minister agree that it is important to differentiate between a certificate that might allow access to venues in the United Kingdom and one that would allow travel overseas, such as the one I have for yellow fever and malaria? Can he tell us which countries he and the Government are now in discussions with to enable to us to get back to travelling as soon as possible so that the travel industry can return to a financially sound situation?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, but these are two entirely separate issues. I assure him that the UK is working with a wide range of other countries and that the Government will make this a reality through ongoing work not only with other countries, but with the World Health Organization and other multilateral organisations, and through the UK’s presidency of the G7. The point the noble Lord has made is an important one.

Is it not true that if the Government had not blocked ID cards in 2011—a perfect form of vaccination passport—then we could have avoided problems about vaccination recording by entering annual vaccination data that would have been readable on the card chip, covered the entire population with a track-and-trace system, and, in effect, brought this nightmare of an epidemic to an earlier end? The Government missed a trick that could have saved billions of pounds and perhaps even thousands of lives.

My Lords, I note the noble Lord’s enthusiasm for ID cards, but it was not shared universally either in Parliament or outside. I am certainly not going there on this issue.

My Lords, I understand the frustration of the travel, hospitality and leisure industries that want to get their businesses up and running as quickly as possible. However, does the Minister accept that there are some concerns? The first is that with the rollout of the vaccine continuing over the summer, many young people, including students who want to study overseas, may be excluded from the chance to travel. Is there not a risk that the demand for passports, if they were introduced, could create a bureaucratic logjam that could interfere with the vaccine rollout and may unhelpfully aggravate the arguments over which vaccines are the most effective?

My Lords, I hope very much that that is not the case. The Government’s objective is to see a safe and sustainable return to international travel for business and pleasure. To achieve this, my colleagues in the Department for Transport will be leading a successor to the Global Travel Taskforce. It is important that we work towards that objective.

My Lords, much of this debate is around holidaymakers, but there is an important section of the population—businesspeople—who travel in order to increase the prosperity of the companies and countries that they represent. Can the Government give some attention to easing short-term business travel restrictions which mean that, every time you go for a 36-hour trip to the European mainland, you need to spend £200 to get a certificate? This is ridiculous and does no good for business at all. There does not appear to be a business party in this Parliament any longer.

My Lords, I understand where my noble friend is coming from, but repeat what I said in reply to the previous question: the Government’s objective is to see a safe and sustainable return to international travel for business and pleasure. I put business first advisedly. We have to do this in a safe and sustainable way, and the Prime Minister has set out a road map towards it.

Does the Minister agree with the well-researched report by the Royal Society relating to SARS-CoV-2 vaccine certificates? It identifies 12 key areas that need better understanding before the introduction of Covid passports for international travel, including: the effectiveness of various vaccines; the nature and duration of the immune response; the ability of variants to escape vaccine-induced immunity; and the transmission or otherwise of the virus by those vaccinated, as mentioned by the Minister. Will the Government consider the scientific advice before any plans to introduce Covid passports?

My Lords, I am not the lead Minister on that narrow area, but I note what the noble Lord says and will pass on his comments to colleagues.

My Lords, if the certificates or passports were to happen, it would be essential to have just one system across the UK. It must not be just one Government doing it and imposing them on the other countries; they must be jointly developed. The Minister talked about the road map, but that was shared with the Welsh Government only after it had been briefed to the press, on Monday morning. Can the Minister assure us that, if there is work on this, it will be done jointly by all four Governments, so that there is only one system for the whole UK?

The noble Baroness, as always, make a profound point, which is that the best thing that we must wish and work for is that all Administrations work together on this. We do not want internal divides. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is speaking further to First Ministers today, which is another opportunity to reflect on the details of the published road maps. I take what she said: we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to reflect on the implications of the road maps, and to co-ordinate and co-operate on our response to this and other areas.

My Lords, I live five miles from the English border, and I am relieved that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is not pressing for a passport, with 15,000 vehicles going one way and 32,000 coming the other way to work, every day. Referring to the discussions that the Minister mentioned, what is the Government’s attitude to people coming to this country who have been vaccinated by a non-approved vaccine, and are they discussing this with other countries?

My Lords, I confess that I cannot find the answer to that at the moment. I will write to the noble Lord on that point. I apologise for not being able to answer it now.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on international travel issues, but surely the way forward within the United Kingdom is to have as rapid a vaccination rollout, of as many people, as possible. Can the Minister assure us that the devolved Administrations are intimately involved in that rollout programme and that they will all move ahead at the same time?

My Lords, we wish for the fastest possible progress across our United Kingdom. I can give that assurance. In reply to the previous question, at this stage, the Government are not looking to make it a requirement to have a Covid-19 vaccination to travel into the country.

My Lords, I am not sure what our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is worried about. The way the SNP is going, he will not be allowed back into Scotland, with or without a passport. But he is correct to focus on this issue; it is difficult. The other day, the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that we must not discriminate against those who have refused a vaccine for whatever reason—a medical condition, for example—but we know that there are anti-vaxxers who are refusing the vaccine because they do not like it, cannot be bothered or are simply professional disrupters. Does my noble friend accept that it would be outrageous to hold back the reopening of society, in any way, and to compromise the rights and liberties of everyone else, because of those who refuse to take any step to protect either themselves or others? Should it not be the anti-vaxxers who suffer inconvenience, rather than the rest of us?

My Lords, as I have said, the Government’s objective is a safe and sustainable return to international travel. By a miracle of science and endeavour, this and other countries have good—outstanding—vaccines. We have a fine rollout programme right across the four nations. Everybody should support and get behind that programme, the vaccines and the people who are working on them.

Sitting suspended.