Public Health: Coronavirus Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 5:54 pm, 13th October 2020

As hon. Members will see, I have less than six minutes to respond. I regret that I may slightly disappoint the House in that—untypically for me—I will not be able to take interventions, having agreed with the Chair to enable the maximum number of Back-Bench contributions.

We have heard many different views and perspectives today, and although I may not personally fully share all of them, each represents an important and sincerely held point of view. Whatever the differences of approach among hon. Members, it is clear that all Members passionately share the common objectives of protecting lives and livelihoods. No one should doubt the underlying unity of purpose in this House.

As the Secretary of State set out, we have seen rapidly rising levels of transmission and infection, followed—with a time lag—by rising hospitalisations, particularly in the north-east and the north-west, and, sadly, increasing levels of deaths. I think it was my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe who pointed out that this disease is sadly now moving from younger people into older, more vulnerable age groups. We therefore need to take further measures to protect the public and the NHS—as we have done throughout the pandemic—as we enter winter.

At the same time, we seek to ensure that individuals and businesses are not subject to restrictions that are disproportionate to the risk in their area or to the risk that this disease poses. We need to continue to suppress infection rates and transmission. This is not just about protecting health; it is also about protecting our economy. As hon. and right hon. Members have said, regrettably there are no easy choices here. That is why the Government are recognising reasonable calls for a simplified and clearer set of regulations, by putting in place a simplified, tiered framework so that individuals and businesses can clearly understand the rules in their local area, the restrictions in place and what they will need to do to comply with them. This helps to build on the consent and compliance that many colleagues have mentioned that comes with taking people with us and clarity of messaging.

The Government are acutely sensitive to the impact that these restrictions will have on local areas, and hon. Members have spoken passionately on behalf of their constituencies today, including a large number who have made points about the 10 pm curfew, as the House and others will have heard. We have worked and continue to work closely with local leaders to seek a consensus on the actions that we are taking at each level. In the time preceding these announcements, we increased engagement with local authorities at official level, and had meetings with local leaders and directors of public health. Their valuable insights have helped to shape the new system set out in three of these sets of regulations today. I have to say that I know of no Minister who has done more to engage directly with colleagues, councils and communities than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Local authorities and local leaders will be involved in any further actions and decisions about what level each area falls into. Having previously spent almost 10 years as a local councillor, I pay tribute to the dedication of council officers and councillors. I am clear about their vital role, working in partnership as part of a national approach. We recognise that there are elements of the restrictions that are difficult for individuals and businesses. I pay tribute to the British people and recognise the huge sacrifices that they have already made. That is why it is right that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has introduced further support measures, alongside the very extensive support package that he set out to the House earlier in the year.

The measures in these regulations are reasonable and proportionate, given the increased rates of transmission that we are seeing and in the context of our clear commitment to keep education settings open, and businesses open as much as possible. I reassure the House that throughout, as evidence and the science—I use that term in the plural—develop and evolve all the time, we continue to keep that under review, and I approach emerging scientific evidence with an open mind.

I urge hon. Members to join me today in supporting these regulations relating to the covid alert levels and enforcement action, tracing and businesses, recognising the very challenging infection point that this country sits at today, with rising infection and hospitalisation rates. The fight against this virus is certainly not over and we must all continue to play our part in tackling it. These measures seek to do that in a proportionate and clearly understandable way. This House and its collective wisdom are vital to getting it right, and I hope that this evening the House will demonstrate that wisdom and vote for these measures.

The Deputy Speaker put the Question (Order, this day).

Question agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local Covid-19 Alert Level) (Medium) (England) Regulations 2020, (S.I., 2020, No. 1103), dated 12 October 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12 October, be approved.—(Edward Argar.)

The Deputy Speaker then put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, this day.)