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Amendment 1

Part of Coronavirus Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 12:15 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 12:15 pm, 25th March 2020

My Lords, yesterday I had the privilege of being able to speak, so I will be brief. I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Thornton and the words of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. Normally, he and I would be knocking bells out of each other but, on this occasion, we happen to be in total agreement.

I want to reinforce the point that in times of trauma, as we are at the moment, civil society is always critical to survival. That is true in war zones and it will be true in the weeks ahead. I have registered interests in a number of voluntary and charitable organisations, including the RNIB and the Alzheimer’s Society. I want to stress the importance of monitoring. That is not in the sense of a suspicion that the Government will somehow abuse these powers deliberately but because the prioritisation that underpins this power of suspension of normal rights understandably presumes that it will not be possible to carry out the norms of support available.

We learned today that a staggering 250,000 people have already indicated that they are prepared to volunteer. I recently stood down as a board member of the National Citizen Service, among other voluntary commitments. Picking up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Hain, it would be useful if we were able to reinforce very quickly the fact that those organisations in civil society—this is true at the local level as well—are picking up this cudgel and are able, not necessarily to fill the vacuum but to reach out, particularly to the 1.5 million people who have been asked to isolate themselves completely for 12 weeks. I hope we will be able to revisit that when things are clearer in three or four weeks’ time.

I very rarely speak about this, but I want to put on record what it must be like for someone without sight in a high-rise flat. They cannot even look out of the window to see the sun and the birds or make any contact. That is prison. Being able to reach out, even with local government’s lack of capacity, through the voluntary sector and volunteers to make contact, provide support and ensure that, where someone has a crisis, their rights are being upheld, will be vital. I believe that the Minister gets all this. From everything I have seen and understood in a metaphorical sense, he and the team around him are tremendously hard-working and appreciate these issues, working as they are in incredibly difficult circumstances. Given that, I hope that there can be a positive response because, frankly, if we cannot mobilise in this way as well as monitor the rights of those who yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, spelled out in a way that I could never manage, we will have let down those who need us most at this critical time.