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My Lords, the amending regulations we are discussing were made by the Secretary of State on
This sequencing has been a necessary consequence of the speed at which the Government have had to respond to the changing impacts of the pandemic on our country. Use of the emergency procedure has rarely been so necessary. It has enabled us to move quickly to bring about essential measures, and to begin a cautious return to normality and to reopen the economy as soon as the science has allowed. In more usual times we would have run the processes in sequence, whereas in Covid time we have to run things in parallel. These are not usual times.
It may feel extraordinary that these processes are so out of synchronicity and there will be those who feel concerned by the situation. However, I believe that the situation has demonstrated that our flexible unwritten constitution is a strength in extraordinary times such as these and that our parliamentary democracy can retain its oversight while bringing about measures necessary to meet these unprecedented circumstances.
Having stood at the Dispatch Box to address such statutory instruments before, I convey my gratitude to noble Lords for their time spent on scrutiny, their thoughtful informal engagement and their continued support through this challenging time. Nevertheless, I assure noble Lords that this expedited process does not set some kind of inappropriate precedent for the future, when we reach a greater state of normality.
As I mentioned, the debate will focus on the second set of amending regulations, which came into force on
We have now exited phase 1 of recovery and have entered phase 2. Phase 2 involves gradually replacing the current social distancing restrictions with smarter measures that have a greater effect on controlling the pandemic, but at the lowest epidemiological, economic and social cost. Over time we will introduce more localised measures, supported by widespread, accurate monitoring of the disease.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 have been a huge success, thanks to a tremendous public effort to follow the measures that they put in place. The regulations have been instrumental in helping to reduce the rate of infection and avoid overwhelming our NHS. The total numbers of cases and new hospital admissions per day have now slowed significantly. The estimate of R remains between 0.7 and 0.9; crucially, it is below 1. As of
The amendments to the regulations that came into force on
As I outlined earlier, two further sets of changes to the regulations came into force on
My Lords, debating these regulations, which came into effect on
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the 14-day quarantine policy, which was described in the Sunday Times on
“one of the most economically damaging policies the Government has yet unveiled. It cuts the travel industry off at the knees and makes the country look isolationist and ridiculous.”
As Professor Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health and adviser to the New Zealand Government has said,
“The UK’s new 14-day quarantine rule only makes sense if you go for elimination of the virus as your goal”,
and all the necessary measures are in place. But the Government are now removing many of those measures.
The confusion is being compounded by the continuing failure of the Government to publish the evidence to justify their decisions. All we have been promised in relation to the 14 days is a summary at some point in the future. As Sir Paul Nurse and the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, said last week,
“Trust has to be earned if the public are to have confidence in their political leaders and the scientists advising them. Trust is only possible if the scientific advice given is open, transparent and properly communicated.”
Unfortunately, much government activity is more about managing the media, polling and focus groups than anything else.
The so-called review of the two-metre rule announced yesterday is a case in point, since it appears to be a softening-up process designed to legitimise a decision which has already been made. As the respected Professor Sir Chris Ham, the former director of the King’s Fund, wrote this morning,
“Boris Johnson was complacently late to grasp the gravity of the crisis and then animated by a panic-driven urge to try and impress the public by throwing out pledges he could not deliver.”
That typifies the Government’s whole approach: slow into lockdown; the sacrificing of the care sector; the shortages of PPE; the dubious testing targets and the world-beating app that never quite appears. When will the Government get a grip?
My Lords, we all went into lockdown on
I was surprised at how well, on the whole, the lockdown was followed by the public. It was difficult for many. Older people struggled with their shopping, as did those with a disability, but very quickly the volunteer networks kicked in for supermarket deliveries. The lockdown largely held, as people were genuinely fearful for their lives should they catch the virus; the public saw the need for a lockdown. What is remarkable is what was achieved with the first set of regulations, which are now known as the lockdown regulations.
How people behave during lockdown will be reflected in the penalty notices served, both by police force and by offence. Based on the original regulations, can the Minister outline how many people have been served with each category of the fixed penalty notices? These are listed in Schedule 2, Parts 1, 2 and 3. That could give us a clear indication of population behaviour in lockdown.
For example, here in Cornwall on the first weekend we had an invasion of second home owners and people fancying a change of scene. The police stopped the traffic on the A30 and M5 and penalty notices were issued. Similar scenes were seen in other holiday areas; cars were turned around and sent home. Were some geographic areas more inclined to break the rules than others? Were some police forces more inclined to pursue individuals than others? How much were the public inclined to report their neighbours for breaking the regulations? Can the Minister explain how this data is being analysed by local public health teams to determine the factors I have outlined? This could be helpful if we find ourselves having to return to lockdown, as I suspect further lockdowns—local or otherwise—will be less easy to enforce.
I am happy to support this SI and hope that local authorities are working with local resilience forums to determine a lockdown picture of their patch.
My Lords, legal constraints and public health advice each have an important place in influencing behaviour, but I shall speak to the importance of distinguishing between the two.
The initial lockdown regulations of
“I end with the advice we all know. This advice is not a request. It is an instruction. Stay at home, protect lives, and then you will be doing your part.”
Such simplifications certainly had their effect. A survey conducted in the last days of April revealed that 94% of people believed the 2-metre rule to be a legal requirement, which in England it was not and to this day has never been. More worryingly, 32% of respondents did not know that it was permitted to move to another address because of a fear of violence at home.
As the regulations we are debating came into view, this confusion allowed their liberalising significance to be exaggerated. The Prime Minister announced that from the day the regulations entered into force we would be free to drive somewhere to take exercise. In fact, this was already permitted, as the CPS, the NPCC and the College of Policing—correcting for the early excesses of a few forces—had already recognised in guidance.
I can see why blurring the line between advice and instruction—what the scholarly QC Tom Hickman has called “normative ambiguity”—must have seemed appealing to those responsible for the Government’s messaging, but longer term the practice can be as corrosive, in its own way, as the inaccurate presentation of statistics. Its true dangers were illustrated when the Dominic Cummings affair broke, and an infantilised public were not disposed to see any distinction between the breach of a rule and a failure to follow advice. The ensuing narrative of “they make the law; they break the law” damaged public trust not only in the people who govern us but in the system by which we are governed.
We are more likely to respect both the rules and the guidance if we are treated as grown-ups, capable of distinguishing between them. Let us hope for more of that openness as we fight the pandemic together.
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for not getting to his briefing meeting on
I will ask a series of questions arising from the SI, starting on page 3. Regulation 2(4) is about increased fines. I am not quite sure why fines are being changed at this stage. Is it because people are just paying no attention to the fine, or for some other reason? It would be helpful to the House and others if we knew how many fines have been issued and the geographical spread of those fines.
I note that, under Regulation 2(5)(b), new paragraph 43 is entitled “Garden centres”. I express my disappointment that they were excluded right from the start. They were the ideal place to go to get flowers, vegetables, et cetera. Later on, we read that there has been no consultation with the public, but if anybody had asked anybody, garden centres—albeit that you would have had to close the cafés—would have been the first thing on the list to be opened. At the moment, the media is full of the idea of pub gardens. I say to my noble friend the Minister that there is no hope of opening a pub garden if the pub itself cannot be open. The economics just do not work.
Turning over the page, I express some disappointment that, according to paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, it has been a month before we—and some of us have considerable experience in these areas—could debate the regulations.
Page 3 of the Explanatory Memorandum talks about collecting
“goods from any business which have been purchased in advance by phone”,
blah blah blah. The point of buying online is that it is delivered to your home, not that you have to go out and collect it from somewhere; really, that is no different from the retail trade. All you are doing is undermining the retail trade, which does not seem sensible.
On the same page, paragraph b mentions “open space”. I am afraid that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act does not cover the seashore, so there is an omission there. As far I know, you can go to the seashore.
Under “Consultation”, the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“There has been no public consultation”.
However, for consultation you do not have to go out and tell people; you can do it through all sorts of research organisations. But if it is left to government departments or SAGE, you can see why mistakes are made.
On “Monitoring & review”, I will make one point to my noble friend. I do not want to hear any more about one metre until there are some real plans for it to come in, giving people in the hospitality industry adequate time to do it. It has to happen—and soon.
My Lords, I return once again to masks. Under these regulations, it is legal to leave the place where you live to visit
“a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property”.
That provision seems to be aimed at enabling property surveys to take place, as well as visits by architects, engineers, contractors and others who advise potential purchasers or vendors. Estate agents and letting agents will also be entitled to visit properties to prepare sales or letting particulars, measure properties and record footage for virtual viewings. What happens when a person carrying the disease is asymptomatic—a term defined as in a period of between 5-6 and 14 days when the virus is multiplying yet there are no symptoms but that person could still be transmitting to others—and visits a property for the purposes that I have set out?
We are given some guidance on that matter in the guidance note to employers and businesses about Covid-19. We are told that
“estate agents should enquire whether a party is showing symptoms or self-isolating, should not carry out any open house viewings, wear face masks in accordance with guidance if they undertake an accompanied visit”.
That is only guidance, however; it is not mandatory. The guidance note Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not a legal requirement, unlike on the Tube. The property owner or tenant is hardly going to advise the invitee to wear a mask, if only because they will be unaware of the guidance, yet the tenant or owner could be at risk from the invitee. Equally, vice versa, the tenant could be at risk as well.
The regulations need tightening up. If a person on public transport in a confined space such as the Tube can be subject to the law for failure to wear a mask, the law should equally apply to some tradespeople in certain circumstances. As we increasingly dilute lockdown and its distancing provisions, we will be more and more dependent on masks. That is the trade-off. I suggest we turn the guidance into enforceable regulation.
I remind the Government that a Minister emphasised at a press conference last week the need for masks in enclosed spaces. I do not think we need the normative ambiguity referred to by a previous speaker.
My Lords, I have no issue with the minor lifting of restrictions contained in these regulations—apart from the bizarre timing of this debate—other than to say how odd it was to prioritise being able to visit an estate agent over being able to visit family members from whom we have been separated for months.
I will focus primarily on how as a country we move out of lockdown in a way that feels fair and does not discriminate. It has been more apparent in recent weeks that we were too slow to move into lockdown and that those lost weeks in March cost precious lives. The Government have also been far too slow in getting testing, tracing and isolating up and running, as well as in providing PPE and other crucial support for care homes.
I have been particularly concerned about the impact of lockdown on the well-being of those living by themselves, for whom lockdown has been especially tough. For some living alone, there has been a limited easing of restrictions in recent weeks; they can now form a social bubble with another household. These are clearly steps in the right direction, but I am concerned about the mental health impact of long periods of isolation on both the over-70s and those of any age living alone.
Back in April, the Mental Health Foundation voiced concerns over the long-term impact of the pandemic on mental health after a quarter of adults surveyed admitted to experiencing loneliness during lockdown. Perhaps surprisingly, the most affected group was found to be young people aged 18 to 24, 44% of whom admitted to experiencing loneliness. Research has shown that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it more dangerous than obesity. More recent research from Age UK has shown that over two-fifths of people aged 70 and over say that their mental health has been affected, with those locked down alone having a particularly anxious time.
Many people over 70 who are still fit and active, contributing to the economy and society and with no underlying health conditions, are increasingly finding these blanket policies ageist and discriminatory. A growing number of over-70s are also annoyed at the implication that all their age group are equally vulnerable and have called on the Government to take a more nuanced approach. Indeed, some are starting to say that the proposed cure of a lengthy extended lockdown for older people is as bad as or worse than the disease itself.
To finish on care homes, which are never far from my mind, at the end of May social care leaders began calling on Ministers to prioritise unlocking care homes amid growing concerns that mental health problems were contributing to the deaths of residents, a call echoed by the Relatives & Residents Association. The executive director of the National Care Forum said:
“We need to put the same energy and imagination into opening up care homes as we’re putting into opening up the great British pub.”
I for one agree.
My Lords, I find it extraordinary that we are debating Amendment No. 2 when it relates to a lockdown that is long gone. Amendment No. 3 was made on
I am also concerned about the way in which parliamentary scrutiny has been undermined throughout this process. The Minister at the start used words such as “exceptional” and said that it would not be an inappropriate precedent. That is complete nonsense, because it is already a precedent. The regulations relate to the most extreme restrictions ever enforced in this country, yet Parliament appears to be an afterthought for this Government. Perhaps as a result, the regulations are very poorly drafted. Now they are unenforceable and likely to have unintended consequences that have not even been acknowledged yet.
The regulations, and all subsequent amendments, have been enforced as SIs, using the affirmative procedure, but without the prior authorisation of Parliament due to “urgency”. Everyone will appreciate the fast pace of the situation. However, Parliament has been in session. It is hard to think of a higher-priority business matter than these lockdown regulations, yet they have evaded timely parliamentary scrutiny on every occasion—in fact, debates are being held, as now, on old lockdown amendments, on the same day as new ones are enforced without prior parliamentary authorisation. This makes a mockery of the term “democratic process”. It remains the extraordinary case that the lockdown regulations have never yet been put in place with parliamentary approval; only outdated versions have been approved, after an amendment has already been enforced.
I recommend that the Government read Big Brother Watch’s May 2020 report, which explains the problem in detail, and might even allow the Government to understand the legal and social mess they have created. I stress that Parliament is sitting, and so rules should not now be being passed by government diktat. We need to maintain our role in scrutiny.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the way in which he has worked tirelessly throughout this crisis. Tonight, I want to draw attention to an issue that has arisen under the health protection and coronavirus restrictions legislation, amendments to which we are debating today. It is an issue that I had hoped to see addressed in the amendment that we are debating this evening.
During the passage of the original health protection legislation, two amendments were laid in this House. These amendments were to allow abortion-inducing medication to be self-administered by pregnant women, within their homes, after one virtual medical consultation—a departure from the need for two doctors. These provisions were initially firmly rejected in the other place, with a statement by the Secretary of State for Health that
“We have no proposals to change any abortion rules as part of the covid-19 response.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/3/20; col. 244.]
Further remarks were made in this Chamber by the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bethell, that it is not right to rush through this type of change in a sensitive area such as abortion without adequate parliamentary scrutiny. The amendment to approve this procedure was therefore withdrawn by the Chamber.
However, a later response to questions I posed to the Department of Health said that the department had in fact taken the power and made this change. In doing so, the Government stated that the intention was to ease the pressure on health professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic by allowing registered medical practitioners to prescribe both pills for the treatment of early medical abortion, up to 10 weeks, from their own homes. This meant that women would be prescribed this medication without being seen by a doctor and without the gestation period of their child being verified.
The tragedy of this confusion is that it is women who have suffered. This confusion has led to poor health outcomes for vulnerable women, with known cases of complications, such as incomplete abortion and continued bleeding. This confusion has led not only to the suffering of women but to abuses and misadministration, with no way of knowing whether or not the gestation period was in fact under 10 weeks. There are nine known cases of women who were provided at-home abortion pills beyond the end of 10 weeks’ gestation, including one case where the unborn child was at 28 weeks’ gestation—four weeks past the legal limit, as set out in the Abortion Act 1967.
Does my noble friend the Minister agree that, with the reopening of non-essential shops and the resuming of normal medical services, it is now time that the care of women by two doctors is restored in person? Will he agree that the next time these regulations are reviewed, this will be included within them?
My Lords, this debate is nothing more than a charade—a mere illusion of scrutiny and accountability of government. We are discussing regulations that have already been amended twice by a ministerial pen. We cannot change them or make recommendations to improve them. These are Henry VIII powers on steroids.
The introduction to the regulations states:
“The Secretary of State considers that the restrictions and requirements imposed by these Regulations are proportionate to what they seek to achieve, which is a public health response to that threat … the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
It is debatable whether there was any urgent need to make these amendments to the regulations before placing a draft before Parliament. These amendments make changes that, in the view of the Government, are urgent and required for the lockdown. It stretches matters too far to say that these changes have to be introduced as a matter of urgency. They were not issues that crept upon the Government within a few days. These executive orders, decided behind closed Whitehall doors, have serious implications for citizens’ movements and freedoms. This has to stop. It makes a mockery of Parliament and our civil liberties, and is a power grab by Ministers trying to avoid in-depth parliamentary scrutiny.
Government incompetence, backed up by total executive power, is not what is needed but unfortunately that is what we now have in dealing with Covid-19. Why have the Government deemed this matter to be so urgent and in need of emergency powers at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic? If they had acted with competence, and faster, at the start of the pandemic, some of the restrictions to our freedoms in these regulations would not be required now.
When a public inquiry is held, as it will be, the lack of action early on, with the instigation of a lockdown and the lack of action in February to implement an at-scale test, trace and isolate system that would have saved British lives, will be key issues. Different and faster actions would have changed the journey of Covid-19 on these isles.
Some of the provisions in these regulations that restrict some of our freedoms are the direct result of government incompetence and slowness to act. Regulations made behind closed doors and then presented to Parliament in this way indicate a Government who are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. With over 41,000 deaths, this is not the way to deal with the pandemic. Therefore, will the Minister commit to the future tabling of draft amendments to these regulations for the resolution of both Houses before they become law? That is required to get the balance correct when dealing with this public health crisis and protecting our freedoms and movements.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate these regulations but I would like to put down a marker for future regulations. In particular, I want to focus my remarks on the distancing rule, but will my noble friend comment on the inevitable discrepancies that we have seen in the current regulations? One has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. However, another is that it is still not possible for churches to host singing at normal services because of the risk of infection through exhaling, yet runners, who exhale deeply, can pass by very close to other road users and indeed to those in parks in major cities, but that is deemed not to be a risk of infection.
Looking ahead to what we believe will be a reduction in the two-metre self-distancing rule, will my noble friend take this opportunity to say how this can be enforced, particularly in public places but more especially to assist those who hope to see the reopening of tourism, restaurant and catering facilities? It would be helpful to know how this can be enforced, particularly, as my noble friend has said, against the backdrop of the R rate still seeming to be relatively high. My noble friend said that it is still between 0.7 and 0.9 and that it remains perilously close to 1. Regarding the number of declared deaths, my understanding is that 10% of confirmed Covid deaths globally have occurred within the UK.
With those few remarks, I hope that the regulations will continue to be kept under review, and I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity to address the remarks on self-distancing going forward.
As regulations change rapidly, I want to focus on PPE, particularly the supply of FFP3 high-level protection masks for clinical staff. The Royal College of Physicians—I declare my interest as a fellow—has conducted four surveys of members about their continuing experiences, and the latest, on 3-
As Test and Trace gets established, the requirement for contacts to self-isolate for two weeks risks returning to the pressures of staff absences. Current guidance about PPE is that staff should always wear a mask, which decreases the risk of asymptomatic spreaders and protects the patients. But staff are not adequately protected. An FFP3 mask is only allowed in high-risk areas and for certain procedures. Patients on ordinary wards, waiting for admission and on whom results of tests are not yet back, often cough, splutter or vomit and it is inevitable that clinical staff are showered with droplets. Can the Minister say how secure are supplies of FFP3 masks, are we now producing them in the UK, and will they be issued to all front-line clinicians to try to ensure that a second peak does not pull down staffing numbers to critical levels as the lockdown eases? As people move around more, the risks to those shielding or with visual difficulties will make them more anxious. Will the Minister explore with me the idea of Dr Iliff, an anaesthetics Bevan Health Technology Exemplar trainee in Wales, for a lapel badge that those who need more protection can wear to make them visible to others when in public places, and which could go on a lanyard?
I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, has scratched, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.
My Lords, we owe all our front-line workers, not least those in the NHS and in care homes, an enduring debt of gratitude. To that end, can my noble friend say what is the current situation with PPE? Do the NHS and our care home workers have all the PPE that they require, and is it all now in date? Similarly, it may be beyond my noble friend’s brief, but of the supermarkets that opened up early sessions for NHS workers specifically to come first thing in the morning, how many are still running those sessions, and how many of them are now simply letting all members of the public come in, denying NHS workers that key opportunity to get their shopping when they are off shift?
At the beginning of this pandemic, the WHO said that a safe social distance was one metre, and it has stuck to that throughout. To that end, will my noble friend announce to the House tonight that it is time to end two metres and go to one metre, not least combining it with the use of masks so that we can transition to this state safely and securely? Bars and restaurants have said that at two metres, they can add 30% of custom, and at one metre over 70%—which is where an efficient and effective business can be run.
Can my noble friend tell the House that we will end this quarantine situation, which makes no sense at this time at all? Similarly, how is it possible to get on a domestic airliner from London to Glasgow and sit next to your fellow passengers with no social distancing, yet we cannot go to places of worship together with safe social distancing? You can get on that plane and sit right next to fellow passengers, yet we cannot get our young people back to school. Does my noble friend agree that if we end the quarantine period and reduce social distancing from two metres to one metre, we will be able to have a safe and social summer, in which we will be able to educate our young people, get our economy back on track, and return to some form of society?
My Lords, my main concern about these regulations is whether there can be sufficient public confidence for people to respect them. Debates such as this have shown how government advice and regulations about how we should all respond to the Covid crisis have been inconsistent: inconsistently applied and inconsistently based on scientific advice. Government statistics, on which policy is based, have been regularly challenged.
I asked the Minister some weeks ago if he listened to the excellent Radio 4 programme “More or Less”. He said that he did. If he has been listening recently, he will have heard a weekly demolition of government statistics. On Friday, we learned that England’s chief nurse was dropped from a Downing Street press conference because she would not back Dominic Cummings. Yesterday, we read in the Sunday Times that the Government’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser are both on resignation watch. Tonight, we saw the Foreign Secretary standing alone at the Downing Street press conference, without advisers.
The impression has been constantly given that political pressures to create headlines have sometimes taken precedence over protecting people’s lives. To help regulations such as these gain respect, can the Minister please tell us why the daily Downing Street press conferences should not be replaced by Statements in Parliament where they can be properly scrutinised, and by regular press conferences, at which journalists are allowed us to pursue questions where they are not answered satisfactorily and scientific advisers are able to speak freely?
My Lords, I would like to thank the Minister for his hard work. You cannot be right in a situation such as we have been facing. For a historian like me, there is something to be said for reading the accounts of the first few months of the Second World War. It began with the British people enthusiastically endorsing all the restrictions imposed by the Government of the day but then, just as with this country recently, what we call obedience fatigue set in as people started getting fed up with the regulations. That is where we are now. So I counsel the Government, “Please, ease it up as fast as you can. If you don’t, people will ease it up for you”.
The one-metre rule is already in force except where the two-metre rule is enforced. In other words, if it is left up to people, they do not obey the two-metre rule just as they do not obey the three-bubble rule, or whatever. People are increasingly doing their own thing. We have to sort out this difference between the focus groups and common-sense government. There was a man called Paul Samuelson in the 1960s who came up with the concept of the free rider. This is basically that people are always in favour of taking actions that cost them nothing, but which other people pay for and where other people suffer. When I am told that the 14-day quarantine period is very popular, I suspect that it is probably very popular with people who go on holiday once a year. It has nothing to offer people like me who go to European Union countries on a regular basis and are now having great difficulties.
I ask the Minister to try to ease things up—and that includes in hospitals. Far too many hospital beds are empty, physiotherapy has collapsed, chiropody has collapsed, and the health service is suffering from a sclerotic condition. The Minister has to get them back to work; this may well take a fair bit of toughness.
My final point is this: we need to get Parliament back to work. We are not functioning efficiently or effectively. I am sitting in my office in Millbank because I could not master the regulations for sitting in the Chamber which, I see from looking at my screen, is almost empty. The House is now running in the interests of the Government; it must be returned to the Members, and PDQ.
My Lords, I wish to make three points. The first is that these measures were made on
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, my noble friend Lady Jolly, and others across the House, including myself, would have been alarmed to hear the Minister glorying in the flexibility of the British constitution to afford this Government the ability to, in effect, bypass proper parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament gave the Government considerable powers with this emergency legislation, and when Parliament does so, the Government should consider that gravely and afford much greater ability to Parliament to scrutinise those measures; they have not done so. I hope we will never again hear the Minister glory in the flexibility of the constitution to do that.
Secondly, in his speech on
“the regulations reflect the strategy that we have agreed across the UK, which is led by the best scientific evidence”.—[
As I pointed out in last week’s debate on masks, there is growing inconsistency north and south of the border. For someone such as myself on the border and for the community I represented when I was elected, this is a major concern. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said—and I agree with him entirely—there is the limited explanation of what the law is; then there is the greater element of what ministerial guidance is; and you now have a third category of ministerial requests to be made regarding the action of the people. But there is a great deal of confusion. Today, if you cross the border into Scotland at Carter Bar on the A68, you will see a huge electronic neon screen saying: “Stay home. Save the NHS.”
This inconsistency brings me to my third point. People did trust their Government at times of crisis. But after the Dominic Cummings affair and confused messages from the Government, that trust has plummeted. It is vital that trust is maintained so that we avoid a second wave. The OECD has put in stark terms the economic dangers this country faces if we enter a second wave. We are already third behind Trump’s Administration and Bolsonaro’s Brazil. That is not a triumvirate I am proud of or that this country should be proud of. To avoid a second wave, trust must be regained, and this kind of activity from the Government with these kinds of measures is not conducive to rebuilding that trust.
My Lords, the PM has announced that the five government tests have been met; hence we are easing lockdown without prior discussion in Parliament. Can the Minister say if these measures, announced on
We are a number of weeks past the concept of bubbles, and there are very important questions about access to places of worship, including mosques, gurdwaras and temples. He will be aware that many volunteer organisations have ensured during the emergency period that government messaging goes out to communities. They are asking for clarity. When will these instructions be made clear to them, to make sure that congregational prayers do not resume without adequate support?
These and subsequent measures have not referred adequately to the plight of those suffering from mental ill-health. Mental health has significantly deteriorated due to family income. What measures are the Government considering to address the plight of the more than 1 million people who have not been able to access government financial support? I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on the issues of mental health she has raised.
It would be remiss of me, even though these measures do not refer to this, not to mention the Government withholding the full version of the PHE report. Professor Fenton stated that there is strong evidence of racism, discrimination and structural inequalities contributing to the disproportionate impact on minority communities experiencing the Covid-19 disease—and we know that. When will the report, hitherto held in abeyance, be published? Will there be, or has there been, a comprehensive assessment to prevent further risks to minority communities—staff and patients alike?
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his never-failing energy and courtesy at the virtual Dispatch Box, where he performs on a daily basis. I have a point about the latest guidance, which is not in these regulations. From today, everyone has to wear a face mask when travelling on public transport, except for the disabled. I am sorry, but exempting the majority of disabled people is fundamentally wrong, sends the wrong signal and will bring disabled people into disrepute.
Of course, there are disabled people with breathing difficulties or who need an inhaler, and there are autistic children and some others for whom a face mask may be frightening and therefore unwearable. However, for the vast majority of wheelchair users, the blind and the deaf, what is the problem? I am in a wheelchair, as many noble Lords will know, and when I eventually get out, I shall be wearing a mask, and I hope my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, will approve. I shall wear it everywhere, including when I get back to the Chamber. So I ask the Minister to please look at this again, and make it clear that only disabled people with breathing difficulties or other select illnesses should not wear a mask.
As other noble Lords have said, these regulations are catching up on history, and while they are okay in themselves and I support them, they are now pretty pointless. Take Regulation 3, which allows people to visit a public open space either alone, with one or more members of their household or with one member of another household. However, for the past two weeks, we have seen mobs of tens of thousands packed together protesting, and the police incapable and unwilling to do anything about it. Indeed, some senior officers condoned mobs tearing down statues. Last weekend, 6,000 people were packed into a rave in Manchester, with stabbings and a rape. How can we expect the public to obey the new rules when they see mobs getting away with it?
Let us have no more hypocrisy from the Guardian and left-wing politicians and commentators, who were desperate to destroy—and are still mentioning—Dominic Cummings, who did not break the law or the guidelines, but are now praising demonstrators gathered in their thousands and breaking all our coronavirus laws. If coronavirus takes off again in these areas, we know who will be to blame, and it is not Dominic Cummings. I am not opposed to these regulations, but I regret that they will never be enforced.
My Lords, I think it is fair to say that the House recognises that the Minister, and in fact not just this Minister but those throughout the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as their staff and staff throughout the NHS and social care sector, have been working incredibly hard. It is good to see the numbers of cases, hospital admissions and deaths finally beginning to decrease.
However, there are still some issues. As others have already pointed out, R remains at probably between 0.7 and 0.9, and quite possibly above 1 in some regions. The debate about moving from two metres to one does not seem to be led by expert opinion. The absence of the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser is very noticeable.
On access to PPE, I completely endorse the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, but I would like to add that this is not just about high-level PPE. We are still hearing that there are severe shortages of PPE in care homes, and over the weekend there have been press reports about some further shortages of PPE in hospitals as well.
That brings us to these regulations, the first of a series that will start to lift lockdown. I agree with my noble friends Lord Scriven and Lord Purvis, the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Balfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that it is very frustrating to sit here today debating something that came into force half a month ago, with two updates since. Perhaps the usual channels could start discussing emergency sessions to look at these SIs as they emerge, with a much more rapid turnaround. It rather feels as though this entire principle of debate is being abused, and, as other noble Lords have said, used solely for executive power. When the first coronavirus regulations were discussed in March, we discussed at some length how executive power would be used. The Minister assured the Moses Room that this would be done only if it was essential and there was no ability to return to the House. I urge the Minister and the usual channels to examine this again.
These regulations include increased fines for breaching restrictions on movement, and my noble friend Lady Jolly has referred to the increase in fines and their complexity. It is worth noting that in France, between mid-March and the end of April, 15.5 million people were stopped by the police, and 915,000 people received fines. Initially fines were of €38, but they have risen to €135. Spain took a much more stringent view: over a million people have received fines, which for minor infringements double each time. Seriously infringements can go straight to the highest level: €10,000. It was good last week to see Prince Joachim of Belgium being fined that amount after attending an illicit party in Andalusia, thus setting a very public example. Will the police and the courts enforce the fines here in the UK if there is substantial deliberate breaching of the rules, especially if there is an increase in cases and hospital admissions over the next few weeks?
One area that remains a worry for the millions of BAME citizens is how they will be protected as lockdown is lifted. The PHE report, Disparities in the Risk and Outcomes of Covid-19, made it plain that BAME people in the UK are more likely to fall critically ill, require respiratory support and, sadly, to die. What steps are the Government taking now to ensure that there is clear guidance for our BAME communities on how to manage those higher risks? What impact assessment will employers of key workers, especially those in health and care, have put in place for when they come into contact with coronavirus patients?
Even more worryingly, my noble friend Lord Paddick has shown me a report in today’s Guardian which says that Ken Marsh, the chair of the Police Federation, defended the police’s enforcement of the coronavirus lockdown, after Met figures showed that officers enforcing the lockdown were twice as likely to issue fines to black people as to white people. Marsh said:
“It threw crime out the window. Anyone out in the first four weeks was a drug dealer.”
Let that sink in. Any black person out in the first four weeks was a drug dealer. Most of us fear catching the virus, but if you are black, you also have the conscious bias of police officers to fear.
What advice will the Government offer to the law-abiding vast majority of black people in London when they go out? Will they undertake to talk to the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London, so that this shocking view can be challenged wherever it is found in the Metropolitan Police?
I want to end on why we must still be careful as lockdown is lifted. I have often quoted the World Health Organization. In April, as countries began considering lifting lockdown, it said that the key tests were that transmission must be controlled, there must be health system capacities for test and trace, outbreaks must be minimised and there must be preventive methods in the workplace. I am not sure that we have seen those yet. We still need to be very careful in lifting lockdown.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these Covid-19 regulations and all the speakers this evening. Tonight’s debate is taking place at the wrong time. We are being asked to approve amendments retrospectively for the second time. We will have a third lot in about a week and possibly a fourth at the beginning of July. These are the second amendments. We will take the third amendments on
The regulations before us were created and signed into law on
While Parliament did not hear a Statement about the changes in May, as several noble Lords have remarked, the media did from the Prime Minister. That might not seem like a big deal in the middle of a crisis, but it means that we have seen neither the supporting scientific advice nor the impact assessment. The Government have not laid a document setting out how their five tests on relaxation have been met, and the joint biosecurity centre has not reduced the threat level. The MoD’s chief scientific adviser, Dame Angela McLean, has stated that changes to lockdown as modelled need a highly effective track, trace and isolate system to be in place. This does not fill me with confidence.
In global terms, the UK has experienced one of the highest death rates for Covid-19. While the official total is just over 40,000, ONS data suggest that there were more like 50,000 excess deaths during the crisis period. The mortality rate has been more than twice as high in the most deprived areas of England compared with the wealthiest. The Government have been criticised during the debate over PPE and ventilator procurement, and the timing and implementation of lockdown. Older citizens appear to have been sacrificed in their care homes, with a slow lockdown and lack of testing. Children’s education and mental health are in jeopardy because of the lack of leadership and resources in education. Today, we learned that 1.5 million children might be hungry over the summer because free school meals will not be available.
Meanwhile, the state of the economy is deeply worrying. Indeed, Covid-19 has laid bare the structural inequalities at the core of our democracy. Hidden under the headline figures are huge differences in the death rates among specific groups, as several noble Lords mentioned. An early report by the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre found that BAME people, who comprise only 14% of the population, constitute 35% of the fatalities from Covid.
We are all aware that these regulations come during yet another crucial phase in the fight against coronavirus and, of course, we all wish that they were not necessary, but sadly we know that these restrictions are required due to the ongoing and serious threats to public health. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said, the original regulations were not debated for many weeks after they were introduced, despite the fact that Parliament was sitting. Debating them weeks after the event, when they have already been superseded, as we have heard, is frankly a bit of an insult to Parliament, and yet further evidence that the Government are not doing things in a timely fashion. There is no excuse for this. Surely we can have a clear timetable.
May I ask the Minister for sight of the reviews? My honourable friend Justin Madders MP asked in a Written Question whether the Secretary of State would publish the reviews carried out on
“The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual … period.”
This is not accountability. There is a failure to allow Parliament to do its job of scrutiny. Here we have the most far-reaching impositions on the life of this country in peacetime—necessary actions that are not being properly scrutinised by Parliament. Will the Minister commit to putting the reviews in the Library?
I hope that on this occasion, the Minister will not say again how hard everyone is working. We know that he is working incredibly hard. We know that everybody is working incredibly hard, and we would all commend that. Labour has been pretty clear that we want the Government to succeed in tackling this horrible virus. So, I implore the Minister to take these questions about accountability, effectiveness and leadership as not undermining the national effort but as legitimate scrutiny.
Given all of the above concerns, a crisis of this scale will of course warrant a full public inquiry, but that will be complex and take time. In the short term, and as a precursor to that inquiry, perhaps we need a rapid exercise in learning the lessons to ensure that the Government are better prepared for a potential second wave of infection and to understand better how to hold it at bay. Does the Minister agree?
I want to say a profound thank you to noble Lords because this has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate on these important statutory instruments. Despite the unusual sequencing of regulations and debate, I restate the Government’s commitment to working with Parliament in developing the policies that find expression in the legislation we debate in this House.
The amendments we debated today are a cautious step towards returning to normal life. We are beginning to move along the Government’s road map to easing restrictions. We are listening to the scientific evidence and making changes only when we are confident that it is safe to do so. To reassure the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Scriven, we remain committed to openness and transparency.
Although they do not form part of the specific measures scheduled for debate today, I will address some of the issues highlighted by noble Lords regarding this gradual relaxation. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Tyler, touched on the crucial issue of social contact. We know that many people are lonely and isolated as a result of lockdown. That is a particularly significant issue for those who live by themselves. We acknowledge that the introduction of support bubbles for single adult households will not help everyone and it will continue to be difficult for those who are not able to benefit from this change. But we cannot risk throwing away the progress that the British public have made. We are focusing today on taking a cautious step to help those who are isolated and living alone, and lone parents who do not have childcare support.
The Government’s recovery strategy has set out an intention to open non-essential retail from
The Government completely understand that the impact of the lockdown on the hospitality industry is profound, and I recognise the commercial logic of my noble friend Lord Naseby. But there is no escaping the fact that restaurants and pubs are naturally crowded and require contact between people, which means that they create an infection-rich environment where it is much more difficult to socially distance. That is why we have established a pubs and restaurants task force to consider how these businesses can reopen safely, in line with the road map and scientific advice.
I am grateful to people of all faiths for the patience they have shown during the lockdown, and I am very pleased that we been able to reopen places of worship for individual prayer this week. In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the virus is communicated by the infected person’s airborne droplets, so it is sensible that activities that generate substantial outward breathing, such as singing, should be restricted. However, I reassure my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, that we hope to be able to reopen places of worship fully when this is supported by the science. I am grateful to the places of worship task force for its continued engagement.
To reassure my noble friend Lord Blencathra, based on the scientific assessment that people generally develop symptoms and cease to be infectious within 14 days, the NHS Test and Trace programme can identify people at risk of infection and, if necessary, advise them to self-isolate. As a result, we can effectively reduce the spread of the virus and maintain transmission at low levels. We have stood up a brand new, large-scale national system at speed and are continuously improving it. We now need everyone to get behind the system, which has the vital function of keeping us all safe.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, was right to focus on social care. The Government have set out a comprehensive action plan to support the adult social care sector in England throughout the coronavirus outbreak, including ramping up testing, overhauling the way PPE is delivered and minimising the spread of the virus, to keep people safe. The social care sector Covid-19 support task force will ensure the delivery of the social care action plan and the care homes intensive support package. This will ensure that concerted and determined action is taken to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in the sector, for both those who rely on care and support and the social care workforce.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his tireless campaigning on the important issue of masks and for his impactful debate last week. The use of masks is particularly relevant for those on public transport. Social distancing remains central to our strategy and is the best way to keep safe. However, on public transport, where it is not possible to follow the guidance consistently, these changes will ensure passengers benefit from the additional protection of face coverings and help keep front-line staff safe. That is why, from today, passengers must wear face coverings when travelling on public transport in England. There are some exceptions for health, age or equality reasons. As my noble friend Lord Blencathra requested, the regulations already do not exempt all disabled people; they just make appropriate provision for those whose disabilities would impact on their ability to wear a face covering. I understand that those who can put on, wear or remove a face covering, including those with disabilities, are required to do so. I remind noble Lords that our regulations have succeeded largely because they are based on consent, rather than mandation. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the Government would like to continue that principle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, asked about the resilience of our PPE production system. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, echoed these concerns. I am pleased to say that we are building up UK manufacturing, with signed contracts to manufacture over 2 billion items of PPE, including face masks, visors, gowns and aprons, through UK-based manufacturers. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, raised an important point on borders and quarantine. On
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Jolly, and my noble friend Lord Naseby speculated as to the effectiveness of the lockdown. I confirm that, between
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked an important question about the disproportionate impact on people from BAME backgrounds. I assure her that we are working closely with policing partners to analyse the data. We are clear that nobody should be subject to police enforcement on the basis of race.
I turn now to social distancing, raised by a number of noble Lords including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Anderson of Ipswich, my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Holmes and Lord Balfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The Government always prescribe certain things in law and advise others as best practice in guidance. We may not have the laws to enforce the two-metre rule, but we cannot avoid the fact that the scientific assessment is clear: along with handwashing, maintaining robust social distancing is the best way to mitigate the risk of infection. In response to my noble friend Lord Balfe, I say that public support for these common-sense and effective measures remains enormous.
Timing and scrutiny were raised by a number of noble Lords, including eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The regulations state that the Secretary of State should revoke restrictions at the earliest opportunity if they are no longer necessary for public health. Parliamentary scrutiny is essential, but we could not justify to the public keeping the restrictions in place for a few extra weeks while we awaited debate. A Statement has been made to this House at the earliest opportunity for each set of amendments, and I assure noble Lords that we will continue with that. In recognition of the importance of transparency in these unprecedented times, SAGE has published the statements and accompanying evidence it has reviewed to demonstrate how the scientific understanding of Covid-19 has evolved.
My noble friend Lady Stroud raised an extremely important issue on abortion. I assure noble Lords that we take issues around abortion extremely seriously. The amendment to the Coronavirus Act included extensive changes allowing nurses and midwives to certify and perform abortions, which went further than the limited coronavirus measures for home use that were eventually introduced. The coronavirus situation was very fast moving. The balance of risks for home use shifted after the debate in a way that made a reconsideration necessary, but the words of the debate were not forgotten.
As we begin to take steps towards normal life, it is vital that all these measures, including the regulations we have debated today, are kept under constant review. In response to the heartfelt and thoughtful points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, on prior parliamentary authority, I reassure the House that these restrictions have been placed not only on individuals but on society as a whole, and that the Government are maintaining only the restrictions that are necessary and proportionate at any given time. As and when the science supports it, we will introduce further cautious changes in line with the steps outlined in the recovery strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, remarked, this will of course not be the final debate we have on these important matters. The changes to regulations made on
This is an unusual situation, but I take some comfort from the tone of this debate. While I acknowledge the many serious challenges made to government action, this amendment has not attracted fundamental rebuttal and I think that the rhythm of these amendments, which are moving quickly in response to fast-changing and unpredictable events, has brought a degree of timely scrutiny under difficult circumstances. Therefore I will finish by recording the Government’s continued gratitude to the NHS and care workers, and to all key workers. I am very proud of and grateful to them for their continued hard work and, on behalf of all those in the House, I thank them for the sacrifice which has been so essential in our response to this crisis.