My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations on the Order Paper, in the name of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, be approved. I will start with a short summary of the social distance regulations, because there are numerous regulations, some amendments and some overlapping timelines, which it is helpful to clarify.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020—the major lockdown regulations—were introduced, as noble Lords will remember, on
The regulations made by the Secretary of State on
Since then, there have been further changes. The regulations being debated today do not cover the recent announcements of making face coverings in shops, supermarkets, cafes and enclosed shopping centres mandatory from today,
The Government have scheduled this debate as quickly as possible following committee scrutiny to allow for timely parliamentary scrutiny. I know that noble Lords have voiced concerns in relation to parliamentary scrutiny, and we are listening and working to ensure that debates take place as soon as possible after legislation has been laid. We have needed to use the emergency power to amend these regulations, as they place great restrictions on individuals, society and business. For these same reasons, we have looked to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so. I also acknowledge that noble Lords may have concerns in relation to the possibility of many debates having to take place on return from the Summer Recess. As I have mentioned, we are working to have debates as soon as reasonably possible and, if we need to have further debates on returning, that is what we shall do.
Thanks to an immense national effort to slow the spread of the virus, we have been able to restore some of the freedoms cherished by us all. Sectors to reopen include hospitality and leisure, and more contact between families and friends has been allowed. As my right honourable friend the Health Secretary set out in a Statement in the other place on
However, when needed, we also act on a broader basis, as we have in Leicester. Draft regulations have been published which set out a non-exhaustive set of options, illustrating the ways government might legislate under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 as part of a targeted approach that responds to the particular circumstances of a local outbreak in England. These powers include: closing businesses and venues in whole sector, such as food production or non-essential retail, or within a defined geographical area, such as towns or counties; imposing general restrictions on the movement of people; imposing restrictions on gatherings; restricting local or national transport systems— closing them entirely, or introducing capacity limits or geographical restrictions; and mandating the use of face coverings in a wider range of public places.
As our response to Covid-19 and circumstances in local areas evolves, we may develop new categories of intervention and would develop draft regulations accordingly. The measures in the draft regulations will allow for effective, targeted interventions, while seeking to avoid a return to a national lockdown. In the event that the Government need to make a significant intervention, they would do so in a way that targets the transmission of the virus while minimising the disruption to individuals, society and the economy.
In Leicester, we have moved towards a position where we can relax some, but not all of the restrictions that were in place. We are removing them in order to enable the reopening of non-essential retail, childcare and education establishments from today,
I turn now to the regulations that we are debating today. From
Along with the changes to the regulations, guidance has also been issued on how organised, outdoor, grass-roots team sports and participation events can begin again and how outdoor performances with audiences can take place. This is an important milestone for our performing artists, who have been waiting patiently in the wings since March. The regulations and subsequent amendments do not apply to the city of Leicester and the borough of Oadby and Wigston.
Noble Lords will be aware that we have announced plans for future changes to the restrictions, and the legislation for these changes was laid on
My Lords, I have one minute in which to make one simple point. These are very detailed regulations, but whatever the level of detail, they will not have the intended effect unless the Government’s communication and messaging is clear, concise, unambiguous and constant. Sadly, I am afraid that until now, on lockdown, testing, quarantine, technology, face masks and many other things, Ministers have often appeared to equivocate, dither or delay, and that only confuses the public with mixed messages. I ask the Minister simply that we should please avoid doing that this time. Can we ensure that there is consistency and clarity in messaging, otherwise the effect of these detailed regulations will be lost?
My Lords, these regulations go some way towards easing the coronavirus restrictions and I am grateful to the Minister for the clarifications. Many people will now be glad of the opportunity to eat out, but I know that some owners feel that the time is not yet right to open, and some diners may be happier staying at home. The regulations include a new power for the Health Secretary to restrict access to a specified public outdoor space. That could include public gardens, open country and access land. Can the Minister confirm whether it could include beaches? How will a repeat of the Bournemouth mass occupation be avoided? Can the Minister also tell the House how the testing of wastewater is being used to identify outbreaks across the country?
We are debating these measures retrospectively as the restrictions were imposed before we could have our debate. We are in strange times, but we do live in a parliamentary democracy, and that should not mean that we have to accept a loss of parliamentary oversight.
My Lords, I should like to highlight the implications of these regulations for people with disabilities or impaired decision-making capacity and for those who support them. Once again, new regulations have come into effect that offer no clarity on how they should be applied when someone lacks the capacity to understand that they are in contravention of the law, or on the responsibilities of a person using these powers in regard to those with impaired decision-making capacity. The Oxford University Disability, Law and Policy Project at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights recently reported on the impact of coronavirus-related law, policy and practice on people with disabilities. It found a failure on the part of the Government to implement properly their legal duties with respect to these people’s rights.
Last week, charities called on the Prime Minister to prioritise the national disability strategy and factor the needs of disabled people into every change in regulations going forward. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will respond positively to this plea? If they act now, there may still be time to mitigate the immediate impacts of this crisis and its long-term consequences for people living with disabilities.
My Lords, I wish to comment on the enforcement provisions set out in SI No. 684. Regulations 7 to 10 set out all the offences and penalties, and these are to be welcomed. However, I ask: will they ever be enforced? We have seen illegal demonstrations and raves with people blatantly breaking the law, Asian sweatshop owners in Leicester not just breaking Covid-19 laws, but those on the minimum wage, health and safety and human slavery. The police are saying that these abuses are too big to stop. The message we are getting from the police is: “Don’t commit a small crime because we’ll pursue you, but make it big enough and we’ll be scared to act.”
When we see people getting away with it and there is no enforcement, more and more people will break other laws as well, and that will destroy society. I therefore urge my noble friend the Minister to tell the police to stop wasting time chasing after people alleged to have insulted a transsexual on Twitter and to get out there and enforce the law of the land, as they are paid to do.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his hard work, but I ask him: why are pubs opening while schools remain shut? Why, after children in Wales returned safely to school a month ago, can the Government not even guarantee that that will happen in England in September? Why are theatres and concert halls unable to open when passengers can spend hours crammed together on flights? Why can you take an overnight ferry to Spain, but not a cruise around the UK? Why is England’s test and trace system contacting far fewer than 80% of the close contacts of infected people—in Luton just 47% and in locked-down Leicester under 65%? Why does Germany, a similar north European country with an even larger population, have so many fewer deaths and infections than the UK, which has one of the worst records in the world?
My Lords, plenty of virus is still in circulation. At the Science and Technology Select Committee this week, witnesses emphasised that we have two months to prepare for winter, when we are likely to have a second wave alongside flu and other seasonal respiratory ailments. They recommended that, in preparation for winter pressure on the NHS and the Test and Trace programme, we must suppress the amount of virus circulating by September. The committee has written to the Prime Minister about this. How will the easing of restrictions in these regulations achieve that? Will government ensure that the planned walk-in test centres will be located in the vicinity of all these newly opened venues and every airport?
I am also concerned about the criminalisation of peaceful protest. I would like to see peaceful protest exempted and protesters given access to a pop-up test centre.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the way in which he introduced these regulations, not least for his commitment that we will have more real-time consideration of legislation. We need to put an end to this regulation retrospection.
Has he seen the global research that came out this week, strongly suggesting that—tragically—lockdown has had no positive impact on mortality rates? To this extent, we need to be smarter going forward. It seems that there is no purpose in even considering another major lockdown in future. We need different ways to deal with this crisis. Obesity seems a significant piece of this jigsaw. What more will the Government do to tackle obesity?
Finally, I associate myself wholeheartedly and full-throatedly with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. Disabled people have suffered at the extreme jaw in this Covid crisis. Imagine a blind person locked down in a flat, not even able to look out of the window for something to do. I ask my noble friend to go back to the department, consider all policies concerning Covid and ensure that they do not fall disproportionately on disabled people. Can he push to ensure that we have a national disability strategy across all government policy?
My Lords, I welcome the regulations and have one question for my noble friend the Minister about process. When the “made affirmative” procedure was introduced, it was expected to be used very rarely, but the exigencies of responding to Covid-19 have caused a torrent of such SIs across many government departments. That has caused confusion on two levels: people often believe that, when the changes are announced, they take effect immediately; and they are not sure whether they are guidance or a legal requirement carrying a penalty for non-compliance. It is confusing. The Government need to adopt clear and consistent messaging.
The regulations require that there is a review every four weeks, with Parliament informed of any changes by Written or Oral Statement. That time limit runs out during the parliamentary Recess. How will the Government keep Parliament informed in our Recess?
My Lords, these regulations expose both the way the management of the pandemic is being improvised day in, day out and the failure to provide Parliament with proper time to scrutinise. Inconvenience is hardly an excuse.
We are also debating them in the knowledge that, such is the loss of trust in this Government’s ability to plan safely, people are deciding for themselves not to take risks. Our streets are still silent, shops and restaurants are still empty and people do not feel safe returning to work. The wider and fundamental failure behind these regulations was, amazingly, not including the economic fallout in the risk scenario planning.
Finally, these regulations are being introduced without certainty as to how social behaviour has already been affected by the relaxation of controls to date or whether risk is increasing. Indeed, where is the R number in all this? What will the Government be guided by in their decisions on review? At what point does the science kick in again? What would count as success on
My Lords, others have talked about the chaotic decision-making by government that has made delays inevitable in bringing this legislation to the House—or maybe the Government think they are being clever in trying to marginalise Parliament. Whatever the cause, it has led to contradictory government messaging, confused the public and made the police’s job very difficult. I raise a specific point that flows from this. Some 35% of fixed penalty notices issued as a result of these regulations have apparently been served on the black community, who form only 3.5% of the population. Can the Minister explain this?
Buried in here are powers to ban public gatherings of over 30 on health grounds. Can the Minister explain why gatherings of, say, 35 people indoors for elite sports coaching carry less risk than 35 people gathering outdoors in, say, Parliament Square?
My Lords, like many other Peers, I am furious about the way the Government seem to be ruling by diktat; it is not democratic. To describe what we have today—a minute per Peer—as debate is absolutely ludicrous. Can the Government please get back on some sort of democratic footing?
I have some very specific questions for the Minister and would like some answers. What do the Government believe the current law is on people protesting? In what circumstances are protests allowed or not allowed? Is socially distanced protest allowed? What advice are the Government giving to police and local authorities on dealing with protests? These are all incredibly important questions. People are understandably confused. There does not seem to be any information or answers on GOV.UK. Can the Minister please undertake to put specific advice on the right to protest on that website?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I welcome the exemptions made for elite sportspersons in Regulation 5 and have a number of questions in this regard. First, these regulations apply to England. Is it the case that, for example, a Scotland-based athlete who is a member of or recognised candidate for the British team looking to compete in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics might not receive the same legal treatment regarding their ability to train with their team in Scotland, but would be permitted so to do in England? It is a British and Northern Ireland team for the Olympic Games, yet these regulations apply only to England.
There is also mention in the regulations of Scottish and Welsh teams competing in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Do these regulations apply to those resident in Wales, Scotland and the other countries mentioned, since they are named in the regulations? No doubt this has been taken into account through bilateral negotiations with the devolved assemblies, but it would help all concerned if the Minister could clarify how matters stand on this for British athletes normally resident outside England.
My Lords, I know we are working under difficult circumstances, but to have one minute to debate these important regulations does not do them justice. We need more time to consider these regulations in a more timely fashion. Even now, further regulations have been made: SI 750, made on
My Lords, I understand the difficulty the Minister has in dealing with these regulations and have great sympathy for him, but I hope the Government note what has been said about having a better way of scrutinising them. The current system is clearly not fit for purpose and we need something different for September.
However, my key frustration is the almost total lack of published evidence to support any of the regulations at all. Those on 17 and
My Lords, while the regulations are generally welcome, greater attention should have been given to the importance of soft play areas for children. The present ban could be adjusted, with imaginative controls, to allow young children healthy and enjoyable exercise, and mothers and carers a little respite from the ceaseless demands of energetic children.
The real difficulty with implementing demands on freedom of movement and mixing is wider public acceptance. Does the Minister agree that faith communities can do much to remind their members to put the need for social action and concern for the safety of others—taught by all our faiths—to the fore, in these unprecedented times?
My Lords, in my precious minute, I express my gratitude, mindful of the difficult journey we have collectively experienced, responding in our own ways to the harm caused financially and to our personal well-being. As a community health advocate of 40 years, I ask the Government to produce immediately a lucid and unambiguous public health campaign, translated and bilingual where appropriate, targeting communities detrimentally impacted by this crisis, about, first, the use of masks and their benefits; and secondly, the critical matter of social distancing and its benefit.
Finally, as I have said before in this Chamber, I see no justification, benefit or public good for penalties that can exceed £3,000 for non-compliance. Will the Government concede these charges, for the sake of building trust and confidence while our country is recovering from this dramatic pandemic? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. When will a national strategy on disability, as well as on race equality, be published by the Government?
My Lords, I will not divide the House, but I oppose these regulations. My noble friend said that it would be helpful to clarify the situation, but I regret that there is very little clarity. Having argued against the lockdown in March, I now see confusion. The most egregious example is face masks. We were told that they were ineffective, possibly dangerous. Now they are mandatory. We were told to go back to work, but it is too dangerous to go back without a face mask. Surely this is contradictory.
The truth is that nobody knows much about this virus still, but we do know that 45,000 deaths have been attributed to it. Possibly that number is too low, possibly too high. Nobody really knows. We do know that, on average, around 11,000 people die normally—if I may put it that way—each week. We have had four weeks of normal deaths attributed to coronavirus, every one a tragedy, in four months. They have mostly been elderly and frail, or with underlying health conditions. Those with risks such as these should shield themselves and take care. Perhaps we should all wear masks in public places, but lift all other restrictions, especially on the young—by which I mean the under-40s or under-50s—to get the country back to work, to education and to normality.
My Lords, under official definitions, taxis are defined as public service vehicles. They are probably among the most dangerous of our public service vehicles, being small and enclosed, yet the Government have seen fit not to require the wearing of face masks in taxis. That is a very dangerous move. It is dangerous specifically to taxi drivers, some of whom have died following the government regulations. Many of our citizens have no alternative but to use taxis. Will the Government protect them by insisting on the wearing of face masks in taxis, as for other public service vehicles?
My Lords, I find it deeply troubling that, yet again, we are debating regulations that came into effect weeks before they received scrutiny in either Chamber. They have often been repealed or overtaken already. It makes a mockery of the parliamentary process and gives the unfortunate impression that Ministers are actively trying to avoid in-depth scrutiny. At the start of this pandemic, it was easy to understand why it was not possible to debate these regulations straightaway, but that is no longer the case. It follows a disturbing pattern of regulations and guidance coming far too late, with too little scrutiny. I cite the guidance that came out yesterday on face coverings, 12 hours before it came into effect, and to care home visiting, which caused such distress because it was so late. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I want to know when and how this Chamber will be informed of the next review of these regulations. It is due on
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for his explanation of these regulations. I will ask a few questions in the short time I have. Has the regime of fines already put in place by the Government been effective? How many fines have been issued to date? What amount has been collected and where does the money go? Does the Minister think it fair to fine an individual £100 for not wearing a face mask when the Government’s advice on this issue has been so confusing? Finally, what is the Government’s advice for shop workers, who are confused and worried about their role in enforcing these fines?
My Lords, the original regulations, which we are amending today, had a dramatic effect on the reduction of excess deaths within a three-week period, so have worked extremely well. That is a matter of note and congratulations.
I ask my noble friend to consider a campaign on two issues—the two Gs, as I call them. It was abundantly clear from the passage of emergency legislation, the Business and Planning Bill, that guidance for those to which it must apply, such as the hospitality and tourism sector, must be clear from the earliest possible time. Secondly, have the Government formed a view on the use of gloves? We are all following the guidance on washing our hands, but surely the correct use of gloves outdoors and indoors could prevent the virus being passed on.
My Lords, I have four questions for the Minister.
First, why were face coverings not mandated at the same time as the relaxation of these rules or the earlier decision to allow non-essential retail to open? Indeed, why were they not mandated from the outset when the medical advice from south-east Asia, which had the most experience of the pandemic, was that they were a key element in tackling the coronavirus?
“The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher among men and 60% higher among women than in the general population.”—[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/20; col. 1395.]
Was he aware of those statistics when these regulations, and those allowing shops to open, were being considered? If not, what assessment was made of the risks to staff?
Thirdly, in the light of these shocking figures, can the Minister explain why it has taken 10 days for the mask mandate to come into effect? Finally, what assessment has been made of the number of deaths that could have been avoided if face coverings had been compulsory from the start of lockdown?
My Lords, for us to move safely from lockdown, there must be effective testing, tracking and tracing. We are told today that the Government are abandoning self-testing administered by those who cannot attend a test centre. Such tests require the subject to insert a swab up the nose and into the back of the throat, obtain a suitable sample and return it by post for analysis. In an earlier debate, I pointed out that this requires a degree of precision and dexterity that not all of us will have, and means overcoming the natural reaction of the body if something is inserted up the nose or put to the back of the throat.
I submitted a topical Question on
My Lords, I will make two points. The first is that, for the first time, I feel uncomfortable that these policy decisions are made by the UK Government, rather than being decided within the framework of an English Parliament by England. The latest data show that England appears to be diverging significantly from the devolved nations in terms of deaths and new cases.
Secondly, these are essentially business regulations and, while people want to get back to work, while Covid is still prevalent this will not be possible for all, because of the direct effect that health measures which still need to be applied will have on the financial viability of some sectors. These include the performing arts, which will not come properly out of lockdown until next year at the very earliest and will be caught in a cleft stick between Covid on the one hand and the assumption by the Government that there will be a functioning economy on the other. Most workers in the performing arts are freelancers. It is vital that the self-employed scheme is extended to the end of the year.
My Lords, just this morning the Lords Science and Technology Committee published an open letter to the Prime Minister reflecting sobering evidence from lauded health and science professionals. Clearly, we must get ahead of the virus before a resurgence of Covid-19 and winter flu overwhelm a health service already on its knees. We have heard that symptomatic testing and its follow-through is inadequate. Granular data is still not reaching local authorities and no targeted regime for asymptomatic testing is in place. We have heard that it is essential that infection rates come down, but the latest ONS data tells us that the numbers testing positive in England have stopped coming down, and those figures do not include the impact of loosening lockdown from
This is no way to deal with a fast-moving killer pandemic. A minute’s speaking time—let alone a review of these regulations due the day after Parliament rises—makes a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny and the gravity of the situation.
My Lords, I declare my interests and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bethell. It is not easy being a Minister in this situation, and he has been weathering it with great gravitas and perseverance.
I have just one question. Rather than arguing about masks, which are an important component in fighting this virus, what are the Government doing to fund and accelerate with industries—the beauty industry, for example—technologies and equipment that could make each space safer for the public? We will need this equipment over the winter and in future pandemics. Why do we not invest a little bit of money that might otherwise be going into bridges to help industries create screens, for example, perhaps with gloves through them? There are all kinds of ways in which, industry by industry, we can find bottom-up solutions rather than just blanket measures. We are moving away from national lockdown policy; how can we get more granular and work with industries to make the public and workers safe?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the statutory instruments—although we are approving some of them retrospectively.
I will ask the Minister one question. With the easing of restrictions, anxiety is emerging among people wanting to know about progress in relation to the development of a vaccine. Can the Minister provide us with an update on the development of a vaccine and an indication of the method of distribution? Will it be England first and then the devolved regions, and which groups will be considered eligible for vaccination?
My Lords, I thank Ministers for the progress to date on masks, which are tangential to these regs. Last week, I gave notice of an Oral Question on masks. Unfortunately, another Minister was unable to respond, so I ask again: can the Minister rule out N95s and other valved masks, apart from in clinical settings, since they protect only the wearer and not the aerosol-contaminated recipient. Also, why limit masks to transport and service premises, when risks exist in all covered communal areas?
Secondly, when China found that standard masks did not fully protect medical staff from infection, it started to use positive pressure systems that in combination provide a much higher level of protection for those medics on the front line. I understand that Imperial College is well versed in the use of positive pressure systems. Will the Government ask the appropriate questions and pursue these issues?
My Lords, since the first coronavirus SI was laid on
Regulation 3 says that we are still in an emergency period. I will ask the Minister a clear question. If this is not extended next Friday, which under the regulation the Government must decide whether or not to do, how will we approve these SIs during our Recess? Also, if our national emergency for these powers is to be extended next Friday, why on earth are we going on a summer break the day before?
My Lords, when history judges Her Majesty’s Government’s response to this pandemic, I am sure that they will be roundly condemned for their slowness to realise the gravity of the situation. At times, the expert advice to government has been very poor. Does the Minister accept that there is growing evidence that Public Health England, which has seen a 40% cut in its budget since 2013, has been unequal to the task asked of it? In particular, the PHE tracing system put in place last February was abandoned because there were not the resources to scale it up. The failure to involve more than 130 local directors of public health and their 5,000 expert staff in contact tracing was critical. Finally, will the Minister ensure that the promised inquiry into the failures in dealing with the pandemic is not only independent but public?
My Lords, I note that if we do not approve these regulations today, they will cease to apply, and I would not want that to happen. I welcome them and would like to register the thanks of the dentists, who have now been allowed to work again, to the pharmacists, who have done such a good job during the pandemic. Another bit of good news is that relating to outdoor pools, as many people have approached me on that subject. I hope that this review will prove to be a basis on which we can build. Things have worked very well but it has not been easy for people to follow exactly what they have been meant to do. I strongly support these regulations.
My Lords, had these regulations been provided in April with proper consultation, they might have been credible, but today, with our “world-beating” track and trace system, which fails to notify 20% of contacts of people who have tested positive, and with Public Health England releasing data to local authorities only once a week and without patient identification, they are highly questionable. When will local authorities be given real-time data and the powers that they really need—for example, to instruct the opening of facilities such as toilets? When will the Government release the scientific basis for treating different businesses in inconsistent ways? Will they monitor the differential impact of these regulations on black and minority communities, and will they act swiftly to end such discrimination?
My Lords, it is to be welcomed that more businesses are opening, but more practical and financial help is needed for businesses to open at present or by the end of the furlough scheme. With the public now able to board planes and go into pubs and restaurants, what specific help is being given to places such as theatres and concert venues, where productions are often not viable without over 65% of ticket sales being achieved—something that is not compatible with current social distancing rules?
My Lords, sadly, we have all experienced the Government’s inconsistent and confusing guidance throughout the whole pandemic. The continuous flip-flopping on whether, where and when we should wear masks has led to confusion and has hampered public confidence in returning to using public transport and going back to shops, restaurants and pubs. With a second wave possible, we urgently need the infrastructure and tools in place to ensure that our health service and our neglected care system are not in danger of becoming overwhelmed during the winter period.
Finally, we must also see an end to this confusing and ambiguous messaging coming out of central government, with Ministers regularly contradicting each other in one day. We must also see an end to the petty politicking between the Prime Minister and the First Minister of Scotland.
My Lords, if we agree these SIs, one of my sons will be in the Olympic pool with his team at 5.45 am tomorrow. He is delighted.
I want to pick up on Regulation 5(6)(b) on places being smoke-free. We have debated temporary measures for the hospitality sector to use outside areas. Some 86% of people do not smoke and 1 million more have given up during the lockdown. If we are to encourage people back, we need to make it safe and pleasant. Where the outside is now being used as the new inside, whether for nurseries or anything else, it should be smoke-free. Individuals and gatherings must be protected. How is the Minister’s department liaising with other parts of government so that their public health experience is effectively brought to bear on this? It was not for the Business and Planning Bill.
My Lords, I echo other noble Lords: these regulations seem to make a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny. I also express my deep concern at the level of micromanagement of people’s everyday lives that they have represented. Can my noble friend comment on the implications for our western liberal democracies of constant government diktats about whom people can see, which family members they can hug and how they must live?
Does a plastic visor that covers the nose, mouth and eyes, while allowing the person’s face to be seen, fulfil the requirements of these regulations? Finally, will my noble friend ensure that the needs of young adults with disabilities, including autism, who live in care settings but are not especially vulnerable to Covid, are fully considered?
My Lords, it is widely acknowledged that black, Asian and ethnically diverse people have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. They have experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety throughout the crisis. They have had greater mortality and infection rates than other groups, as well as fears about catching Covid-19. They are also more worried about unemployment and access to food, and they suffer more financial stress than other groups. We know that Bangladeshis are twice as likely to be affected. Many live in the most deprived areas, with high levels of poverty and cramped conditions with no gardens, and they face immense difficulties in home-schooling their children, which has a detrimental impact on those children’s futures. Recommendation 7 in the Beyond the Data report states:
“Ensure that COVID-19 recovery strategies actively reduce inequalities caused by the wider determinants of health to create long term sustainable change.”
What are the Government’s plans to get these regulations’ messages out to this group of vulnerable people to protect and reassure them?
My Lords, here we go again: statutory instruments being debated after they have come into effect. This is not parliamentary scrutiny; it is government diktat. The Minister will argue that this is necessary in an emergency, and of course I accept an element of that, but it is part of a more general trend. The legislation going through the House on agriculture and immigration gives Ministers wide powers to set policy in the future by statutory instrument. I know that this is common practice in some southern European democracies but I thought that the whole point of Brexit was supposed to be to reassert parliamentary sovereignty, not to concentrate executive power in the hands of civil servants and hard-pressed Ministers. The British Parliament is becoming a helpless adult in old age by comparison with the growing authority of the European Parliament. We can force change. If we refuse consent to these SIs, the Government will have to agree to a more effective system of pre-implementation scrutiny with the power of amendment.
My Lords, if we were in a proper Chamber, as we should be, I would be shouting “Hear, hear!” as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, sat down. A series of one-minute statements is not parliamentary scrutiny, and we have to hammer that home through my diligent noble friend, for whom I have great admiration. He must tell his political masters that this is not acceptable. Retrospective endorsement of government fiat is inimical to parliamentary democracy, and of course it adds to the muddle, to which many of your Lordships have referred during this debate.
I end with one specific question about the muddle over masks. This morning there was much on the radio about those who are exempt from wearing them. Can we not have a system where they have to carry a card or wear a badge so that shopkeepers are not embarrassed and nor are they?
My Lords, these regulations may be a sensible consolidation of previous ones, but we cannot pretend that this kind of debate subjects them to proper scrutiny. I hope that detailed questions such as those put by my friend Lord Oates will be properly answered. The process of approving new regulations that are already in place, in order to replace ones that expired before they were approved, does not inspire confidence.
So can the Minister assure us that, in the absence of Parliament meeting over the next month, the Government will make public where any of their policies on tackling the pandemic may diverge from medical advice, and for what reason? Will he agree that, in the event of the UK Covid alert level going back from 3 to 4 over the Recess, there should be a recall of Parliament, albeit virtually?
My Lords, the Minister referred to the situation in Leicester. There is concern here in the north-west about the situation in Blackburn. I hope he will refer in his reply to local restrictions.
I want to underline the concerns raised about scrutiny. Under the cover of Covid, we are in increasingly grave danger of legitimising these kinds of proceedings and putting a thin veneer of respectability on the actions of the Government. The Minister’s department should carefully study this week’s critical report by the Delegated Powers Committee on its approach to the new Medicines and Medical Devices Bill. By now he must surely be aware that parliamentarians are outraged by the failure to answer Parliamentary Questions, sometimes for months on end, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
These regulations, which significantly eased the lockdown from
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has said and the spirit of what the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said. We really have got to get back to a system of proper parliamentary scrutiny because we are deteriorating into farce. The regulations as put forward confuse people even more. What is needed is a clear statement now that brings everything together as to what is and is not allowed.
We also need to know how the regulations are to be enforced. USDAW, the shopworkers’ union, has grave reservations about the safety of its workers if they are asked to enforce them. If they are not, how are the regulations going to be enforced? How are they going to be enforced on the railways?
My final point is that the NHS is still effectively closed down. It is the last bit of Britain that has not been opened up. Waiting lists are growing and people are suffering. We are killing people because of Covid. Can the Minister get the sclerotic NHS back into action?
My Lords, I will confine my few words to a plea on behalf of local authorities throughout England for information gleaned under the Government’s much-vaunted test and trace programme to be properly shared with those authorities. In the borough of Sandwell in the West Midlands, the public health director, Dr Lisa McNally, has been campaigning for weeks for better access for her team to original data about affected people, including names and workplaces. This would enable her team, and teams countrywide, to swoop in and contact trace in the community instead of having to rely on the flawed national test and trace operation.
So far, her calls and those made by other public health directors across the country have been rejected because of data protection. It is a strange system of data protection that shares information with private companies such as Serco yet refuses that information to local authorities. If that information is not shared, it is not a question of whether we will see a second wave but when.
My Lords, I have always felt that Parliament was something of a reactive beast, but debating these regulations several weeks after they came in is taking things beyond a joke.
I have a question for the Minister. In light of the announcement that we are going to declare war on obesity, could he give us guidance as to when most winter sports will be able to commence training again and under what conditions? With reference to the comments by my noble friend Lord Willis, what levels of infection will be acceptable for training and the practice of the standard winter sports such as football and rugby? If we do not restart this type of activity, one of the methods of controlling the burning of calories in the body, how you actually order yourself and your lifestyle—that is, you do not eat or drink too much in order to be able to be fit enough to play—is removed. Can we please have a bit of cohesion on this?
My Lords, as a former Health Minister in your Lordships’ House, I offer my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Bethell on the way in which he has approached and carried out this mammoth and seemingly never-ending task.
At this point, as the last Back-Bench speaker, I can only reinforce the remarks about the performing arts made by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and refer again to the issue of the review on
My Lords, many Members have spoken again about the frustration at the delays of three weeks or longer in this House being able to debate the regulations. All sides of your Lordships’ House have repeatedly said that they understand the pressure that Ministers found themselves under earlier in the pandemic, but I respectfully remind the Minister that now that the urgency is easing, surely arrangements to debate regulations could begin to return to a more realistic timetable.
I add the frustration from these Benches that we are now three Statements behind the House of Commons, and it looks as if the usual channels—or the Government Whips—will not allow Statements, which of course explains why so many people spoke earlier in this debate on the regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, spoke eloquently, in his brief minute, on contradictory advice, and my noble friend Lady Tyler referred to the last-minute guidance on face masks, published only one day before the new rules came into force this morning, despite the announcement about 10 days ago. The guidance seems much less definitive than the Prime Minister’s announcement. This raises a recurring problem that lies squarely at the feet of Ministers: a blurring of distinction between what is law and what is guidance means that the all-important communications strategy once again lies in tatters. This is not just confusing to the public, shopkeepers and takeaway owners; it also puts the police in an invidious position about how to police this requirement. Surely, as other noble Lords have pointed out, we need people to wear masks to protect the wider community from either local spikes or a second wave.
There remain other contradictions. For those who are shielding, and therefore not able to take advantage of the regulations that we are looking at today, all formal support ceases on
“you can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe”.
Three bullet points later, it says that
“you should remain cautious as you are still at risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus, so the advice is to stay at home where possible and, if you do go out, follow strict social distancing”.
“I would like you to correct the inaccurate statement you made in the House of Commons this afternoon. You stated that you had consulted all Council Leaders. This is clearly not true as you and I have never spoken. As you will see from the attached email I was not consulted by the Leader of the county council either. The decision not to include other areas of the county is flawed. Either there is an objective measure by which” the lockdown
“is judged or there is not. The Borough is in a better position regarding Covid than some of the areas you released today. If you release them so you should release us.”
This is extremely concerning. Once again, we have a Minister making Statements and talking about strong communications with local government while the reality is anything but.
I note that these and other regulations say regarding “Impact”—this is paragraph 12 in the Explanatory Memorandum on the first set of regulations—that there is no need for impact assessments, as these regulations are a short-term measure and have sunset clauses. However, on Monday
I echo my noble friend Lady Benjamin’s concerns about protection for our BAME communities who are at such high risk, especially as the success rate for tracing in these communities is consistently lower than for others. In Leicester, it is down to 65%, whereas 80% is the level deemed necessary for safety.
Finally, in the last two hours, the ONS has released statistics with shocking mortality data, showing that from
Can I just say for clarification that as we were discussing these SIs, the news came through on my technology that we will have a ministerial Statement on Monday? I am sure that the Minister is aware of this, but we are indeed three Statements behind. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is quite right that it is quite shocking. I need to give the Minister notice that I will take the Statement on Monday as if it is three Statements. I will address the questions that relate to all three Statements made in the Commons during the last three weeks.
I have asked for extra time for the Back-Benchers but it is not in my gift; it is probably not in the Minister’s gift either. However, I hope that the usual channels will take note of that and agree.
I thank the Minister for introducing these SIs. Let me say at the outset how much I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, on the issue of disability, as I did with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and my noble friend Lady Andrews on the points that they made.
Leading the news today, and this week, is the legal obligation to wear face masks in shops, takeaways and so on. This morning, the police, the CBI, retailers and many others expressed their astonishment, scepticism and anger that the regulations and rules were laid only yesterday, even though the announcement was made on
The regulations we are discussing and the issues of concern today are reflected in this debate. However, this is not a debate because, with one minute per Member, the Minister can choose whether he answers the questions in a meaningful way without any further challenge. He can read his prepared script and there is nothing that we in this House can do. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is quite correct: this is a travesty of parliamentary scrutiny. I am not saying that this is the responsibility of the Minister because I know that he works very hard. However, it is really unacceptable. This House is not carrying out its duty of scrutiny at the moment.
I have twice written to the Minister asking for answers to questions I asked that have not been answered. They remain unanswered and I put him on notice that I will continue to do that, because these are the issues that we face. It is very disappointing that we are only just considering these regulations. Yet again, we find ourselves in the absurd situation of having one set of regulations that amend another, and which are about to be amended again, given further policy changes that have been announced—and we are about to go into a month’s Recess. The House cannot be in any doubt that the responsibility for this delay lies with the Government, who may have made a deliberate decision to wait until the last possible moment to lay regulations before Parliament, using the affirmative procedure. It is deeply concerning and unsatisfactory to make regulations in this way, and is indicative of this Government’s cavalier attitude to parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Minister inform us when we will find a better way of ensuring that these regulations are debated in a timely fashion?
The Government’s decision to delay making regulations also has real-world implications. Many businesses are unable to open at the earliest opportunity; this includes outdoor swimming pools. Many of them, along with community groups and charities, have been very critical of the Government’s communication on lockdown relaxation measures. They say that the lack of preparation time has made a short summer season unviable. Other businesses began preparations to open, following headlines on government announcements, only to find subsequently that they are unable to offer certain services. I hope that the Minister will apologise to these operators, their staff and the communities they serve for the Government’s shambolic failure to communicate with industry and provide clarity and guidance in a timely fashion.
“As I said last Thursday, parliamentary scrutiny is not something that can be ditched because the timing is inconvenient”.—[Official Report, Commons, Second Delegated Legislation Committee, 20/7/20; col. 5.]
He is absolutely right. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has also called on the Government to ensure that the information is provided. We are not being given the scientific information we need to back up these regulations. We need full transparency so that we can have confidence that this Government’s scientific advisers support the measures we are debating. A week or so ago, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser said that there was “absolutely no reason” to change the Government’s current guidance on working from home; the very next day, the Prime Minister announced that guidance on working from home would be changed. My noble friend Lord Reid referred to this; it is not acceptable.
The Opposition will again not oppose these regulations —of course we will not, as we welcome the opening up of our society and businesses—but we are concerned that we are entering another critical moment without having available the full information on which decisions are being made, without a clear understanding of the risks and with a test and trace system that is not working. My final question to the Minister is: where is R at the moment? Is it going up or down?
My Lords, I want to say a profound thank you to those who have contributed to this debate. I know that it has been a frustrating experience but, for me, it is a meaningful event. The contributions made are heard. Influence has been made and it has had an effect. On the subject of letters that have not been replied to, I assure the House that we are working extremely hard to address them. A system has been put in place to try to address all out-of-date letters before the end of the recess. I am working hard to do that.
I will try to address as many of the specific questions as I possibly can, which will mean that some of the answers are very short. I apologise in advance if any of them seem to skate over serious subjects briefly. I will attempt to address each noble Lord in turn.
I start with the very serious subject of disability, which is a massive and important area that I cannot possibly do justice to from the Dispatch Box in the time given. However, I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Uddin, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, that we take very seriously the effect of Covid on those with physical and mental health issues. I emphasise the £750 million of funding for charities providing key support for those groups.
I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who is concerned about the enforcement of the law. I reassure him that we absolutely are enforcing the law. I pay tribute to the public, who have gone along with these regulations with great compliance. To the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I confirm that Regulation 6 of the No. 2 regulations gives the Secretary of State the power to close public outdoor spaces, and the No. 3 regulations give the same power to local authorities.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that the National Police Chiefs’ Council is working hard to assess whether there is any evidence of disproportionality in the fines being given to minority groups.
On the important point about data raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I reassure her that local authorities receive all the information they need on Covid cases, and data sharing agreements have been signed with upper tier local authorities. They receive details of the number of cases and tests, data from 999 and 111 calls, postcode data and a large amount of specific data.
To the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I say that we are working hard to open schools, but we need to work with parents and teachers to get them both over the line.
I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the location of walk-in centres is being chosen very thoughtfully and directly targeted at those who need them most.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, is absolutely right that obesity has been a key driver of illness. As noble Lords will have read, we are launching a major national campaign next week, which I am personally participating in. This will be a long-term campaign to change the health outcomes of the nation.
On the important point about debates, I reassure my noble friends Lady Anelay and Lady Hooper, and the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Purvis, that arrangements for recess will follow long-standing precedents, and any debates that need to happen will be prioritised when the House returns.
To the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, I say that we are guided by the science. The CMO and the Government Chief Scientific Adviser are key advisers who intermediate between SAGE, the scientific community and policy- makers in government. I have already answered the question of the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan outlined a small discrepancy in the regulations. If he will write to me, please, I would be glad to clarify that. However, I make it clear that Scotland and England are heading to the same place but simply moving at different speeds on different items.
To the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, I say that we have been asked to move quickly. That is why we are seeking as much parliamentary scrutiny as possible.
To the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I say that we publish as much data and scientific advice as we possibly can. I emphasise that the SAGE minutes, which were once kept secret, are now published promptly.
I completely share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Singh, on the important influence of faith communities. We have worked hard with them on a number of key issues, including cremations. I am reminded of the work we are doing with faith communities on the forthcoming celebration of Eid, which is a delicate matter.
To my noble friends Lord Robathan and Lady Altmann, I say that there is much that is still mysterious about this disease, but one thing I do know is that the British public has thoroughly supported the lockdown.
To the noble Lord, Lord Clark, I say that masks are recommended in taxis. The regulations on this are very clear, and I pay tribute to the important work taxi drivers have done in the face of extreme difficulty.
I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh very much indeed for reminding us of the profound and positive impact of these regulations, which is something that is sometimes overlooked. To date, gloves are not in the guidance, but they remain an area that we are looking at.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, made important points on face masks that I cannot fully cover. As suggested by other Peers, the delay helped the public prepare for changes in regulations. Although it creates a hiatus, these preparations are important.
To the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I say that self-testing is accurate—our assessments have proved that—and is also extremely popular, particularly for those who cannot leave home.
To the noble Lords, Lord Loomba and Lord Clancarty, I say that I completely recognise the challenge facing the performing arts, which is recognised by DCMS. It has made a generous and profound contribution in this area and continues that work.
I do not share the gloomy assessment of the situation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. I pay tribute to colleagues working on the test and trace programme, who have made an enormous amount of progress.
My noble friend Lord Wei makes important points on innovation in the workplace. The Government desperately need innovation from industry. I commend business leadership in this area and ask for more.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, talked about vaccines. My understanding is that the Cabinet Office has published a distribution hierarchy. I reassure her that it will be a four-nations approach and that there is no question of any nation being favoured over another.
Turning to the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, I pay tribute to colleagues at PHE, which has been at the eye of the storm and has taken a lot of flak. Having been on the front line with them, I reassure the House that they give thoughtful, scientific and sometimes challenging advice—we would not be in the shape we are in if it was not for their interventions.
Turning to my noble friend Lady Gardner, I personally pay tribute to the dental industry—I was at the dentist this morning and I used to live in the very house in west London where her late husband practiced his dentistry work. I will continue to pay tribute to the work of dentists, who face an important challenge, and likewise to pharmacists.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that the resources going into the NHS and the testing programme are massive. Our preparations for the winter are dogged, and we fully share both the efforts and resources with all four nations. I share the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover: we are at an inflection point in the National Health Service and we are working our hardest to make that impactful.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, completely and utterly nailed it: we are deeply concerned about hard-to-reach groups. That is why we are hugely focused on them and working hard.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, makes an assessment that I cannot possibly agree with—one that is a long way from where the public is. However, I pay tribute to those who have kept Parliament open under difficult circumstances.
To my noble friend Lord Cormack, I say that I am 100% in favour of baby-on-board-style badges, and we are assessing ideas of the kind he recommends.
To my noble friend Lord Balfe, I say that we are cognisant of the concerns of USDAW and we are engaging with its representatives on this important issue.
To the noble Lord, Lord Snape, I say that data protection is there to protect us all, but we are finding ways to get data to the DPHs, as I have previously discussed.
To the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I say that we welcome next week’s obesity launch.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised serious concerns about shielders. I will address those in correspondence as I do not have the details to hand.
Regarding the questions on DPIAs, the test and trace programme has had DPIAs in place. The overarching programme has not had one, but it is ironic that half the questions are on privacy and half are on the lack of data. I cannot help feeling that we might have landed in about the right place.
Finally, I very much hope that in that medley I have somehow answered all the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.