Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull) Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 2:45 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, the Government set out their approach to preventing, containing and managing outbreaks in the Covid-19 Contain Framework, which sets out how national and local partners work together to break the chain of transmission. In other words, it represents a partnership between national and local government. At the national level, the Government have increased the powers available to local authorities through the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 so that local leaders can take targeted action as early as possible.

Public Health England makes detailed data on infection rates available to local areas as well as providing public health advice. Where required, NHS Test and Trace seeks to increase testing resources to support the rapid identification of cases. For their part, local leaders can complement their legal powers by using all the resources at their disposal to target communications, promote compliance and maximise the reach of testing.

The process of monitoring that the Government have put in place allows us to spot emerging areas of concern early. The Government and local leaders then consult regularly to identify problems and solutions. Our aim is always to consult local leaders on proposed legislative changes and, so far as possible, reach a consensus. This partnership approach has been very visible in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull.

These regulations came into force on 15 September, following an announcement by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that the latest epidemiological data and local insights supported targeted action being taken to tackle the outbreak in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull. The incidence rates in Birmingham had increased to 95.1 per 100,000 of the population over a seven-day period from 2 to 8 September. Test positivity was also high, at 8.1%. Incidence rates had also increased in the neighbouring local authorities of Sandwell and Solihull.

The virus was widespread across wards in these areas, regardless of the types of housing or other factors, which contrasts with more localised patterns that we have seen in other parts of the country. The local director of public health in Birmingham was concerned that household transmission was the key driver of the outbreak, hence the focus in the regulations on mitigating that risk.

The regulations prevent gatherings involving more than one household in private dwellings. This includes outside spaces that are part of those private dwellings. Not only do the regulations prevent people who live in the protected areas from gathering in a private dwelling or garden with any other household, anywhere, but they also prevent people who live outside the protected area from gathering with another household in a private dwelling or garden within the protected area.

However, there are specific exemptions, including for work purposes, education and the provision of emergency assistance. Hotels and care homes and education, military and prison accommodation are not included in the definition of a private dwelling. In general, these regulations mirror the provisions already in place in parts of the north of England and Leicester.

I stress that, throughout, we have worked very closely with local leaders, not least to increase testing and provide crucial data. For their part, local leaders have not hesitated to use their own powers to tackle the outbreak and have worked tirelessly to ensure that communications have reached all parts of the community. I commend them for their response to the outbreak, which included using their local powers to give directions on imposing prohibitions, restrictions or requirements on local businesses to ensure that they complied with Covid-secure guidelines. They also agreed with local bars and restaurants to introduce “table service only” to reduce the risk of transmission before that became a national requirement.

This has been, and continues to be, a shared endeavour. I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking the local director of public health, Justin Varney, and local council leaders for their tireless efforts, as well as other members of the local resilience forum, Public Health England and Joint Biosecurity Centre staff.

Since these measures were introduced, the numbers of positive cases in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull have, unfortunately, increased, although not at the rate seen in other parts of the country. The incidence rates per 100,000 for the seven-day period from 25 September to 1 October were 145.5 for Birmingham, 113 in Sandwell and 108 in Solihull. Our co-ordinated local and national effort, particularly on the part of people living in these local authority areas, is therefore likely to be reducing the rate of growth, as the incidence rates have not increased in recent weeks to the level seen in other parts of the country.

Household transmission is still understood to be the main driver of current case levels, so it is crucial that these regulations remain in force and for the people in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull to continue to observe the “Hands, face, space” practices. These regulations once again demonstrate our willingness and ability to take action where we need to. I repeat that the Government are acutely aware that these are not easy decisions.

The next review of the health protection regulations for Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull is due on or before 8 October, which is tomorrow. We will of course make public the outcome of this next review in due course. I am grateful to all Members for their continued engagement in this challenging process and for their scrutiny of the regulations. I beg to move.