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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 2:51 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation. I declare an interest as a Brummie—born, bred, educated and apprenticed. I had the privilege of serving the constituency in which I was born for 27 years in the other place. I live in the West Midlands, in Ludlow, which is of course not in Birmingham, but I still have close connections. My wife and I are members of the police family in Birmingham. I was in the city a few days ago and was really impressed by the Covid precautions in both Snappy Snaps and the Apple Store in New Street.

As the Minister said, the regulations are really the result of the household growth of the virus. Schools and industry do not appear to be the transmission areas. The seven West Midlands local authorities in the conurbation are very closely connected. It would be useful if the Minister could say something in her wind-up about the other four.

My contacts tell me that as far as hospitality is concerned, the pubs in the city centre are being meticulous in how they operate during the day, with their staff rules, and at closing time. But something really ought to be done about other premises selling alcohol after 10 pm. That really ought to be looked at.

Looking at the coronavirus maps for the area, as I did recently, it is very clear that things are mixed across all three local authorities. In some parts the virus hardly figures; in others it is very high. It is also obvious that in areas of high-density housing where multiple generations live, the rates are a lot higher. It would be counterproductive, in my view, to separate areas within a local authority. That would do worse than stigmatise the high areas—but I do not intend to list the possible consequences, so that I am not misunderstood.

I understand, for example, that the right honourable Member for Sutton Coldfield wants his constituency to be removed. Sutton Coldfield has since 1974 been an integral part of Birmingham, and it is to Birmingham that residents pay their council tax. I appreciate that some areas of Sutton, such as Little Aston, are not included, but its residents do not pay their council tax to Birmingham because they do not live in Birmingham. This needs to me made abundantly clear in the confusion about postal codes. It has nothing to do with the postal codes.

The lockdown is not solving the problems, since the cases are rising in the lockdown areas, as the Minister has just made clear. I understand that the rise can be up to tenfold in a lockdown area. We really need an answer as to why this is.

There are two key questions that I want answers to. First, what Covid number are the Government aiming for to reduce the restrictions or abolish them? Local authorities, and local people, need some idea of what the aim is in order to change the restrictions. Secondly, why are not all areas with the same high case levels subject to local lockdowns? It is now abundantly clear that there is an unfairness around the country. The constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the local government Secretary of State have higher levels of cases than some in the lockdown area, yet they are excluded. Why? It is a legitimate question—not a divisive question, in the words of the Secretary of State for Health, but a factual one to which we really need an answer.

People are being left baffled by the present arrangements. Of course, the key missing ingredient is one that we keep being told about, in many ways, whenever anybody mentions Sweden. There is a big difference: the Swedish population trust their Government. Our population do not trust their Government, and the Government need to do more to engender their trust.

Finally, there has been a virtual silence regarding those people put into shielding in the early months of the pandemic: I declare an interest as one of them. Why is there this silence? If you now live in a local lockdown area and were previously shielding, it is even more worrying not to be told anything about what is going to happen. So there really needs to be a national plan for those who require shielding, whether inside or outside the lockdown areas.