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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 3:15 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation of this SI. I want to make a couple of points.

The restrictions imposed by this statutory instrument can protect the people of Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull only if the test and trace system that runs alongside it is reliable. Some 16,000 infectious people across the country being missed off the national test and trace dashboard, with their tens of thousands of contacts still to be traced, makes another huge dent in people’s confidence in the system. I see that the restrictions imposed by this instrument have to be reviewed every two weeks and that the last review was on 29 September, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said. That date falls in the week when those thousands of contacts were missed because of the Excel error. Is the Minister confident that the conclusions of that review of cases are accurate with hindsight? Given the ongoing problems with the centralised system of test and trace, does she see any merit in the calls by many local authority leaders, referred to by my noble friend Lord Hunt, for test and trace to be far more locally based? Is there enough testing capacity in the centre of Birmingham, given the closure, as I understand it, of the Edgbaston site in the summer? How does the Minister see Birmingham City Council’s drop and collect testing service progressing? Does it have enough resources to complete this important initiative?

My second point is about communications. The message is obviously not getting through, despite the valiant efforts of strong local leadership in the West Midlands. Birmingham people say they are baffled, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, by the new restrictions and how they operate. The message that transmission within the home is dangerous, which I am sure is the message that the Government want to put out there, is not being heard. From the serious rise in cases in a city that I know well and represented for 15 years, it is easy to see how Birmingham’s reaction to the Government’s often mixed and muddled communications on restrictions is an echo of the compliance-weariness and lack of trust in authority that have set in across the country, especially among young people. It is my personal heresy that that lack of trust can be carbon-dated, certainly among young people, from a spring tour of the north by a certain Mr Dominic Cummings. However, we are where we are, as they say, and for this SI to work alongside the penalties regime attached to it, the Government’s communication strategy must be crystal clear and reflect the rich diversity of modern Birmingham, modern Sandwell and modern Solihull, or things will be very much worse very soon. None of us wants that.