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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:31 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 3:31 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, these regulations relate to the associated departmental document entitled West Midlands: Local Restrictions, published on 11 September. Under the heading

“Schools and colleges (face coverings)”,

it sets out face covering requirements in educational establishments in the West Midlands. This requirement, limited to educational establishments, does not go far enough.

I have been arguing in this House for widespread masking since 11 March this year. While I greatly welcome the Statement from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell —who unfortunately has not been in his place today—who in his sincere and ever-courteous way provided assurances on further consideration of mask valving, which I shall return to in the coming weeks, he has not yet been able on behalf of the Government to concede the broader case for mask wearing in the wider environment. I know he is under pressure from all sides to be careful in making concessions, but the Government have embarked on a fundamentally flawed approach. The general policy on limited mask wearing should be completely reviewed. Until then, I shall remain the House bore on the subject.

Let us go back to basics. Why wear a mask? The case for the mask is to protect ourselves and others. There is a mass of debating material and data on the internet worldwide, both supportive and challenging, and I have read a lot of it. In summary, the case turns on the primary issues of the efficacy of mask wearing—in other words, whether they work—mask design and the issue of valves, cost and supply, the perceived benefits and experience of people in South Korea, Taiwan and other areas of the Far East, and the effect of the precautionary principle on personal conduct. I shall concentrate on this latter issue today.

If you walk down a street and everyone is masking, you tend to believe you are part of a collective effort, breeding confidence and security. The mask not only acts to reassure you that a collective effort is in place but, more importantly, concentrates the individual mind on the reasons behind the collective action. It alerts you almost subliminally to the possible dangers of contamination and spread. The mask is a constant reminder. The value is in the collective response; it fosters a herd instinct in favour of precautionary actions.

I feel that officials have failed to grasp that. Admittedly, early on they had valid concerns over supply and priority usage. I understand all that, but those are the considerations of the past. Furthermore, we need to consider the American experience. Trump is perversely making my case. Once he himself had contracted the virus, he soon cast aside his distorted concepts of liberty and freedom, unleashing a national discussion over mask wearing. Sanity is taking over. We now have a genuine debate on masks state-wide, with the voice of reason no longer subject to national ridicule.

I appeal to Ministers to reopen within the department the whole discussion on mandatory mask wearing, with appropriate exemptions. I know that there are issues of individual freedom, which many Conservatives hold very dear to their hearts. I listened to the very interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, yesterday, which indicated that concern. However, this winter we will pay a heavy price if the wrong decisions are taken, and I believe it is vital now that we take a crucial decision on mandatory mask wearing in a far wider environment.