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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:47 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 3:47 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, the Minister will be pleased to know that I am not going to speak for very long, partly because on this side we seem to have the Birmingham experts in the House. My noble friends Lord Rooker, Lord Hunt and Lady Crawley are all from the Birmingham area. My noble friend Lady Crawley did not say so but, of course, she was a Member of the European Parliament for the Birmingham area for many years. I think they have raised many of the pertinent questions that the Minister will have to address.

First, I think the Minister herself mentioned that 8 October—tomorrow—was the review of this statutory instrument, and I thought, why are we not talking about the review? Would that not be relevant? Would it not be more relevant for us to have a discussion about the review of this statutory instrument and what happens in the future, rather than the arid process we are going through, yet again, of discussing a statutory instrument which was put in place weeks ago and has been there for several weeks? It is now about to be reviewed, and we will not know what that review is, unless we go on the Government’s website at some point and have a look to see what it says. That is my very first question: would it not be more relevant, now that we have all these restrictions in place around the country, and make more sense for us to discuss the reviews of those, rather than looking backwards all the time? I also think it is a relevant question for the West Midlands for us to learn about the other forebears, as my noble friend Lord Hunt raised.

I also echo the issue that my noble friend Lord Hunt raised, of the Minister yesterday—in the discussion on the Statement—talking about the relationship between local government leaders and the Government in terms of restrictions and local lockdowns. I was actually about to quote the Hansard that my noble friend Lord Hunt quoted. I was very struck and did not think it was a respectful way to address the issue of the relationship with local leaders; I thought it was patronising. I know that the Minister actually said in his closing remarks that he may have struck the wrong tone—well, he did strike the wrong tone.

These leaders—the four who wrote the letter to the Secretary of State yesterday and the leader of Birmingham Council—deserve respect and support. These are the people who know their communities; they, along with their public health leads, should be given the resources to help run local testing and tracing, which we advocated when we put through the emergency legislation in March. That is not to say that there is no need for mass testing, but it needs to be given equal priority with the local drive, and that is not what has happened.

As other noble Lords said, the communication links between local areas, the public health authorities and the Government have not always worked. I think Birmingham is a good example of where there have been tireless efforts, certainly by the authorities there, to make sure that this works and they are doing their best. We know that it is still not working, as it is not in other parts of the country, but we know that it is not as bad as in other parts of the country, and we need to understand why.

I want to add a couple of other questions. How much enforcement has been necessary? As I always ask when we are discussing these regulations, how many fines have been administered, and for what? Finally, echoing what other noble Lords have said, cities such as Birmingham and the others involved in this have some of our poorest communities and our most overcrowded communities in them. It is important that resources are made available to those communities to make sure that they can help fight this virus.