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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 3:53 pm, 7th October 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate, and I would like to get straight to addressing the points raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about the surrounding areas in the West Midlands and whether we were looking at those, too. They get reviewed because there is travel between them. Wolverhampton was added to the protected area of these regulations on 22 September, so we will continue to look at local transmission rates.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker, Lady Crawley and Lady Burt, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and many others asked what lessons we have learned from previous lockdowns, what figures we used for the decision to go into lockdown and the path out of lockdown, and about inconsistency between different areas. I know this might be frustrating for noble Lords, but there is not a single figure for the decision to go into or come out of a local lockdown. There is not a single threshold, but the decision takes into account positivity rates, incidence rates, patterns of transmission and the rate of increase in those rates. There is not a single figure that informs that.

The Secretary of State keeps the necessity for these regulations under constant review; he is obliged to review it every 14 days, and I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that the first review has taken place. That was at the end of September. The date of 8 October was for the second review, and these regulations will last for up to six months, unless they are revoked before then as a consequence of one of the fortnightly reviews by the Secretary of State.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, asked about the impact of the missing test results on the outcome of the previous review. As the previous review was on whether to keep additional restrictions in Birmingham in place or revoke them, and rates in Birmingham have either remained similar or gone up a bit, additional test results would not impact the outcome of that review. I also point out that the Chief Medical Officer has said that, overall, the impact of those missing test results has not so far changed our analysis of the virus and our response to it.

Many noble Lords raised the question of local co-operation. It is right that we will be effective in these local lockdowns only if we work with local leaders and experts. As noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that has been the case here. It is a good lesson for the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, also asked whether we have learned from previous local lockdowns. That is an ongoing process. The noble Baroness referred to the local lockdown in Leicester, and there is a published review of the impact of the measures there, Rapid Stocktake of Lessons Learnt and Good Practice in the Management of Local Covid-19 Outbreaks. That review has informed the contain framework, which I referred to in my opening remarks, which is used for decision-making on local restrictions.

Alongside local decision-making, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett, Lady Burt and Lady Thornton, raised the question of local funding, drawing on local expertise and ensuring that expertise has access to funding to implement local action. That is absolutely right. It is why we have made £300 million available to local authorities for their local outbreak plans. In addition, £100 million of surge funding is available for local authorities to bid for, particularly if they are in a local lockdown area and may need to take further measures. That money is in addition to the £3.7 billion of un-ring-fenced funding for local authorities to deal with Covid pressures. Areas affected by the local lockdown in the West Midlands have received £142 million from the un-ring-fenced funding to local authorities. They have also received £3.3 million from the test and trace surge funding. I am afraid I do not have the figure for what they have received from the £300 million funding for initial test and trace. I do not want noble Lords to think the £3.3 million is the only funding they have received to respond to local outbreaks.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Thornton, raised enforcement. Unfortunately for the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I cannot give the exact figures for enforcement in Birmingham. The collection of that data is ongoing. The guidance on fixed penalty notices is that enforcement officers should take an approach based on the four Es—engage, explain, encourage, then enforce. In the first instance, engaging and explaining, rather than using fixed penalty notices, might be the correct approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked about household transmission. I reassure noble Lords that this is not the view just of central government, but of local government leaders and directors of public health. Local authorities and directors of public health have access to much more granular data than is publicly available and, rightly, sign data protection agreements in order to access it. There is consensus across the local area that this is the source of transmission in this case.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Burt, raised the impact of these restrictions on people, in their well-being and mental health. The Government take that seriously. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked about increased funding, which I have touched on. She also asked whether there is still a Minister for Loneliness. I can reassure her that the Minister for Loneliness is my noble friend Lady Barran at DCMS.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, also made a point about how this legislation has been subsequently amended to make provision for informal childcare arrangements. That is an example of the Government listening to scrutiny and feedback in this House and from leaders in Birmingham, who made that case strongly, so action was taken.

I reassure my noble friend Lord Vaizey that the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham are on track and on budget for delivery in 2022. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about the morale-boosting prospects of allowing spectators at outdoor sports. I know that DCMS takes this incredibly seriously and is working with sporting bodies to look at what we can do about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked about masks. I reassure him that I have listened to all his contributions on masks. He may be disappointed that my noble friend the Minister is not here, but I will take his comments back to my noble friend and I am sure that he will take them as seriously as he has so far.

Several noble Lords raised the question of the 10 pm curfew. I know that noble Lords can be sceptical of the Government’s view, so perhaps the view of the local director of public health in Birmingham may be salient here. He has said:

“When we visit a pub or restaurant or other Covid secure location, we are distanced, we sanitise regularly, places are clean and risk assessed and, in some locations” we wear face coverings. But comparing that to the restrictions in homes, which the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, raised:

“When at home we are more relaxed, it is easy to not religiously adhere to those guidelines—we forget or are just unable to keep our distance”.

That is why we have taken the measures within households, not within pubs. The curfew is a measure that has been put in place in many other countries. It is in place in Madrid, Canada and the Netherlands. It is a measure by which we try to keep places open while reducing risky behaviour.

I conclude with a point raised by several noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, talked about discrimination. The Government would strongly disagree with that but the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, rightly said that local outbreaks can occur in areas that are more deprived and less resilient in dealing with them. That is not necessarily the case in the area covered by these restrictions. The reason the regulations cover Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell is less because of a pattern of concentration, but that is a pattern we have seen elsewhere. It is something we take incredibly seriously. We have put huge amounts of resources into those areas, not just to contain those local outbreaks and use local expertise to do so but to provide support for people’s well-being, mental health and livelihoods, as we have to take those actions. I commend the Motion.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.