My Lords, before we discuss these regulations, it is important to set their context and say why they are being brought in now.
In May, to help businesses operate and reopen safely during Covid-19, we produced guidance, broken down by workplace area. There are now 14 separate pieces of guidance, including five covering DCMS areas. These guides were not written in a Whitehall vacuum but co-created with business and with key safety stakeholders, such as unions, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. Our collaborative engagement throughout this process was robust. Alongside seven round tables chaired by the Secretary of State, there were 900 responses to our consultations on the guidance, and the BEIS ministerial team held extensive meetings with stakeholders. Nearly 500 Covid-focused meetings took place from March to June. This constant dialogue with business produced guidance that enabled many businesses to reopen safely during the national lockdown.
BEIS also led two of the five ministerial task forces to shape additional guidance as the economy began to unlock and formerly closed businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector, were able to reopen safely. Those businesses have been following it: over 2 million copies of the guides have been viewed and I thank businesses for the great efforts they have made to adapt and work safely. It is also important to highlight how the guidance operates under our existing health and safety framework. The guidance forms part of employers’ normal health and safety practice. Employers are legally responsible under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for the health and safety of their employees and others affected by their business, with a duty to make their premises safe and prevent risks to health, including from Covid-19.
Having outlined the policy background, I shall set the context by saying a few words about the current pandemic to convey the gravity of the situation. As we all know from the Prime Minister’s announcement on
The rationale behind these regulations is therefore clear. Although the vast majority of businesses have followed the guidance, in cases where there are failings, we believe it is right that there should be swift action to address those failings. Acting now is the only and correct course of action. We can and we will beat this virus. Put simply, we have taken a few elements of our guidance and attached fixed penalty notices to them via these regulations. They are another tool that local law enforcement officers can use to tackle clear and egregious examples of non-compliance. Crucially, they do not go further than the measures outlined in the Covid-secure guidelines, which the overwhelming majority of businesses are already compliant with.
I turn to the specifics of the regulations. Under SI 2020 1008, it is an offence for a pub, restaurant, cafe or other business selling food or drink for consumption on its premises to fail to take all reasonable measures to ensure that no bookings for a table are accepted for a group of more than six persons; that no persons are admitted to the premises in a group of more than six; and that, once on the premises, no persons mingle between their different groups of six. The requirements are subject to any exemptions to the rule of six in the regulations that limit gatherings. I do not intend to go over the discussions on the rule of six itself, which this House approved on Tuesday
SI 2020 1008 also provides that businesses must take all reasonable steps to ensure appropriate distance is maintained between tables of seated customers on their premises, to further ensure that social distancing is able to be observed. SI 2020 1046 amends the former instrument to include additional requirements that were considered necessary, including measures to support the requirements for face coverings, as well as amending the penalty regime to more closely align with other measures brought forward and which ministerial colleagues have already had the honour of bringing before this House. The additional requirements brought forward in SI 2020 1046 are the creation of an offence for a relevant business covered by the face covering regulations to fail to display a notice or otherwise inform people present of the obligation to wear face coverings unless an exemption applies as there is a reasonable excuse for not doing so. Again, this provision respects the fact that some people are not required to wear face coverings. Businesses may not prevent people, whether workers or customers, wearing face coverings where they are legally obliged to do so.
Businesses must take all reasonable measures to prevent customers singing while on the premises in groups of larger than six, save where exemptions apply to the rule of six, and to prevent customers dancing, save for newlywed couples or civil partnership couples who have just wed. They must also limit recorded music noise levels to 85 decibels in public houses, cafes, restaurants and bars, when measured at the source of the sound.
The existing provisions in SI 2020 1008 to respect the rule of six in relation to taking bookings, admitting parties or allowing mingling are extended to cover further types of business. The scope of these rule of six provisions is extended in line with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Collection of Contact Details etc and Related Requirements) Regulations 2020—the test and trace regulations for short. Enforcing officers have the ability to issue fixed penalty notices immediately upon the breach occurring but retain the right to their discretionary approach under existing enforcement principles. These will begin at £1,000, with a 50% reduction for early payment at that stage, and escalate to £4,000 for repeated offences without early payment reduction. SI 2020 1046 amended the available sanctions so that fixed penalty notices escalate to a maximum of £10,000 in the case of a fourth and any subsequent fixed penalty notices.
The Government and I wholly appreciate that these are new measures with a particular focus on certain businesses, yet this should not be construed as unfair or unjust. These measures will have a limited impact on the vast majority of responsible businesses, which are already compliant with the guidance. The regulations will help to secure compliance from those that have not and do not comply with the guidance. Moreover, these regulations can provide greater enforcement of safety measures in businesses, making sure they can continue to stay open and operate safely.
We must take action now to save lives. In doing so, we can keep people in work and keep our hospitality venues open. No one wishes to return to a second lockdown. These regulations can help us prevent such a step and will allow our country to keep our businesses moving forward while we work together to defeat the virus. I commend both sets of regulations to the House. I beg to move.