Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (High) (England) Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers 4:40 pm, 14th October 2020

My Lords, I am not one of those who want zero restrictions, but I want scientifically based timely restrictions with transparency. I am sure that Mr Johnson hoped that his three-tier system would bring clarity for people to follow; indeed, public compliance depends on it. I, too, hoped that replacing the multiple sets of rules would bring that about. Unfortunately, that is not the case and the complexity of these regulations proves it.

The Liberal Democrats believe that we should follow the science. The big question asked by many noble Lords is: why did the Government implement this week only one of the five recommendations made by the chief scientist three weeks ago? How on earth can the Government claim that they are following the science when the minutes of meetings make it clear that they are not? What is the science behind the 10 pm curfew? We have never been told and it has rapidly become clear that it may be having the opposite effect to that intended, as people stream out of socially distanced pubs and mingle out on crowded streets without appropriate space or masks.

As usual the Government made an announcement before they had all their ducks in a row. We hear that discussions with local leaders are ongoing about which tier their areas should be in. One cannot blame them for holding out for more financial support. If the Government had passed on to local authorities even half the money that they have been bunging into profitable contracts with their friends, councils could have used the money to do what they do best—tracing cases and supporting them to isolate, which is best done locally. Yet, the Government insist on allowing the national system to fail before sending many of the cases to local teams, thereby losing a valuable 24 hours. When time is of the essence, this is crazy.

You cannot blame local leaders for seeking to protect their local economy by resisting going into too high a tier. What percentage of cases or growth rates divides one tier from another? We and the local leaders are not told. We now know that many positive student cases are being wrongly assigned to their home area, because that is where they are registered with a GP, instead of at their university. That is skewing the figures. Will the Minister ensure that that factor, like many others, is taken into account when assigning a tier? It is that kind of issue that makes local government highly suspicious of the criteria being used. Councils and their residents also want to know what they have to achieve to have restrictions loosened.

We support the scientists’ alternative proposal of a circuit-breaker.