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 4:51 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat 4:51 pm, 14th October 2020

My Lords, I am addressing the House from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Here, local businesses and families are subject to the high level of restriction chosen for the needs of Newcastle and Tyneside, but that is 65 miles away. Berwick is not part of the Tyneside travel-to-work area. People who travel to or from work in Berwick do so mostly from the nearby towns in the Scottish Borders. There is no university or college bringing students into the area.

We have the data on the issue to which I want to draw the Minister’s attention. The Government publish figures for every area of the country in population units of 7,200. The number of new cases in the last week per 7,200 people in Newcastle Central was 335, a horrifying figure. In Berwick, the equivalent figure per 7,200 people was between zero and two—so small that it is not specified whether it was nought, one or two. In the area around Berwick, there were a further five cases. No logical system would treat these two areas in exactly the same way; it is the result of relying on the boundary of the huge Northumberland unitary authority, which we were pushed into against our will, and the North of Tyne Combined Authority. It is challenging enough for local businesses being in the “high” category; it would be grossly unfair if, with so few cases, we were put into the “very high” tier or subjected to other restrictions designed to fit areas showing the very highest increase in cases.

The Minister used the words “local dialogue” in his remarks. I would like an assurance from him that, if Berwick remains so very far below Tyneside in the incidence of new cases and if consideration is given to raising Northumberland into the “very high” category, careful consideration will be given to excluding the relevant local government boards in and around Berwick. Public confidence in dealing with this crisis requires a system that is sensitive to such huge differences. Clearly, if a decision is made that there should be a short circuit-breaker lockdown, which has been the subject of much discussion in the media today, we will accept it. However, as long as there is a tiered system designed to fit the situation in particular areas, that system should operate logically and I ask the Minister to ensure that it does.