Covid-19: South Yorkshire - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 1:19 pm on 22nd October 2020.

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The following Statement was made on Wednesday 21 October in the House of Commons.

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on coronavirus, further to the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care last night.

This virus remains a serious threat, and over 1 million people have tested positive for coronavirus in Europe over the past week. Here in the UK, we recorded 21,331 positive cases yesterday—one of the highest recorded daily figures. Average daily hospital admissions in the UK have doubled in the past 14 days, and yesterday we recorded the highest number of daily deaths, 241, since early June.

We must keep working hard, together, to keep this virus under control. We have been vigilant in monitoring the data and putting in place targeted local measures so that we can bear down hard on the virus wherever we see it emerging. We have seen how local action can help flatten the curve, for example in Leicester and Bolton. This targeted local approach, supported by our local Covid alert level system, means we can have different rules in places like Cornwall, where transmission is low, from those in places where transmission is high and rising.

I would like to update the House specifically on the discussions we have been having with local leaders in South Yorkshire. The situation in South Yorkshire remains serious. There have been more cases in South Yorkshire so far in October—over 12,000—than in July, August and September combined. The number of patients with Covid-19 in intensive care beds has reached over half the number seen at the height of the pandemic earlier this year, and the latest data suggests that the numbers of patients on mechanical ventilation will soon be comparable to the first peak in March. We need to act now to prevent the epidemic in South Yorkshire from continuing to grow.

I am pleased to inform the House that, following discussions this week, the Government have reached an agreement with South Yorkshire on a package of measures to drive down transmission. That means that South Yorkshire—so the city of Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster—will be moving to the local Covid alert level “Very High”, taking effect at one minute past midnight on Saturday morning. That includes the baseline measures to the very high alert level which were agreed by the House earlier this month.

As well as this, and as agreed with local leaders, unfortunately, casinos, betting shops, adult gaming centres and soft play centres will also have to close, and while gyms will remain open classes will not be allowed. On that point, the Liverpool City Region and my honourable friend the Member for Southport, Damien Moore, have also requested to bring their region into line with those measures. So gyms will be open and soft play centres will close in the Liverpool City Region.

We know that some of the measures I have announced today are challenging and will have a real impact on people and businesses in South Yorkshire, so we will be putting in place substantial support. That includes the job support scheme, which ensures those affected by business closures are still paid. Once topped up with universal credit, those on low incomes will receive at least 80% of their normal income. The agreement also includes additional funding of £11.2 million for the local area for local enforcement and contact-tracing activity. As well as that, we are putting in place extra funding so that local authorities in South Yorkshire can continue to support businesses through this period.

From the Dispatch Box, I would like to thank all the local leaders in South Yorkshire for the collegiate and constructive way in which they have approached the negotiations. I would like to thank all honourable Members representing constituencies in the region as well. We have worked across party lines to reach an agreement that will protect public health and the NHS in South Yorkshire, while also supporting those who need it most. I know those local measures will be hard and entail further sacrifice but, through bearing down hard on the virus wherever and whenever we see it emerge, we can help to slow the spread of this virus and protect our loved ones and our local communities. The agreement will help us to protect lives and livelihoods in South Yorkshire and I commend the statement to the House.”

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, the last few days have been very unfortunate. Arrogance, spitefulness and divisiveness seem to be the characteristics of the Government’s approach to attempting to control the Covid infection these days. If I were being charitable, I might say that this is a product of panic and not actually knowing what to do next. If I were being less charitable, I would say that it is a characteristic of order by diktat, punishing and humiliating—or trying to—those who will not do as they are told when championing their communities. Thus, instead of dividing communities and bargaining with people’s jobs, there needs to be a one-nation approach to bring this country together, get control of the virus and protect the NHS. We have not seen that this week.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester said that he felt that the Government were

“playing poker with places and people’s lives through a pandemic”.

He asked what that is about. Is that the politics of the Prime Minister, Mr Cummings and the Cabinet?

To underline what we are facing, on Tuesday, the number of UK deaths rose by 241—the highest daily reported rise since the first wave of the pandemic. Noble Lords might remember the ridicule Patrick Vallance suffered when his chart suggested that an unchecked virus would lead to 200 deaths a day by mid-November; we are in mid-October and we are at 241. Similarly scary were Jonathan Van-Tam’s charts showing rising hospitalisation of the over-60s and the NHS medical director Stephen Powis saying that, on Wednesday, Liverpool hospitals will have as many Covid patients as they did at the height of the pandemic in April, and that Manchester hospitals will face the same record in two weeks’ time.

If I might be political about this, I remind the Minister that many of the new MPs from those seats on which the Government’s majority depends are learning the hard way what they signed up for: a great deal more than an oven-ready Brexit and quite the opposite of levelling up. They will have to go to their communities and justify: what the Government are doing and not doing; why children might not be properly fed over the winter months; why there will be a huge unemployment rate and businesses going to the wall; and, indeed, why the Covid infection rate is not responding to the sacrifices already being made in South Yorkshire, Manchester and other places in the north and the Midlands.

I will repeat some of the questions put in the Commons by my right honourable friend the leader of the Labour Party; perhaps I might get more coherent responses than he achieved. He asked,

“how does an area which goes into tier 3 restrictions get out of those restrictions? … If the infection rate, R, in a tier 3 area has not come below 1, will it be possible in any circumstances for that area to come out of tier 3”?—[Official Report,Commons, 21/10/20; col. 1053.]

If the criteria is not the R rate being under one, what is the criteria for moving from one tier to another? Millions of people need to know the answer to that question; millions of them are in tier 3 and millions are more likely to go into tier 3.

Last Friday, the Chief Scientific Officer said that tier 3 on its own would certainly not be enough to get the R rate below one but, on the same day, the Prime Minister said that there was only one chance of getting the infection rate down. So I repeat my right honourable friend’s question: which is it? Let us try to find some clarification on the confusion. There is still no clarity about how any local area gets out of tier 3 restrictions, nor any guarantees that communities will get the funding that they need to save jobs and businesses. I hope that they will but I am not sure that they will.

Sheffield went into tier 2 restrictions a week last Wednesday. Did Ministers make the wrong judgment a week ago or has new evidence that was not apparent then come to light, because it has now been put into tier 3? How many other areas in tier 2, such as those that neighbour South Yorkshire—including Bradford, my hometown, North East Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire —face the same fate as Sheffield? Can the Minister tell us how long South Yorkshire will be in this tier 3 lockdown? I repeat again: does the nationwide R number need to fall below one? What happens if Doncaster gets below one? Will it be able to leave lockdown?

Finally, I turn to shielding because it was suspended a few months ago, as noble Lords might recall. As we move into tier 3 and while all the science seems to suggest that the infection rate is creeping up the age groups, what will happen to shielding? Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said:

“Critically, I am aghast that shielding remains paused. Whilst it saddens me to see that this is once again our only recourse to protect those most vulnerable to COVID, they must be enabled both socially and financially to protect themselves once more. Whatever transpires as a result of policy, it must be accompanied by a return to the commitments made earlier this year. Most importantly, testing” has to work properly. His comments came after the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, expressed his concern for the rate of change in infections among the over-60s across the nation.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare my interests as a resident of Sheffield and, knowing the area well, as a former leader of Sheffield City Council. I note that I will not be the only former leader of Sheffield City Council who will speak on this Statement; unusually, we will probably both agree with each other again.

We have to remind ourselves that going into any of these tiers, particularly very high, and a blanket lockdown is a failure of one thing: an effective test, trace and isolate system. Countries that have that do not have to have blanket lockdowns; it is absolutely vital that the Government understand that.

There is beginning to be a feeling of a north/south divide on this. It is ironic that Greater Manchester has not had any extra support for jobs when it has been in the equivalent of tier 2 for quite a few months. It is telling that, just a couple of days after London goes into tier 2, suddenly the Chancellor is on his feet talking about a tier 2 system for extra job support.

Having spoken to a number of people in South Yorkshire over the last 24 hours, let me tell you what the feeling is: anxiety, fear and uncertainty. I have spoken to people in tears, who have a business and who just do not understand why they are asked to do things. I reiterate the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton: you cannot plan a business or your life if you have no idea of the criteria and the trigger points for being released from tier 3. This cannot be left to a number of suits in an office, deciding the livelihoods and the businesses of many areas. What are the criteria and the trigger points for release and for going into a certain tier—not just tier 3? They need to be public, not the private judgments of people in a private meeting.

Also, why is the support package per head and not more nuanced? The support package for people in Sheffield is £29 per head—£30 million for business and £11 million for public health—but why is it a flat rate? When we know that older people, BAME communities and deprived people are more affected, why is there not a weighting in an area for those particular issues? They are the ones who will be greatly affected and more spending will be needed. Again, why is the business support package per capita? Why is it not based on the number and type of businesses that will be affected? Why does the formula seem so out of sync with what local areas will need to do?

I am pleased that there is support, at only £8 per head, for public health, which includes a local test, trace and isolate system. From this support, apart from money, what extra resources and expertise will local areas in South Yorkshire be able to call on to implement an effective localised test, trace and isolate system? We want to do our bit in South Yorkshire but we want to see fairness and a package that will minimise the effect of this high-level rate on both businesses and people.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, put the sense of jeopardy and anxiety about the current situation extremely well. Anyone providing for their family or running a business will feel a huge amount of anxiety or even deep concern about the prospects for the next few months, and that is completely understandable. That is why we take all these matters incredibly seriously, why we are focused on it as a Government, and why we have made it such a large priority. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, put the grave sense of jeopardy extremely well when she referenced the Vallance graph, which was so derided when it was first posted and which has come to haunt us since then, the clear sense of concern from Jonathan Van-Tam, and the description of the state of our hospitals and intensive care units from Steve Powis. All those were grave warnings and have come to play out in a way that I am afraid worries us all.

At the heart of this debate is a question about the local lockdowns. They are necessary for those very reasons I just described. The infection rates have gone through the roof, they are profound, and they are having an impact right through all the demographics. In many cases they may have started in universities and with young people but they have moved relentlessly through the age demographics and are leading to hospitals filling up in a way that any mathematician, or anyone like me with an O-level in maths, can see is completely unsustainable without a major intervention. Our priority is to try to manage those interventions in a way that strikes the right balance, preserving the economy, keeping the schools open and keeping our lives as normal as possible, but which has an impact on the transmission of the disease. That is why these local lockdowns are so very important, because they are a way of introducing targeted measures to populations in a way that can close down the spread of the disease within a community.

When we say “community”, one of the lessons we have learned is that people travel within their regions a great deal, so we cannot be laser-like and targeted and just shut down a street, a town or a village. We have learned that we have to apply it to substantial regions; otherwise, the disease rolls from one small community to the next. Making these local lockdowns work is not in any particular government interest but in all of our interests. I ask noble Lords to step back from the temptation to introduce party politics into a subject which is driven by genuine public health concerns. It does not help anyone to talk in terms of north-south divides, people being at each other’s throats, scum, or any of the other political rhetoric that has been associated with the last week.

I come back to something that I have said many times at this Dispatch Box. It has been derided by those on the Benches opposite but it remains true and I see it every day of the week. There is a huge amount of bilateral and multilateral dialogue between central government and the agencies of central government—including the Cabinet Office, the DHSC, BEIS, MHCLG, NHS Test and Trace, and the NHS—and those in the regions and in the DAs. There are massive weekly calls, such as the one between the CMO and the DPHs, the one between the BEIS Secretary of State and the business community up and down the country, and the Thursday call between the MHCLG and 350 council chief executives and leaders. There is a relentless drumbeat of engagement and a huge amount of engagement on a one-to-one basis, as was shown by the revealing telephone logs of those on the phone to the mayor of Manchester on Wednesday, which seems to suggest that he was much more in touch with central government than perhaps was apparent from his photo call. I reassure the Chamber that that spirit of partnership to get the local national partnership working is genuine, backed by substantial amounts of money—£1 billion has been pledged for local authorities to support the local lockdown policy—and it is in all our interests to get this to work.

If it does not work, and if there is not the political leadership and trust at a community basis in the efficacy of this approach, we have only one choice. I am looking at the SAGE table which I have in front of me, and it is really clear. These kinds of tactical interventions can knock a point or two off R. However, the only way of knocking an integer off R is a national, home-based lockdown. That is the alternative: that we all go back to March and April, to being at home, with shops closed and no travel. If this local lockdown policy does not work, that is where we will end up, and that is why we are committed to working as hard as we can.

I pay tribute to the large number of those involved in local government at all levels who have worked really hard in their communities to make it work. We are here to talk about Lancashire, and I pay tribute to those in Lancashire who have agreed to and in fact called for the lockdown there. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, are right on the exit strategy. It is absolutely critical that everyone understands what the exit strategy is, and our focus needs to be on that. But I can tell your Lordships that it takes a lot longer to get out than it does to get in. The ramp up is a lot steeper than the ramp down, and it is a big struggle that will need the support of individuals, households, streets, communities, local authorities, regions, mayors and the national resources to make it work. I very much appeal for collaboration in this matter and hope that we can move on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, rightly characterised as a bit of an unseemly scramble this week.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton asked about shielding, which is incredibly important. We wrote to the shielding list on 13 October. That letter struck the balance between the need to protect those who are vulnerable and to take on board the feedback from many, including those in the Chamber today, that extreme shielding—locking up those who are vulnerable —does not support their mental health and will have massive consequences for them personally and for their communities. Therefore, the advice we have provided, in consultation with charities and groups representing those who are being shielded, strikes the right balance.

The noble Lord said something that I need to knock on the head in a big way, because it is a very destructive and counterproductive idea. He said that the fact that we are bringing in local lockdowns is itself proof of the failure of test and trace. That is simply not true. The only way to beat the virus is through the principal interaction of “hands, face, space”. You cannot break the virus’s spread entirely by isolating those who, retrospectively, you have identified as having the disease. That will never work, and we have never claimed it will work. SAGE and the Royal Society have been very clear that the impact of test and trace is complementary but it is not unique. The idea that local lockdowns are somehow solely and uniquely caused by the failure of test and trace takes the responsibility for beating the virus away from individuals, communities, employers, local authorities and the Government. With the greatest respect, I plead with the noble Lord to move away from that rhetoric, because it undermines the public communication of the importance of “hands, face, space”.

I return to my opening remarks. No one could take the development of these local lockdowns more seriously than the Government. It is done with huge regret. We can see perhaps the flattening of some numbers in some places that would indicate that local lockdowns are having an impact. It is too early to call at this stage. However, I live in hope that they will have the impact that we desire, and I live in fear that they will not.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, we now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that the maximum number of speakers can be called.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Lords), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Lords) 1:40 pm, 22nd October 2020

My Lords, as the infection rates and admissions to hospital rise, as seen in tier 3 areas, what are the Government doing to accelerate clinical trials to bring more treatments that could help patients with Covid infections? We have got to the market two treatments: dexamethsasone and remdesivir. Recent anecdotal and observational studies suggest that vitamin D, for instance, is related to mortality ratios in Covid infections. What are the Government doing to accelerate clinical trials of other treatments, including vitamin D, to improve the outcome for Covid patients?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s reference to anecdotal reports and observational studies that have reported benefits of vitamin D in reducing the effects of Covid-19. We are absolutely keeping an eye on those reports. However, the clinical and evidential support for a clear link between vitamin D and Covid-19 recovery is not concrete or provable at this stage. None the less, in April, we reissued our advice on vitamin D supplementation, particularly to help those with musculoskeletal development needs, and we are absolutely keeping an eye on international developments with a view to investing in trials, should the evidential support for those arise.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop

My Lords, the Greater Manchester tier 3 proposals were the main UK news item across our broadcasting media for at least a week. However, to the best of my knowledge, at no time did senior members of Her Majesty’s Government come to Manchester to meet its people, hear its voices and seek to reach an agreement face to face with our civic leaders. Moreover, yesterday the Manchester Evening News published a story claiming that senior leaders logged into one crucial meeting only to discover that the Government side had set up controls that did not allow members to unmute themselves. It then allegedly used that facility to prevent voices being heard.

Whatever the practicalities of managing virtual meetings —indeed, irrespective of whether the newspaper reports are wholly accurate—there is now a strong perception in the north-west that local leaders have been treated throughout this process with a great lack of respect. The affairs of Manchester and those of other regions cannot be settled from behind a computer screen in Westminster, one hand controlling the purse strings and the other the menu for mute, no more than can the proceedings of this House. I therefore ask the Minister and, through him, other senior members of Her Majesty’s Government, to commit to this House to coming to Manchester within the next couple of weeks to seek to repair the present breakdown in trust. We may bark loudly, at least when we are unmuted, but we rarely bite.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The right reverend Prelate makes a very touching appeal, and I reassure him that both the representatives and the people of Manchester are massively valued. I do not want to cite all the details, but many people in this Government, including me, have spent a vast amount of time in Manchester, value the city, love the people and are greatly distressed at the thought that anyone thinks otherwise. The practicalities of this epidemic have been very regrettable on travel. As a Minister, I regret massively the fact that I have not been able to travel up and down the country. It is not possible to visit cities for face-to-face negotiations in the middle of an epidemic. That would strike the wrong note. It is a contagious threat and that is not possible, but I reassure the right reverend Prelate that everything is being done to value the opinions of the representatives of Manchester, and it will continue to be so.

Photo of Lord Herbert of South Downs Lord Herbert of South Downs Conservative

My Lords, I agree with the Minister’s main point, which is that local lockdowns are really the only choice available to us at the moment if we wish to avoid a national lockdown—which will penalise those areas that do not have the relevant levels of Covid and cause further economic hardship—and are to reject those voices which, through things such as the Great Barrington declaration, suggest that there should be no restrictions at all other than shielding the vulnerable, which would exact a tremendous humanitarian toll. That being the choice, surely local lockdowns, backed by the relevant economic assistance, must be the current policy. If people are looking for bigger solutions, those ought to lie in the advance of either rapid testing or a vaccine. Can my noble friend update us on the potential timetable and likelihood of a vaccine and how prioritisation will be organised to ensure that it is available to those who most need it first?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The feedback from the Vaccine Taskforce is very promising. It has six contracts for vaccines on four different platforms. The Oxford vaccine is by far the front runner, but what is really encouraging is the substantial pipeline of other vaccines coming through. I am afraid I cannot commit to the timing on that, but all the news we have is extremely encouraging and we are putting deployment protocols in place to be able to deliver it as quickly as possible. I also flag that the therapeutic drugs and rapid testing also provide strong answers to the threat of coronavirus.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

I have a similar declaration to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and agree with his comments on tests, where the 24-hour turnaround for tests has now dropped to 15% of the total. Perhaps the Minister could comment on the fact that, given the announcement this morning by the Chancellor, including the £2,000 retrospective contribution per month for those businesses not legally locked down and closed but which are being devastated by what is happening around them, it would have been perfectly reasonable to have reached a settlement with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and it would be perfectly reasonable to expect the Sheffield City Region now to have its resource topped up from the £30 million that has been allocated to take account of that announcement this morning.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

First, I am glad to say that we have struck a financial arrangement with the Mayor of Manchester, and one of the valuable points that I think the noble Lord is alluding to is that that agreement is fair to all the other regions where we have struck agreements. It is not possible to do more generous agreements with one region over another simply because of the hard bargaining of one mayor over another. I pay tribute to those in Sheffield and South Yorkshire for the way in which they have gone about their negotiations and the implementation of the new tiering system in South Yorkshire.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as was shown in Manchester, the Government can impose tier 3 on an area where an agreement cannot be reached. Can the Minister inform the House if discussions with local leaders are now about not whether the area will be placed in tier 3 for the good of the population’s well- being but the financial package?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, it is with great regret that central government imposes lockdowns under the tiering arrangement. In all the other areas where we have put in local restrictions, it has been done either at the immediate and clear request of the local authorities or in close collaboration with them. That is our intention going forward: we do not intend to impose anything. In fact, the considerable time lag in Manchester, which, as everyone, took many days before the imposition of restrictions, was extremely regrettable, and we will reflect on the cost of that to the community in Manchester at a future date.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Both the noble Lords, Lord Robathan and Lord Desai, who are next on the list, have withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Barker.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

Will the Minister explain to the person in Sheffield who, having registered themselves as being positive for Covid, was contacted four times a day for four days on the trot, and managed to stop it only when they got the nurse to explain that they were so ill that they were in hospital, how their statistics will be recorded by Serco? Can he explain to the people of Sheffield why the Government continue to spend so much money on a system that is so bad?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The noble Baroness alludes to a glitch that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raised yesterday, which I looked into overnight at her suggestion. It is true that if someone lives in a household with several other people who have been reported to have Covid, they are, at the moment, each receiving emails or calls, not on a household basis. We are looking at this and I hope to have it fixed in the next few days. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for raising it.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords), Chair, Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, scientific evidence now suggests that one of the reasons for the spike in cases in the northern regions is due to the fact that Covid has been more virulent and persistent there, and that restrictions were lifted too soon. What have the Government learned from that? Returning to the questions asked by my noble friend Lady Thornton, what will be the criteria in determining when it will be safe to move from the latest restrictions? The Minister spoke movingly of how fearful he was that they would not work. Difficult though it is, the question is: when will we know whether they are working? What will be the elements and criteria of the exit strategy?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, the exit strategy question is extremely important and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising it. We have not published strict criteria for each exit strategy for moving from one tier to another. It is part art and part science, in any case. We look at a large number of indices, including hospitalisation, transmission and incidence rates, and so on. What the Government and local authorities can do is to figure out local Covid plans with inherent exit strategies. We will be working on those as a matter of priority.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, who is next on the list, has withdrawn , so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to increase NHS lab capacity for testing in areas suffering from new restrictions? What advice has been given to care homes in those areas to alleviate the appallingly inhumane denial of access of families to their elderly relatives? For example, will regular testing be made available to those visiting their desperately lonely and sometimes confused relatives in care homes?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I pay tribute to NHS colleagues who have done an enormous amount to increase NHS lab capacity, and would be happy to share the numbers with the noble Baroness. We have written to care homes to emphasise the critical importance of the pastoral visits to which she refers. There is no question of a care home shutting out visitors if it can be avoided and we are putting regular testing in place to protect care homes. We are looking at providing regular testing for visitors and hope to make progress on it.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I take issue with the Minister’s response to the Front-Bench spokespeople when he urged everyone not to make party-political points during this pandemic, yet went on to swipe at Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester. The Minister needs to hold himself to the same high standards he urges on others. This Government promised to level up the north but all we are getting so far is the north being put into tier 3 lockdown and given £8 per head in compensation. When are they going to come up with a long-term economic plan? We have record low interest rates and this is the time to borrow and invest if we are to have any sort of green, productive future.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, who has clearly read the Conservative Party manifesto. I should be grateful for her recommendations on how we can do exactly what she suggests.

Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative

While I warmly welcome the measures announced by the Chancellor this morning, which should ease the lot of people working in the hospitality sector in South Yorkshire and elsewhere, has there been any assessment of any negative impact on public health if restaurants—which, by definition, provide substantive meals—were allowed to stay open until 11 pm, in order to accommodate two sittings, a factor that they say is crucial to their viability in many cases?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, having worked in the hospitality industry for 10 years, I feel great kinship with restaurant owners but cannot avoid the fact that restaurants represent a major focus for transmission. Sitting opposite someone and having a long meal for a couple of hours, sharing the same air and space, presents a massive risk. There is no question that this is a substantial cause of the introduction of the disease into new households and we stand by the 10 pm curfew as introduced.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

Should not Greater Manchester receive a backlog payment for tier 2 funding for the past two months, now that London has received one after two weeks? Given that the Government have got the UK into the world-leading position of third in most new cases, fifth in most deaths and sixth in deaths per million, why has no scientific adviser or Minister resigned over that appalling killing record?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, I am glad to reassure the noble Lord that Manchester businesses will be getting a payment to cover the backlog, as he described.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, my city, Sheffield, and the South Yorkshire region have been mentioned a great deal today. My specific question, of which I have given prior notice, comes from the Green councillors there but is, sadly, of interest to an increasing number of areas of the country. When can the funding for tier 3 areas be expected to arrive? Will it be in regular tranches or a lump sum? When can it be expected to reach businesses? Are conditions attached to the money and its continuation?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, grants will be available from 1 November, will be administered by local authorities and will remain in place until April 2021, with a review point in January. The funding will apply only to England and, if applied across the country, would provide over £250 million of support each month.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

The Minister was asked about exit strategies from tier 3 or any of the tiers. He said that the answer was part art and part science. Will he assure us that that does not mean that when the Government do not feel like accepting science, they will simply be vague and ignore what the scientists say? He also referred to travel. Has he looked at the position at German airports, a point raised with him yesterday or the day before? Can we look again at checking people on arrival at airports? I know that one cannot be sure but checking on arrival and again a few days later would prevent the need for long periods of quarantine that are difficult for people to cope with. They may lose a lot of money and their jobs. Can we look again at this?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The noble Lord is right that the situation at airports is distressing and has caused huge damage to travel, the airline business and hotels. However, foreign travel represents a massive threat in forward transmission of the virus. Testing at airports catches only a tiny proportion of those infected, and quarantine arrangements are not wholly reliable. For that reason, we are running a pilot in the UK to see what can be done but we will tread cautiously.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, the Minister has said that he will not publish the criteria under which a local area can move in and out of a tier. Does he agree that publishing some indication would give local people a clearer understanding of what needs to happen to move out of a tier? Perhaps I may refer to the proceedings of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee earlier today, which, looking at the tiered approach, said, “For public trust to be maintained, the Government have to be much more transparent in explaining the basis of their decision-making, including setting out how they balance the competing health, social and economic interests and the data to support the decision.” Will the Minister look at this?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My Lords, I hear the point loud and clear from both the noble Lord and others who have raised it. The question of the exit strategy is a priority and it is inevitable that people will be asking exactly that. We have sought hard over recent months to make the regulations clearer, simpler and more understandable for the public; the rule of six, the tier strategy and other measures are efforts to do that. However, his point about exit strategies is extremely well made and I would be glad to take it back to the department and to push as hard as I can on it.

Sitting suspended.