Health Measures at UK Borders - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 6:10 pm on 4th February 2021.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 27 January.

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement. First, I want to begin by echoing the Prime Minister’s remarks. The scale of the suffering that this virus has inflicted is truly heart-breaking, and my thoughts are with those who have tragically lost loved ones.

Yesterday, when I addressed the House, I said that the Government’s focus was on protecting the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme—a programme that we should be proud of—and reducing the risk of the new strain of the virus being transmitted from someone coming into the UK. Yesterday, the Foreign Office announced support for more countries to access the UK’s world-leading gene sequencing capabilities to increase early identification of any new strains of the virus. This is a vital step forward to support the global response to coronavirus, but it is simply not enough on its own to reduce risks to the United Kingdom.

It is clear that there are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day. Today I am announcing further action to strengthen the health measures that we already have at the border, in order to reduce passenger flow—so that only the small number of people for whom it is absolutely essential to travel are doing so—and therefore reduce the risk to our world-leading vaccine programme.

For those entering the UK, there will be a number of measures. First, the police have stepped up checks and are carrying out more physical checks at addresses to ensure that people are complying with the rules on self-isolation. Secondly, we will continue to refuse entry to non-UK residents from red list countries that are already subject to the UK travel ban. Thirdly, as the Prime Minister has said, we will introduce a new managed isolation process in hotels for those who cannot be refused entry, including those arriving home from countries where we have already imposed international travel bans. They will be required to isolate for 10 days, without exception. The Department of Health and Social Care will set out further details on this approach next week.

For those travelling out of the UK, we will also be enhancing and stepping up enforcement of the rules, because despite the stay-at-home regulations, we are still seeing people not complying with the rules. The rules are clear: people should be staying at home unless they have a valid reason to leave. Going on holiday is not a valid reason.

We will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel. This “reason for travel” will be checked by carriers prior to departure. That approach effectively mirrors the checks on arrivals that are already in place with the passenger locator form. Secondly, working with policing partners, we will increase the police presence at ports and at airports, fining those in breach of the stay-at-home regulations. Anyone who does not have a valid reason for travel will be directed to return home or they will face a fine. Thirdly, we will urgently review the list of travel exemptions to make sure that only the most important and exceptional reasons are included.

These are crucial new measures to protect us all. They also complement the robust action that we have consistently taken at the border. While these new measures are being operationalised, I would like to remind anyone seeking to enter our country to comply with the rules. This includes providing evidence of a negative Covid test before entering the United Kingdom, self-isolation on arrival for 10 days and the completion of the passenger locator form. Immediately stepping up enforcement means that if someone does not follow the regulations, they will face a fine.

These new measures at the border are a necessary step to protect the public and our world-class vaccination programme. Every layer of protection that we have put in place will help to reduce the risk of transmission of this virus and any new potential strain from entering the UK. As we have done throughout this global health emergency, we will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the public and help prevent the spread of the virus. I commend the Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 7:00 pm, 4th February 2021

My Lords, as of yesterday, more than 109,000 people in the United Kingdom have died because of Covid-19. We mourn all those lost and think of their families, for whom life will never be the same again. We must learn from past mistakes. Rather than being world-beating or world-class, we have the highest death rate in the entire world, with, on average, more than 1,000 people dying each day. It is a shameful and tragic figure.

Right from the start of this pandemic, we have had too little, too late; we have ignored the problem, denied the problem and then panicked and made a U-turn. We all know the Prime Minister is not a man for details or consistency. We were told we were going to build a world-beating test and trace system. He told the country that we would turn the tide by June, then in July, he said that there would be a significant return to normality by Christmas. When the leader of the Opposition suggested a two-week circuit break, he was mocked by the Prime Minister, only for the Prime Minister to do exactly what he called for weeks later and weeks too late. And then there was the dreadful performance when he accused the leader of the Opposition of wanting to cancel Christmas, only to announce new restrictions on 19 December. The Prime Minister has ignored medical advice and there has been error after error, which has cost many lives.

Let us be clear: the vaccination programme is going well because of the fabulous NHS, the GPs, other health professionals, the military, the police and the volunteers who are working to get the country vaccinated. We thank them for their brilliant work. No contracts have been awarded without proper tendering procedures and no companies have been mysteriously formed and given millions of pounds without obvious identifiable experience or a track record in the area in question.

One key area where the Government have clearly fallen short is on protecting our borders. The measures outlined are another example of too little, too late. Limiting hotel quarantine to countries from which travel by non-EU residents was already banned means that the Home Secretary’s proposals do not go anywhere near far enough.

Mutations of the virus are undermining the efficiency of the vaccines and threatening life and hope. We cannot know where a mutation will emerge next. The truth is that the Government are once again behind the curve. This announcement is too limited. It leaves huge gaps in our defences against emerging strains. We know that strains that emerged in South Africa and Brazil have already reached these shores—that is little wonder given that the controls have been so lax, with just three in 100 people quarantining having been successfully contacted, and with border testing introduced only 10 months after the first lockdown. Even then, the start had to be delayed because the Government could not get the necessary systems in place.

Can the Minister tell the House how we can be assured that travellers will not arrive with emergent strains via countries that are not on the control list? What support has been made available to ensure improvements in quarantining compliance and the Isolation Assurance Service? Why has it taken so long to step up checks, when we know that the system has been failing for months? What discussions have taken place with hotel chains to ensure the availability of rooms? How often will the list of red list countries be reviewed and updated? Will it be based purely on the country of risk or on the capacity of UK quarantining facilities?

Travellers arriving in Scotland from any country outside the British Isles will be forced to quarantine in a hotel, whereas in England, only travellers from the red list countries will be required to quarantine. Does the Minister accept that the greatest barrier to a four-nation approach is the Westminster Government dragging their feet? For those people travelling out of the country, why is enforcement being stepped up only now?

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, the Government’s approach to border biosecurity appears to be all over the place. They previously had travel corridors in place, but they then scrapped these and imposed the requirement of a negative Covid test and 10 days’ quarantine on all arrivals into the UK, unless travellers pay for an expensive test-to-release scheme, where a further negative test five days after arrival in the UK can shorten the quarantine. Enforcement of these rules appears to be lax, to say the least.

The Government also introduced travel bans on direct flights and on non-UK citizens travelling from countries where the variants first identified in Brazil and in South Africa are prevalent, including Portugal, where many flights from Brazil arrive into Europe. The reason the Government gave was that this was on the basis that further research needed to be carried out on these variants to establish whether they were more contagious, more dangerous and more vaccine resistant. How closer are the Government to answering these three questions about the new variants and what criteria will need to be met on how contagious, dangerous or resistant they are before a decision can be made as to whether these restrictions can be lifted or varied?

The Government say that they are going to introduce compulsory hotel quarantine on UK nationals arriving from these so-called red list countries. How many rooms will be required? UKHospitality, the trade body representing the country’s hotels, said yesterday that it had no information on how the system might work, and leading hotel chains around Heathrow told PoliticsHome that they have not been contacted to assist with any type of scheme. When will the scheme be in place?

Her Majesty’s Official Opposition are calling for all arrivals into the UK to face compulsory hotel quarantine. The argument appears to be that, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has said, new Covid variants could occur anywhere in the world. However, Labour want the existing list of exemptions from quarantine on arrival into the UK to be maintained. This includes, for example, workers who travel at least once a week into and out of the UK.

Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday that 21,000 passengers arrived in the UK on Monday. What are the Government’s estimates of the hotel capacity required were all arrivals into the UK to face compulsory 10-day hotel quarantine? Taking the example of Australia, which has adopted such a policy, there are hundreds of thousands of Australian nationals unable to return home because of limited Covid-safe hotel capacity or because they cannot afford the cost of compulsory hotel quarantine. Do the Government expect similar problems here in the UK?

What consideration have the Government given to, at the very least, extending their ban on direct flights or on non-UK nationals from entering the UK, and extending their compulsory hotel quarantine policy for UK nationals, to include countries where there is no rapid genomic sequencing capacity? There, a new or existing Covid variant is unlikely to be identified quickly enough to prevent infections in the UK.

How much of a risk do travellers from outside the UK actually present? In the light of the high level of infections in the UK, both in terms of total numbers and as a proportion of the population, what is the probability that a new, more contagious, harmful or vaccine-resistant Covid variant will result from a mutation of the virus within in the UK, compared with the probability that this will occur in a country with few or no Covid infections? Is the recent E484K mutation of the variant first identified in Kent, that is similar to the variant first identified in South Africa, an example that the threat of dangerous mutations lies as much, if not more, within the UK as it does overseas?

Taking the examples of Australia, New Zealand, the Isle of Man or even Norway—where I am speaking from now—where Covid infections are low or non-existent, test and trace is effective, and where there is rapid genomic sequencing capability, what is the reasoning behind quarantining arrivals from such countries when they arrive in the UK. In short, what is the basis for the Government’s strategy towards border controls—if they have one? It certainly does not seem to be based on either science or common sense.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank both noble Lords for their comments. I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in mourning the 109,000 people who have died. It is a terrible time, and our hearts go out to their families. Both noble Lords asked a series of interesting questions. I say from the outset that the strategy is based on two things. One is reducing transmissibility; the second is supressing any new variants. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked a very interesting question about the probability of a new more deadly virus, both from without and within the UK. That is a question that nobody can answer until it actually happens, because viruses mutate all the time: some in a weaker form, some in a stronger form. We know that new variants that we have seen recently are more transmissible, not necessarily more deadly, but supressing new variants because of the danger that the noble Lord talks about is absolutely the right thing.

I do not agree that we have got the strategy wrong, or that the strategy has been all over the place. All along, the strategy has been guided by the science. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, makes accusations about the Prime Minister. We do not often have spats like this, but his right honourable friend Keir Starmer has been heard to say he mourned the passing of our use of the European Medicines Agency. Thank goodness we did not follow the Opposition’s strategy. The noble Lord also talked about how pleased he was about vaccinations. It is absolutely incredible: over 10 million people vaccinated. In terms of the vaccines’ interaction with the new variants, we think from results so far—although it is quite early to tell—that there is still some protection from some of the new variants we have seen.

All along, we have followed the FCDO advice. The regulations and powers that we have been making under the Coronavirus Act have come regularly. One thing to be borne in mind is that we have reduced travel by 90%, and of course self-isolation as a practice has been in place since last year.

With regard to review of the red countries, countries are of course under review all the time. In Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was saying, everyone has to isolate. That is as may be, but we think the strategy we are employing is absolutely the right one.

It is important that we reduce the risk by reducing the number of people who enter the country who could be a new threat in terms of the variants and mutations, as I have said. We have already implemented numerous measures and protections to reduce that risk, but of course, last week new additional levels of protection at our disposal were announced. Some are forthcoming regarding hotels, as noble Lords have said. I understand that the DHSC will be leading on that and announcements will be made in due course.

I understand that the IS will be checking more than 5,000 people coming into the country and will contact all those who have arrived 10 days prior, as it has been doing and naturally has been asked to do, with regard to self-isolation. There will be an increase of about 1,000 targeted follow-up visits a day from that enhanced police presence at ports, borders and airports.

On enforcement, I understand that, as there have been, there will be fines for not complying with this, and of course the enforcement being done by police and Border Force will be stepped up. Capacity in hotels is a piece of work that DHSC will be carrying out.

I understand the question from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about compulsory 10-day quarantine in Australia. That has been very effective there but of course, Australia has some features that are entirely different from ours and which make it easier for people to quarantine.

The noble Lord also asked about countries with no genomic sequencing, which I thought was an interesting point. We are lending our expertise to countries to help them with their genomic sequencing because, of course, this is a problem not just for the UK but for the entire world. Genomic sequencing capabilities that help us will help the rest of the world.

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

We now come to the 30 minutes allocated to Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be very brief so that I can call the maximum number of people.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 7:18 pm, 4th February 2021

My Lords, I am sure we all support the Minister in what is a very difficult job. The Statement says that people should be staying at home unless they have a valid reason to leave, and that going on holiday is not a valid reason. I could not agree more; that is absolutely right. However, I ask the Minister to realise that there are some legitimate reasons why people need to travel. If I heard correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is in Norway at the moment, presumably because he has a very good reason to be there.

I wish to ask the Minister two questions. The Statement says:

“We will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel. This ‘reason for travel’ will be checked by carriers”.

When will this come into force and will it be available online? It says, “checked by carriers”, so presumably the carriers will be given some guidance. Can the Minister clarify whether the result of a negative lateral flow test done by the NHS is acceptable when presented to Border Force as proof that the bearer is not infected and therefore eligible to travel?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, guidance is always issued when the rules change, and it is absolutely right that it would be issued in this case. The noble Lord is absolutely right: the rule is to stay at home unless there is a legitimate reason to leave. Of course, some people do have legitimate reasons to leave and I know that he is one of them.

NHS tests cannot be used for predeparture travel purposes, and it is not because of the type of test—for example, the lateral flow test. It applies to any NHS test, and that is because we believe that the NHS testing capacity should be used for health purposes and not for the purposes of travel. However, I take his point about the necessity of him having to travel. Protecting public health remains our top priority and we need to reduce the risk of importing Covid. All business is important, but we acknowledge that a high proportion of work can be done online—not his, I know—and people should limit travel where possible to essential journeys. I am afraid that exemptions from the self-isolation passenger information and predeparture testing requirements will not apply to business travel. A limited number of jobs qualify for exemption, which are vital to maintaining the flow of critical goods, protecting essential services, protecting national security or facilitating government work.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, would the Minister give her insight into the extraordinary delays at border control at Heathrow, where a three-hour wait was recently recorded in inappropriate lines? I do not wish to pour cold water on the Government’s strategy under what are extremely difficult circumstances. I should at this stage remind the House that I am resident in Portugal. Why are the Government focusing on quarantine hotels as a solution when the technology, testing and vaccine capability is readily available to deploy digital travel passes, and in the process create safe travel routes, open up airports, and reboot the airline sector? Can any indication be offered as to how long the hotel quarantines will go on for? I am informed that the ICC AOKpass scheme is successfully operating between Rome and New York. That organisation stands ready to work with the Government to test the process on an international route, and I am sure that it would welcome hearing what contribution it could make to help the Government in this area.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the noble Lord for his suggestion. Of course, the Government are open to any suggestions that might make the process more efficient. In response to his question about how long this will go on for, we are completely guided by the numbers. Obviously there have been very pleasing developments recently—the numbers are going down. The noble Lord is absolutely right that technological advances are always very useful in this regard. As to the three-hour wait, even though air travel is 90% down, I suspect that the reason for the wait to which the noble Lord referred was because of the step-up in checks and procedures at the border.

Photo of Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour

My Lords, the Minister has a well-earned reputation of being very assiduous, and she has shown that today in answering the questions. May I test her a little further? In a nutshell, on 27 January, the Home Secretary, when she was announcing that we were going to have to tighten up our borders, said that there were

“too many people coming in and out of our country each day.”

That was eight days ago and, as I understand it, we might have to wait another 10 days before the Government’s new policy is implemented. I know that the Government—and especially the Minister—are very thorough, so can she give me some advice about the Government’s estimate of the number of individuals who enter this country every day who may be carrying the disease and how that will mount up over the days? How can the Government justify taking so long to implement this new policy?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is very nice to see him after so long; I have not seen him for ages. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary did say that too many people were going in and out of the country, which helps to spread the virus and risks new variants going in and out. I have a very old figure for the percentage of individuals who may be carrying the virus into the country, but I suspect it is out of date. That figure is 2%, but I am going back nearly a year now. If it is wrong, I will give the noble Lord a more up-to-date figure. I suspect it is not correct now.

Why are the quarantine hotels taking so long? I presume that was the question. It is a DHSC matter, and it has to procure the hotels and put Covid-secure arrangements in place for people to quarantine. Some of the arrangements in Australia are incredibly stringent.

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

We have a technical problem with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, so the next speaker will be the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton.

Photo of Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Conservative

My Lords, I confess to being taken aback by the opening comments from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—so full of inappropriate political opportunism and so out of character for the noble Lord. The Government are right to take the layered approach that my noble friend outlined. A dynamic, agile risk assessment should mean that we find the balance between controlling the virus and protecting the economy. I ask my noble friend what consultations the Government have had with the overseas territories to maintain air corridors, particularly in light of our obligations to support urgent medical evacuations.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank my noble friend for that question about negotiating with the overseas territories. Commercial flights continue to maintain direct air links with the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Gibraltar. Special chartered flights from St Helena, arranged in conjunction with its Government, have provided a direct link during the pandemic, allowing people to travel to the UK for medical treatment. Military flights continue to provide access to the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. I am pleased to say that the FCDO has been supporting the overseas territories throughout the pandemic. As of today, with the support of partners across government, we have delivered vaccines to nine territories. That is good news and returns to my earlier point about this being a problem for the whole of the world.

Since 18 January, all travel corridors for people arriving in England were suspended. Since travel corridors were introduced, we have constantly kept the risk factor of individual countries under review and have, at this point, decided it is necessary to restrict international travel, as critical analysis shows that the risk of transmission from Covid is still too high. Exemptions from self-isolation requirements to enable individuals travelling to the UK to attend medical treatment remain in place, and air ambulances are exempt from travel bans for high-risk countries, allowing urgent medical evacuations to take place.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Crossbench

My Lords, I want to press the point from the noble Lord, Lord Clark, about the numbers coming in while we have this ongoing delay—eight days now. We also heard in the Minister’s opening remarks that approximately 21,000 people came in either yesterday or the day before. The maths are simple: this means that, over those eight days, there have been 160,000 people. The problem with not quarantining in hotels is that these people potentially travel around the country, using public transport and spaces, shopping and buying food; in other words, potentially spreading the virus. The Minister may take comfort from the fact that they may have had Covid tests, but the authenticity and accuracy of Covid tests is an open question in many countries, where people are still allowed in.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I apologise to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Clark, because I do not have figures before me, but she is absolutely right about people coming to this country and travelling around, which is why these quarantine measures are so much needed and why checks at the borders and enforcement have been stepped up.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick mentioned Norway. Have the Government considered emulating the successful Norwegian system, whereby only nationals and those with legal residence are allowed into the country at all, there is testing of everyone on arrival and seven days later, paid for by the state, and of course there is an excellent test and trace system? If the Government have not considered copying such a system, why not? May I just correct the Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister on another matter? Being under EU law and the European Medicines Agency in the transition period could not and, indeed, did not prevent the UK doing its own thing on vaccines, as it took advantage of a national derogation.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I think it is fair to say that we were being pressed last year to go with the EU in its vaccination programme and we said no, and it was the right thing to say no. I am not going to harp on and make political points, but we did the right thing at the right time. I do not say that from a position of carping: we did the right thing at the right time; we procured at the right time; it was absolutely the right thing to do and we should be really proud of that.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the Government and all in the National Health Service, whether staff or volunteers, on the marvellous rollout of the vaccine programme: thank you for all the hard work. Last week, during the repeat of the Covid update Statement in this House, I asked the Minister some questions about the proposal to use quarantine hotels. The response was that further details would follow this week. I am therefore asking once again, as I find the proposals on quarantine hotels set out in this Statement appear more watered down that those the Prime Minister spoke about on 27 January.

I know that Australia has been using this system of quarantine hotels for some time, and now it has quite a high profile, with the Australian Open tennis players in isolation in hotel quarantine at the moment. What are the plans for quarantine hotels here and who is it envisaged will use them? This Statement refers to their being only for those who “cannot be refused entry.” Given that the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, tells us in the track and trace report that only 60% of people isolate when asked to do so, should not all travellers to the UK be made to quarantine in hotels on arrival, to ensure isolation?

In addition, I understand that travellers are also going to be asked to make a declaration as to their reason for travel, and that is going to be checked by the carriers. I drew attention recently to the fact that in Australia they are now reporting problems with people pretending to come from other parts of the country, where they have not come from at all, in order to be untraceable. Will the Government confirm that there will be a penalty for carriers and travellers alike, as such a declaration about where you have come from can be effective only if the carriers refuse to transport people not travelling for legitimate reasons, and this cannot be just a ticking of the box exercise? We have also heard a lot in the press about private jets being used to circumvent restrictions. Will the same rules apply to them and how will these be enforced?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I ask the noble Baroness to finish. Thank you.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, in light of increasing concerns around new variants, mandatory quarantine measures for those arriving from high-risk countries are the next essential step to safeguard public health. It is also crucial that those who wish to travel to the UK from high-risk countries do so in full knowledge that our overwhelming priority is to protect the health of the population. The fact that not all travellers will be quarantined should be seen alongside other measures. It is illegal to leave home, including to travel abroad, except for a limited set of reasons. Where travellers enter the UK, there are strict isolation measures in place to prevent onward transmission, and the Government will apply quarantine measures in respect of travellers coming from high-risk destinations. We are working urgently to finalise the details of our quarantine plans. I can confirm that operators face a fine of £2,000 for each passenger conveyed to England without proof of a negative result, and £2,000 for each passenger conveyed to England without a completed passenger locator form. These requirements apply to all inbound passengers to England.

Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Non-affiliated

My Lords, those arriving in the UK are obliged to provide a polymerase chain reaction test. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, pointed out, only 60% of those people go on to obey the self-isolation rules. Can the noble Baroness therefore explain how we are making sure that people arriving and handing over their PCR tests are providing genuine evidence that they do not have the virus, rather than making use of the enterprising people already forging these certificates and charging significantly less than the official rate?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend makes a very good point, because there has been a lot of fraudulent and scam activity around the coronavirus. The only thing this leads to is misery, because if you produce a false test—a false certificate to say that you have had a negative test—you put yourself and others around you in danger. I am sure that our good Border Force has measures in place at the border to try to spot some of this fraudulent activity. In relation to compliance, we have stepped up some of the enforcement measures and the follow-up work to ensure that people are self-isolating, and we are also checking more people at the border.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

Speaking—[Inaudible].

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

That was exciting, my Lords. Can the Minister say what the delay is in putting the hotel quarantines together? The Government have known about the problem of the variant in South Africa for weeks—since well before Christmas. They have been advised by SAGE and NERVTAG about the need to take action, yet this morning we heard from the chief executive of the Best Western hotel chain, which has global experience of running these operations, that there has been virtually no detailed discussion with that company—or, I assume, with other companies. What on earth is the delay?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, as I have said, this is a DHSC lead matter, but that does not mean that I will try to evade answering the question. I imagine that some of the procurement activity that is taking place—making those hotels Covid secure—is a challenge. I can say, however, that the Government are working as hard as we can to get these hotels up and running as quickly as possible.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, despite what many seem to think, this is extremely complex. I have a great deal of sympathy for those trying to find a way through this hugely difficult problem. One thing I am struggling with is how it is possible to identify transit and stopover passengers arriving in this country who are originating from high-risk areas. Are we just relying on the honesty of those passengers filling in their locator forms accurately?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Obviously, there are travel bans from certain countries, but in terms of transit—which is what the noble Lord is talking about—we ask anyone who arrives at our borders to fill in the forms. We do follow up on those forms and we are, to some extent, relying on the good will and honesty of people in doing so. People will always try to find a way around the system, but I think we are relying on people’s honesty to a certain extent.

Photo of Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Non-affiliated

My Lords, it seems that international arrivals in the United Kingdom will be under certain common rules. Will the Minister make sure that, in her discussions with the devolved Administrations, we do not end up with a system of divergence just for divergence’s sake? If we have compulsory quarantine requirements, surely they ought to apply in the same way to the whole of the United Kingdom if they are underpinned by rational scientific decisions.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I think the noble Baroness makes a really good point. We might be four nations, but we should be acting as one nation. That is the most effective and efficient way to try to control the virus and save lives.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, was right in pinpointing the difference of opinion that seems to exist between what the Home Secretary has said and what the Prime Minister says in this Statement. Could the Minister tell us whether the Home Secretary has full confidence in this Statement, after the comments the noble Lord, Lord Clark, made earlier?

According to the Statement, police have stepped up their action—quite rightly so, nobody disputes that—but how do we ensure that this does not have an adverse impact on BAME communities, as research has repeatedly shown about this type of contact with the police? What mechanisms exist to make sure that people can appeal against some very heavy fines? I do not believe that many students who receive fines of up to £2,000 or £10,000 have any capacity to pay that sort of money.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I think there should be a principle we accept that if people are fined, they have been not only acting against the law but putting the lives of other people in danger. I take the point about students being able to pay fines, but there is an obligation on each and every one of us to keep each other safe. On the noble Lord’s point about the BAME community, there is obvious evidence that the community is suffering more in terms of symptoms and illness than the population at large. The way in which we all behave has an effect on the well-being, or otherwise, of our BAME friends in this country.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to my noble friend the Minister, who has been working a gruelling schedule in very difficult circumstances for many months now. Much of what I was due to raise has already been raised by my noble friends Lady Gardner of Parkes, Lady Wheatcroft and Lord Randall, but may I press my noble friend? The Government announced the new rules about overseas travel on 4 January, some five weeks ago, yet it still does not seem clear what current checks are in place to ensure that those travelling to and from the UK are doing so only for necessary and essential travel. Does she, for example, have any figures on how many passengers have been prevented from boarding flights since the new criteria were introduced? What are the checks to ensure that the passenger locator forms are accurately and truthfully completed, so that the system we have in place is effective?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend is right about the importance of the passenger locator forms being accurate and people being honest, and of some of those follow-up checks, with enforcement if necessary. As I said to earlier speakers, those checks are being stepped up. People are flouting the rules because they do not think they apply to them. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, 109,000 people have died, and it is very important that people stick to the rules so that we can protect the NHS and save lives.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

I wanted to ask the Minister whether the rules apply to general aviation as well as to ordinary civil aviation.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I think so. The noble Lord has tried to get in three times now, and he has asked me a question that has slightly flummoxed me. May I write to him?

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

It seems to me that there may be a gap there.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Okay; I will check that out and get back to the noble Lord.