Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 6) Regulations 2021 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 15th December 2021.

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Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop 12:30 pm, 15th December 2021

My Lords, in one sense I hesitate to contribute to this debate, which has been very interesting for lots of reasons. We sit in a Chamber where we contribute to the making of law, which is precisely about the infringement of people’s freedoms—that is what law is—so I struggle with the arguments about freedom. Yesterday or the day before we talked about infringing people’s freedoms regarding the right to protest, for example. I hope to hear the same arguments about the importance of freedom when we get to some of those very restrictive debates.

There are two issues here that we must not confuse. One is the public health issue and the demands of that; I hear everything that has been said about good scientists and bad scientists, and I totally agree that science is not God and scientists are not messiahs—noble Lords would expect me to say that anyway—but our job is to interpret the science with a view to then taking responsible decisions on behalf of other people. Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and his immuno- compromised situation, my wife up in Leeds is immuno- compromised because of radical chemotherapy for cancer at the moment. I had to think very carefully about whether I should come down here, and I question how it will be when I go back.

There is the public health issue, but we have heard in the last couple of days, from all sides of the House, remonstrations about the culture in which we are now exercising our responsibilities, with language such as “government contempt” for parliamentary process and so on. I question why we are still hearing announcements on television, rather than announcements being made in Parliament, subject to scrutiny and debate, on matters of such public importance. However, this is not the first time, and to protest about it in this respect is to beg the question why we have not protested about it in respect of other legislation where the same criteria do not seem to apply. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about the erosion of trust, but this has not caused the erosion of trust. What we are dealing with now plays into a pool in which we swim, in which trust has been eroded over time by a scratching away of what we might consider the conventions and norms of our parliamentary democracy.

The question I want to put to the Minister comes back to something that—I apologise, I cannot remember who used the language earlier—was said about the difference between tactics and strategy. Strategy is the plumbing that gets us towards the end that we want to achieve. What we seem to be seeing at the moment are reactive tactical decisions, which are not subject to the normal scrutiny that we would expect in this place. What is the strategy in which the tactics make some coherent sense? That can be determined only when we articulate what the end is that the strategy is intended to achieve.

I fear that I have not added anything new to this debate, but I think that we need to be clear about some of the issues that I have raised.