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Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
10 June 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: David Mundell

† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)

† Daly, James (Bury North) (Con)

† Eshalomi, Florence (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)

† Henry, Darren (Broxtowe) (Con)

† Madders, Justin (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

† Russell, Dean (Watford) (Con)

Sharma, Mr Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)

† Slaughter, Andy (Hammersmith) (Lab)

† Smith, Greg (Buckingham) (Con)

† Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

† Wakeford, Christian (Bury South) (Con)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

† Whately, Helen (Minister for Care)

† Whittaker, Craig (Calder Valley) (Con)

† Whittome, Nadia (Nottingham East) (Lab)

Ian Bradshaw, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 10 June 2020

[David Mundell in the Chair]

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 500).

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. These amending regulations were made by the Secretary of State on 13 May and are rightly being brought before the Committee today for the scrutiny and debate that they require. The regulations made amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, which, as amended, remain exceptional measures, brought forward to reflect unprecedented challenges and times.

While these regulations are necessary to meet the public health needs of the coronavirus pandemic, it is also important that this House plays its proper role, and that due process and the rule of law are maintained. On 1 June, further amendments were made to the regulations. Those amendments will be debated in the House on 15 June, while today’s debate will focus on the amending regulations, which came into force on 13 May.

This country has been, and still is, engaged in a national effort to beat coronavirus. Great work has been done by the British public to help flatten the curve and ensure that our NHS is protected. We are currently moving on a path of cautious relaxation of some of the restrictions and requirements of the regulations, taking small steps to ease the measures guided by the science. We have reduced the restrictions in these amendments to minimise the impact on people’s rights and begin a cautious return to normal life. I will now outline what the regulations do and then set out the policies and processes underlying their development and their implementation, and finally their monitoring and review.

On 26 March 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force, with a requirement in the regulations to review them at least every 21 days. The first review took place on 16 April and no changes were deemed appropriate at that time. Some minor changes were brought in on 22 April to clarify the regulations and ease the operation of the regulations. The regulations were then reviewed again on 7 May. While no changes were deemed appropriate at that point, fresh evidence and advice subsequently enabled the Government to bring in some changes, which came into force on 13 May. Those are the amendments we debate today.

The amendments that came into force on 13 May were made to provide clarity, to reduce socioeconomic cost where safe, and to ensure continued compliance while mitigating health risk. Some technical changes were made to make it clear that people can visit a shop to collect goods they have ordered online, by post or by phone, and to clarify that people can visit household waste and recycling centres.

Some further changes enabled additional economic activities to take place, where the health risk in doing so was minimal and the socioeconomic cost of continuing the restriction was no longer considered necessary and proportionate. Those changes were: to allow garden centres to reopen; to allow outdoor sports courts to reopen; to make it clear that it is permitted for hotels to provide accommodation to any key worker, to support their effort to respond to covid-19; and to enable all house moves, rather than only reasonably necessary house moves, including visits to estate agents and show homes.

There was a specific enforcement change to increase the amount of the fine associated with the fixed penalty notice, to ensure that compliance with the regulations remains high. The final change was to permit outdoor recreation for the purpose of wellbeing, rather than just outdoor exercise, and to permit outdoor recreational exercise with one other person outside your household.

The Prime Minister made a statement to this House on 11 May regarding the Government’s plan to ease restrictions over the coming weeks and months. The measures I outlined above were a cautious first step in delivering this plan. I recognise that the regulations continue to place demands upon individuals, society and businesses and are a strain on our daily lives. The regulations have played and are playing an important role in reducing infection and transmission levels, and as an amended package are still very much necessary. However, as soon as the science has indicated it is safe to do so, we have begun to take small steps in easing the regulations to enable a return to normal life and restart the economy, and to ensure people face only those restrictions that are truly necessary and proportionate.

The regulations are lawfully made under the power in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, and comply with all the Government’s human rights obligations. Above all, they help to save lives and protect public health, which is why Parliament has given Ministers these powers. The Committee will be aware that applications for judicial review and other legal actions are in the offing, which I will not be able to comment on. We also recognise that some people are impacted more than others by these regulations, and have made changes through these amendments to reduce the restrictions and lift some of that burden.

A significant challenge is involved in reaching a balance between protecting the public’s health and upholding individual freedoms. The Government are constantly reviewing the regulations to achieve the right balance, and measures are in place to help us do so. First, the regulations set out that a review of the restrictions and requirements must take place at least every 21 days to ensure that each restriction or requirement continues to be necessary

“to prevent, protect against, control or provide a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection in England”.

We completed the first review as required on 16 April 2020, and the second was completed on 7 May. The maximum review period—that is, the maximum period of time between reviews of the regulations—has subsequently been amended so that a review must take place at least every 28 days. That is part of a set of amendments made on 28 May, which are to be debated by this House on 15 June. Between these formal reviews, the Secretary of State keeps the restrictions and requirements under constant consideration, and the Government will make changes only when we are confident that we can do so safely.

Secondly, these regulations are led by the best available scientific evidence, along with consideration of their economic, operational, social and policy implications. Thirdly, as we understand the potential for harm to both public health and the economy if measures are relaxed too soon, we have developed five tests to guide policy considerations on whether and when it would be desirable for the measures to be eased. The tests are as follows.

First, to protect the NHS’s ability to cope, we must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment across the UK. Secondly, we must see a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from covid-19, so that we are confident that we have moved beyond the peak. Thirdly, there must be reliable data from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies showing that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board. Fourthly, we must be confident that the range of operational challenges, including testing capacity and personal protective equipment, are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand. Fifthly, we must be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS. Ministers conduct those reviews, guided by officials and experts, ensuring that the measures continue to be both proportionate and necessary.

Members of this House have rightly pointed out that their approval is being sought retrospectively. However, we have acted urgently: we understand that the regulations place great restrictions on people, society and business, and the Government have therefore sought to ease them as soon as it is safe to do so. The impact that the coronavirus is having on the UK is changing as both the R rate and incidence rate change, and the regulations must reflect that. However, it is also critical that this House can play its proper role, and that due process and the rule of law are maintained. That is why we want to maintain an ongoing dialogue with Parliament.

As Members will be aware, further changes to the regulations were made on 28 May and came into force on 1 June. Those changes include allowing increased social contact outdoors, in groups of up to six people from different households; enabling élite athletes to train and compete in currently closed facilities; opening some non-essential retail; requiring additional businesses to close by law; ensuring that venues such as community centres can open for education and childcare services; and ensuring that those who are required to self-isolate on arrival in the UK can stay in hotels. We have also amended the maximum review period to 28 days to ensure that where needed, there is time to assess the impact of previous relaxation of the measures. Those amendments will be debated by the House on 15 June. We will therefore continue to use the powers given to us by Parliament in the best interests of the public, and to welcome the scrutiny that rightly comes with that responsibility.

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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Mundell.

We are here today to consider these regulations during yet another critical phase in the fight against coronavirus, and of course we all wish that they were not necessary, but sadly we know that these restrictions are required due to the ongoing and serious threat to public health that we face. The virus has not gone away and it is right that we take all necessary steps to protect our citizens.

Of course we want the Government to succeed in defeating this virus and in minimising the impact that it has on our lives and on the country, so we will continue to be supportive where that is appropriate. Equally, however, in wanting the Government to get this right, where we have concerns we will continue to raise them, and it is right to say that we have concerns.

First of all, we are having the right debate, but we are having it at the wrong time. I want to place on the record our concerns about the procedure for considering these regulations. As the Minister said, these regulations were created and signed into law on 14 May. It is now 10 June. It is far too late for anything that we say to make any difference to these regulations.

The Minister has said that it is right that the rule of law be maintained, and of course we agree with that, but I fear that by debating these regulations retrospectively, we are treading on the wrong side of that. Of course we accept that the initial regulations had to be hurriedly introduced, in response to the rising number of infections. However, as I stated when we debated those initial regulations back on 4 May—some six weeks after they had been introduced—given that Parliament was up and running again by that time, there should have been sufficient time to ensure that future changes were debated and had democratic consent before they were introduced. Debating them weeks after the event, and when in fact they have already been superseded, as we have heard today, is frankly an insult.

There is no excuse for this situation now. As we have heard, the regulations require there to be a review every three weeks, as the Secretary of State has a duty to terminate any regulations that are not necessary or proportionate to control the transmission of the virus. That means that all along we have had a clear timetable and sight for when new regulations might be created, which should have allowed plenty of opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of those regulations.

Yet here we are again today, debating regulations that came into effect weeks ago. That is not good enough. I want to ask the Minister this: what would happen if the Committee voted against these regulations today? Would all the fines issued under them have to be repaid? I imagine that would be a minimum step, but the Minister will be pleased to hear that, at this stage, that is a hypothetical question, because we are not going to vote against these regulations. However, this is the issue—it is the way that these regulations continually come to us late. Moving forwards, we cannot carry on in this way and the Government accept our indolence at their peril.

That is because we are not only debating these regulations too late but, as we have heard, we are debating them when they have been superseded, as the next set of regulations has been introduced. As we heard, the review that took place on 28 May, with regulations being laid on 31 May, came into law on 1 June, and a debate on those regulations is set to take place on Monday—again, long after the event. Does the Minister agree that debating regulations when they are already out of date makes a mockery of the process?

As we know, and as the Minister told us, the regulations have changed the requirement for a review to take place from every 21 days to every 28 days. Given that the next review must take place before 25 June, if that review does envisage an introduction of more relaxations, can the Minister commit today that those new regulations—any introduced off the back of that review—will be debated before they are implemented, and not retrospectively, as has been the case today?

The Minister went on to say that the regulations are, in fact, constantly reviewed; I should be grateful if she would clarify exactly what she means by that. Is there a formal process by which that is taking place, or are there, in fact, just the three-weekly reviews that have been set out in the regulations?

As for those reviews, where are they? In a written question that I put to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I asked if he would publish the reviews carried out on 16 April, 7 May and 28 May pursuant to these regulations. I received a reply to that question at half-past 9 last night, which said:

“The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer the question within the usual time period.”

I find that absolutely incredible, and, regrettably, the failure of the Department to provide me with an answer to what I would have thought was a pretty important and obvious question leads me to one inevitable and damning conclusion: there has been no proper review.

Here we have the most far-reaching impositions on the life of this country in peacetime—necessary actions, but ones that have had unparalleled and far-reaching economic and social impacts—and the Government have not, as required by law, conducted any review of those regulations that we can actually see; or if they have, they have decided that we do not deserve to see them, which is equally reprehensible.

I understand, from what the Minister said in her introduction, that there were several more reviews on 22 April and 7 May. Again, if the Minister had not been good enough to tell us today about those reviews, we would never have known that they had taken place. We need far more transparency than we are seeing at the moment. We cannot go on like this. If we are to defeat the virus and carry with us public confidence and trust that the tough decisions being made are the right ones, the Government must be transparent and open and let us see the outcome of the reviews as a matter of urgency.

It is because of their wide-ranging effect that these measures demand full parliamentary scrutiny. I am sure that many hon. Members agree that a 90-minute debate by a small parliamentary Committee, weeks after the fact, cannot possibly be sufficient to provide the level of examination and scrutiny that such important laws require. As we have seen, great efforts have been made by staff to get Parliament up and running again. We should not demean those efforts by turning these debates into a procedural formality, a rubber-stamping exercise to create the veneer of a democratic process. We should be better than that. We should not be debating the measures late and without the full extent of the information on which the Government have made their decisions.

When it comes to the regulations themselves, not only has the legally required review of them not been disclosed to date; they have not had any kind of impact assessment carried out. Again, to be fair to the Government, we understand why, in the first instance, that was not possible. However, we did make it very clear, the last time the regulations were debated, that we did not want that to become the norm, especially for regulations such as these, where we know that the impact will have been huge. The second and third set of regulations have apparently had no impact assessment, either.

How can the Government continue to issue new laws with such sweeping powers as these when they cannot tell us what their impact is? As the time between reviews and updated regulations extends, will the Minister commit to undertaking impact assessments for future regulations and publishing them alongside the regular reviews of the regulations that they undertake?

The public have made huge sacrifices. Like us, they have supported the lockdown. It is right that we take a moment to acknowledge the sacrifices that they have made in the interests of public health and to thank them for that. However, it is simply unacceptable for the Government to continue to issue regulations but then to make no attempt to measure their impact.

We have always argued that restrictions need to be eased gradually and in a safe way. Of course we want to see society reopen, but that has to happen safely. We need a structured approach to easing and tightening restrictions, which needs to be done in an open way, backed by the science and alongside a published impact assessment. That is the way to take people with you.

The Government have confirmed that all the proposed easings of restrictions have been modelled and that that showed that the R value remained below 1, but we of course have not seen that modelling. We still see thousands of new infections each week. Indeed, I understand that we still have the second highest infection rate in Europe. We need to see all the scientific evidence for the decisions that have been taken. Any easing of restrictions should be accompanied by publication of the Government’s full scientific evidence and should involve advance warning, to allow adequate time for planning. It should be done in conjunction with all nations, regions, local authorities and elected Mayors. The decision at 5 pm last Friday night suddenly to announce that everyone in hospitals should wear face masks was a classic example of a headline-driven agenda that fails to acknowledge that decisions need to be taken in consultation with those who will have to deliver on them.

The Government should be clear that they would rapidly reintroduce targeted restrictions where necessary should infections increase and the R rate increase above 1 in the whole or in parts of the country. They should also spell out how they would do that. That is essential to ensure that we maintain public confidence and safety. We have heard talk of localised lockdowns, but the Government have not spelt out how that will work in practice. Who will make those decisions? Who will monitor and enforce the lockdown? And who will be responsible for dealing with the economic fallout from such decisions?

Will the Minister commit to publishing written guidance on defining what a “local lockdown” is, how it will be enforced and what resources and powers local authorities and other agencies will be able to draw on in enforcing it? We know from what Ministers have said that they are looking at the scientific advice across the board, but we do not know what that science is, because we have not seen it. What we have seen in recent weeks is various members of the SAGE committee popping up on TV to raise their concerns, while at the same time those experts have mysteriously disappeared from the nightly Downing Street briefings. Is it any wonder, in those circumstances, that we might want to have some more detail about the basis on which decisions are being made? I hope the Minister will take the opportunity today to reiterate the Government’s commitment to following the science. Of course, the simplest way to show that commitment would be to publish it all.

We also consistently hear concerns about the Government’s strategy in communication from the royal colleges, membership bodies and NHS bodies. Only last weekend, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners called for a strategy for test and trace, for PPE, for the use of technology, for maintaining covid services and opening up non-covid services, saying that

“there’s no sense of direction as to where we’re heading.”

Those are not small concerns. Senior clinicians, frontline NHS staff and public health experts are not convinced that there is a plan to deal with a potential second wave of covid-19 infections, more than 80 days since lockdown began. That is about as serious as it gets. The Government say they have met their own five tests for the easing of lockdown rules, but as I have set out, there are considerable concerns from people on the frontline that we are woefully underprepared to deal with a spike in cases. Can the Minister point to a document that sets out the Government’s assessment of the five tests? Can she explain why the relaxations have already happened when the joint biosecurity centre has not reduced the threat level?

I come to the substance of the regulations. As we have heard from the Minister, the regulations further amend the original lockdown regulations and give further reasons why a person can leave their home. The explanatory memorandum describes them as

“a number of small relaxations”.

I would not dissent from that description, nor will I recite them all here, but I will draw attention to the new permission that has been granted by amending regulation 6(2) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 to include sub-paragraph (n)—namely, the ability to visit a waste or recycling centre. I mention that because when we debated the first set of regulations, I contrasted the permitted reasons to leave home at that stage with the statements made by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who had said in April that people were permitted to leave their homes to visit waste or recycling centres. Clearly, he should have said at the time that he meant that people could do that after 13 May.

On fines, the regulations significantly increase—from £60 to £100—the amount that can be charged as a fixed penalty notice for people over 18 who breach the lockdown restrictions. What is the reason for that increase? What evidence has the Minister had to suggest that there needs to be a higher level of punishment? Is a greater deterrent needed? Will she also provide an update on the representations that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care made to the Treasury on the fines issued to people whose childcare issues may have been why they breached the rules?

In the context of public compliance with the rules, it would be remiss of me not to raise concerns that the actions of Government in recent weeks have negatively impacted on public confidence in such measures. The Government have allowed the public health message to be undermined because the Prime Minister, for reasons best known to himself, would not take firm action against his senior adviser for breaking the lockdown. No one wants to feel as though there is one rule for them and another for those is power. That should not be the case. We want to keep the public on board and adhering to social distancing, to keep everyone safe. It is vital that Ministers rebuild trust in their strategy and that ministerial statements in the media are without bias and reflect the rules and official guidance.

There are concerns about the issuing of fixed penalty notices. We have seen some worrying data showing that black, Asian and minority ethnic people in England are 54% more likely to be fined under the regulations than white people. According to 2016 population figures, BAME people account for 15.5% of the population in England. However, according to National Police Chiefs Council data from 15 May, they have received at least 22% of the coronavirus lockdown fines. Will the Minister confirm that she is aware of this issue? What steps are the Government taking to address the disproportionality?

We also know that racial and health inequalities amplify the risks of covid-19 and that people in the poorest households and those of colour are disproportionately affected, with black, Asian and minority ethnic people more likely to die from covid and more likely to be admitted to intensive care. However, the Public Health England review published last week made no recommendations on how to reduce the impact of covid-19 on BAME communities. As the lockdown is eased, will the Minister confirm what steps the Government are taking to mitigate the risks faced by such communities and to protect them, in order to ensure that no further lives are lost?

One message that has been coming through clearly from the experts is that the key to easing lockdown safely is a properly functioning testing and tracing strategy. The Opposition have concerns about that: we have been too slow on testing, and now it seems we are too slow on tracing. The Prime Minster promised a “world-beating” system by 1 June, but that date has come and gone, and we are now told that it may not be fully operational until September. We do not know the numbers of people tested each day or the numbers of contacts traced. We do not know whether mailed tests are completed and we do not know how many care home residents, care staff or NHS staff have been routinely tested, or whether they are symptomatic or not.

We take no pleasure from the fact that the system is in chaos and that the UK Statistics Authority has been forced to intervene over concerns about testing data, or that the Association of Directors of Public Health has called on the Government to delay easing lockdown until the tracing system has been proved to be more robust and there can be confidence about what the impact will be on continuing trends in infection rates. I raise those issues because we want to get things right. If we do not, we will risk another spike in the number of infections, with a second lockdown, costing many more lives and causing untold damage. We must do everything we can to ensure that that is not allowed to happen.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm when we will have a fully functioning, effective test, trace and tracking system, with a fully functioning app. I hope that she will commit to introducing a covid test guarantee, so that no one will have to wait more than 24 hours to receive a test, and then no more than 24 hours to receive the results—for all tests, without exception and with immediate effect. I hope that she will also commit to delivering a working app that will enable councils to contact everyone at risk, with a cast-iron guarantee to the public that they can feel secure that their information will not be disclosed to third parties.

None of us wants a sharp rise in infections or the R rate. We are at a critical moment. The Government must demonstrate that they have got a grip of the testing and tracing strategy, to restore public confidence in their handling of the pandemic. The Government have taken the decision to lift the restrictions. It is for them to demonstrate that they are listening to experts and publish the full scientific evidence and the rationale behind the decisions that they have taken. We want society to reopen, but that must happen safely and in a way that follows the science. We remain committed to working constructively with the Government. That requires them to work constructively and openly with us and others. We hope that the Government will confirm that that is their intention on those important issues, because only with constructive working, where the Government listen and respond to concerns, can we all beat the virus together.

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On a point of order, Mr Mundell. I should be interested to know the reason for certain sittings being broadcast and others, like this, not being broadcast. Is there a reason?

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I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s query, but I shall undertake to find out.

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In summing up, I want to restate the Government’s commitment to working with Parliament in developing the policies that find expression in the legislation that we debate in the House. I appreciate the tone of the comments made by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and particularly his opening remarks about wanting to support the Government in the measures we are taking and, overall, our drive to succeed in crushing coronavirus. There were many questions in his speech, and I shall do my utmost to cover them in my response, but as he spoke at pace I might not manage 100% to do that. I will do my best.

I think his first point could be encapsulated as a preference for us to debate regulations and amendments sooner. I appreciate that point, but he and other hon. Members will appreciate the situation that we are in, with a global pandemic hitting us and other countries with extraordinary aggression. That has required extremely rapid action to protect people’s lives. The hon. Gentleman also knows that we must act as quickly as we can to protect people’s livelihoods and wellbeing. That means looking to move promptly, albeit cautiously, towards easing some of the restrictions when the science indicates that it is possible for us to do so.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about what happens with the review process. It is conducted by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care following discussion with other Ministers. It is guided by officials and experts, and SAGE provides scientific evidence and advice. Overall, the process is to ensure that the measures are necessary and proportionate.

The hon. Gentleman asked about impact assessments. We acknowledge that the impact of the restrictions is hard. It is tough on many individuals and hard for businesses, but it is variable: it is harder on some than on others. In my role as Care Minister, I talk to carers looking after people with learning disabilities, autism and a range of other health conditions. That group has been hit particularly hard by the restrictions and the loss of services, given that it is not considered safe to access them. I am mindful of the variable impact.

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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I hope she will answer all the questions. I take it from what she has said that there is not actually a formal impact assessment but reviews are undertaken. Will she explain why the Department has not issued copies of them, following my written question?

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What I do know is that there is a huge volume of inquires coming into the Department at the moment. I am personally handling a large number of questions and letters from colleagues, so there is huge demand on the Department to respond to inquiries.

The Government absolutely are considering the impact on businesses and individuals—the economic, personal, physical and mental health impact, including on those with protected characteristics. We take those impacts very seriously, and we want to provide as much support as possible to mitigate the negative impacts on people.

The hon. Gentleman asked about transparency and the publication of, for instance, SAGE documents. I am sure he is aware that a suite of documents from SAGE has been published online.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about fines and the reason for their increase in the instrument. The reason for the increased fixed penalties is to act as a greater deterrent to those who might break the rules.

The hon. Gentleman made a very important point about whether fines have had a disproportionate impact on people from BAME communities. That is clearly a very serious concern. We are working with policing partners to analyse the data, to determine whether there has been a detrimental impact on those from BAME backgrounds. Let me make it absolutely clear that no one should be subject to police enforcement on the basis of their race.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions about testing. There has been a phenomenal ramping up of the volume of testing that has been carried out. I have seen the enormous efforts that have taken place to increase the volume of testing available to the care sector, and particularly to care homes. We are getting testing kits directly out to care homes so it is easy for them to access tests. The team that did that has done a truly phenomenal job, at pace. I absolutely appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s desire for data on the testing programme—both the numbers and what they tell us. However, as he said, it is really important that we share accurate data that is supported by the UK Statistics Authority, and we are working with it to make sure that we share reliable, robust, informative data on the testing programme.

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Could the Minister say by what date a fully functioning test and tracing app will be ready for use?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. To make it clear, the important thing is to have a fully working test and trace system. That is up and running, using the tried and tested method of a human contact tracing system. The app is under development to complement that. It has been piloted, as he knows, on the Isle of Wight, and it will be brought online in due course. The important thing is that we have a fully working test and trace system to support the easement of the measures that has already taken place.

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I absolutely agree that the test and trace app has to be fully functional and working well, but may I press the Minister on when she thinks it will be ready for use?

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I have already given my answer. I have nothing further to give on that point.

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We have talked about the importance of the reviews of the regulations. Can we have a commitment that those will now be published?

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I have set out the process that is taking place and I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman the commitment that he asks for, but he has made it clear that that is what he would like to see.

To sum up, these amendments are an important and cautious step towards returning to normal life. We have listened to the public and to the scientific evidence and we are taking the steps to ease the restrictions over the coming weeks and months. We understand the burden that restrictions place not only on individuals but on society as a whole. We maintain only the restrictions that are necessary and proportionate at any given time. There will be many occasions over the coming weeks and months when we will be able to debate these questions further. As I said, the changes brought in on 1 June will be brought to the House for debate on 15 June.

I end by paying tribute to the NHS and care workforce, to whom we all owe the greatest respect for the work they do each and every day, and to the people of the United Kingdom for their patience and strength in helping to combat this pandemic. The steps we have been able to take towards normal life are a testament to the people of the UK and their fortitude in tackling this outbreak. As a Government, we will play our part by making sure that the burden is no more onerous than it absolutely needs to be. These regulations ensure that that remains the case.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 500).

Committee rose.