The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Clive Efford
† Atherton, Sarah (Wrexham) (Con)
† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)
† Brereton, Jack (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
† Colburn, Elliot (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)
† Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Dorries, Ms Nadine (Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention)
† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds North East) (Lab)
Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
† Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
† Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
† Madders, Justin (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
† Wakeford, Christian (Bury South) (Con)
† Wild, James (North West Norfolk) (Con)
Dominic Stockbridge, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Second Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 September 2020
[Clive Efford in the Chair]
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Before I call the Minister, I remind Members that we are applying social distancing, so I would be grateful if you sat in the places indicated. If you have speaking notes that you want to supply to Hansard, please do not send hard copies but email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.839).
With this it will be convenient to consider the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020 No. 882) and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place and on Public Transport) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020 No. 906).
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. These regulations amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020, which will henceforth be referred to as the face covering regulations.
The face covering regulations came into force on 24 July and made it mandatory for people to wear face coverings in some indoor settings, such as some shops, supermarkets and indoor transport hubs in England. The original face covering regulations were debated and approved by members of the Committee on 14 September. This debate will therefore not focus on the content of the original set of regulations but will deal with the subsequent amendments.
Amendments were made to face covering regulations on 8 August, 22 August and 28 August to extend the requirement to wear a face covering to a wider list of indoor settings, to make clear that certain persons are exempt and to change the penalty structure for these regulations. I urge the Committee to approve these amending statutory instruments so that we may continue to use these powers to enhance protections for those visiting indoor spaces and minimise the risk of spreading the infection.
Amendments to the face covering regulations were necessary to ensure that this legislation tracked with the easement of lockdown restrictions and the reopening of further indoor premises, in order to offer the maximum protection to members of the public. These regulations are a necessary response to the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by the spread of coronavirus —covid-19—which is why they were brought into effect under the emergency procedure approved by Parliament for such measures. It is important that the Committee is able to scrutinise these amending regulations through this debate, which is taking place within the statutory 28 sitting days of the regulations coming into force.
This country has been and is still engaged in a national effort to beat the coronavirus, thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British people. Informed by the science, this progress has allowed us to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions, allowing sections of the economy, such as the retail and hospitality sector, to open. Colleagues will be aware that we introduced the original face covering regulations to coincide with the easement of some restrictions, to give members of the public greater confidence to visit public indoor spaces and to enhance protection for those working in these settings, as explained by the Secretary of State when he addressed Parliament on 14 July and announced these measures.
As I mentioned earlier, the face covering regulations, as originally made, were debated and approved by the Committee last week. The Government have continually reviewed and refined advice on face coverings. Prior to the face covering regulations coming into force, the Government had already been advising the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces where people might find it difficult to maintain social distance and might come into contact with others whom they would not usually meet.
Furthermore, face coverings have been mandatory on public transport in England since 15 June. Although face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing and good hand hygiene, the scientific evidence suggests that, when used correctly, they may have some benefit in reducing the likelihood of those with the infection, particularly if they are asymptomatic, passing it on to others.
On 31 July, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that the Government would mandate the use of face coverings in further indoor settings such as museums and galleries, cinemas, places of worship and other indoor settings outlined in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020—SI 2020, No. 839—and supporting guidance. That was done to reflect the easement of further restrictions as more places were reopening to the public. Footfall in those places was increasing, and face coverings can offer additional protection measures to those visiting such spaces.
Subsequent amendments to the regulations offer additional clarity on exemptions and reasonable excuses and update the penalty structure to discourage non-compliance and to deter repeat offending. I will outline the purpose of each amending instrument to the face coverings regulations and then set out the policies and processes underlying their development, implementation, monitoring and review.
The amending regulations that came into force on 8 August increase the scope of the face coverings regulations by widening the number of premises where face coverings must be worn, reflecting the easement of some lockdown restrictions and the fact that more people would be visiting those places. The amendments include additional indoor places and remove some of the exemptions from the definition of a shop. The result of the amendment is that members of the public must wear face coverings in indoor places such as museums, galleries, cinemas, places of worship, beauty salons and other spaces, unless they are exempt or have a reasonable excuse not to do so. More information on the settings covered can be found in the regulations’ explanatory documents and supporting guidance. No amendment was made to the persons exempt from the face coverings regulations, to the list of reasonable excuses or to any other legislation in force. However, some minor typographical amendments were made to the regulations—for example, renumbering the schedules for clarity.
The second set of amending regulations came into force on 22 August and included further premises brought into the scope of the face coverings regulations—namely, casinos, members’ clubs, social clubs and conference centres. To ensure that there is no doubt that the face coverings regulations only cover indoor premises, the amending regulations also update the definition of “relevant places” to make it explicit that face coverings are required only in indoor premises.
These amending regulations also remove certain exemptions from the definition of a shop that are listed in schedule 2—for example, premises for indoor sports and leisure activities. Consequently, these regulations introduced an exemption for elite sportspersons, the coach of an elite sportsperson, referees, professional dancers and professional choreographers, from the requirement to wear a face covering where they are acting in the course of their employment, training or undertaking a competition at relevant places that are in the scope of the regulations. In addition, given that the face coverings regulations were amended to include indoor places of worship as a result of SI 2020 No. 839, these amending regulations insert an additional exemption into regulation 3 to exempt pupils under the age of 19 at a religious school from the need to wear a face covering when undertaking education or training within a place of worship as part of the curriculum of a religious school.
The amending regulations that came into force on 28 August amended the penalty structure, to discourage non-compliance and to deter repeat offending. The original face coverings regulations stipulated that a penalty notice of £100 could be issued to someone over the age of 18 who was in breach of those regulations and that that would be halved to £50 if paid within 14 days. The amending regulations insert a laddering fine structure into the face coverings regulations, so that the fine payable for the second and subsequent breaches of those regulations, or of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020, doubles for each occasion, up to a maximum of £3,200, with no discount for early payment from the second fine. That is in line with enforcement provisions in other coronavirus regulations. The amendment does not make any change to those who have powers to enforce the policy.
Although the vast majority of people have complied with rules throughout the pandemic, and enforcement measures remain a last resort, these amendments will further deter non-compliance and tackle those who repeatedly breach the requirement to wear a face covering. It is important that we all continue to play our part in reducing the risk of transmitting the infection as we visit indoor places.
I would like to be absolutely clear that, although we want as many people as possible to wear a face covering, we recognise that some people are not able to wear one for a variety of reasons. The amending regulations do not remove or make changes to the list of exemptions or reasonable excuses beyond those additions I have already described.
The face covering regulations include a review clause, requiring a review of the need for the requirements, as amended, at six months. A sunset clause is included so that face covering regulations expire 12 months after the day they came into force. We will continue to monitor the impact and effectiveness of this policy in the weeks and months ahead, and we will develop our approach to enforcement and to communicating the policy as necessary.
I am grateful to all hon. Members for their continued engagement in this challenging process and in scrutiny of the regulations. We will, of course, reflect on the issues in the debate to come. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
I remind the Committee that we are debating all three motions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.
I thank the Minister for her detailed introduction. As she rightly pointed out, today we are debating amendment No. 2 to the original regulations on face coverings, which we debated only a week ago, and the amendment to the regulations on the wearing of face coverings in a relevant place and on public transport.
The first amendment to the face covering regulations, which, as we heard, came into force on 8 August, required the wearing of face coverings in additional indoor premises to those listed previously. It added indoor places of worship, crematoria and burial grounds, chapels and museums, galleries, cinemas, public libraries, public spaces in hotels, such as lobby areas, and community centres to the list of relevant places.
On the face of it—if you will pardon the pun, Mr Efford—those are all indoor settings that are not fundamentally different in character from those covered by the initial set of regulations. I would be grateful if the Minister set out why, in those circumstances, an amendment was necessary. Was it that the scientific advice changed between July and August about the places where face coverings would be effective, or was it simply that those places were an oversight in the first set of regulations?
The regulations also list the premises exempted from the definition of “shop”, including premises offering certain medical services, gyms and photography studios, and add premises that were previously exempt from the definition of a shop as relevant places where face coverings must be worn, unless an exemption or reasonable excuse applies. Those include places such as nail, beauty and hair salons and barbers, tattooists, piercing parlours, massage parlours, storage and distribution centres, auction houses, spas, funeral directors, veterinary practices, premises providing professional services including legal and financial services, theatres, casinos, nightclubs, dance halls, conference and exhibition centres, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, indoor soft play areas, skating rinks or other indoor recreation activity premises. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister set out the rationale for the changes to the definitions in what would appear to be a very short period of time.
The amendment (No. 2) regulations, which came into force on 22 August, added further indoor premises where face coverings must be worn, including casinos, members’ clubs, social clubs and conference centres, and removed premises that were previously exempt, meaning that face coverings must also be worn in funfairs, theme parks or other premises for indoor sports, leisure or adventure activities. The regulations also added further examples of circumstances in which a person would be exempt from wearing a face covering in the relevant places, including for elite sportspersons, the coach of an elite sportsperson, referees, and professional dancers and choreographers when they are either acting in the course of their employment, training or undertaking competition, and for pupils at religious schools who are under the age of 19 and are undertaking educational training in a place of worship as part of the curriculum.
Finally, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place and on Public Transport) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 28 August, amended the penalty amounts for fixed penalty notices issued under the legislation that governs the wearing of face coverings on public transport and in relevant places. As we have heard, this means that the penalty for a first offence remains at £100, reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days. For each additional breach of the face covering regulations on public transport and in relevant places, the fixed penalty notice amount now doubles, up to a maximum of £3,200—a system that is now known as laddering.
The regulations also provide that fixed penalty notices issued before this approach was implemented will not be included in the laddering. For people who received a fixed penalty notice before 28 August, the first fixed penalty notice issued after that date will be for £200. Each subsequent fixed penalty notice will double in cost, up to a maximum of £3,200. All subsequent fixed penalty notices issued after the £3,200 limit has been reached will be levied at £3,200, and any discounts for early payments will not apply to fixed penalty notices issued for £200 and above. I very much doubt that anyone has yet been issued with the maximum fixed penalty notice of £3,200, but I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether anyone has reached the top of the ladder—or escalator, as it might well be called.
I want to make it clear, as I did during the debate last week on the initial regulations, that the Opposition support these SIs. We all have our part to play in beating this virus. It is important that we all follow the advice to wear a mask, unless someone is exempt. As we know, that is important not just for keeping each of us safe, but to ensure that people can go about their livelihoods as much as possible.
As cases begin to rise again, people are concerned about what the winter holds for them and their families. With the sharp rise in coronavirus cases and the difficulties that people across the country are facing in getting a test, there is mounting concern that we do not have the virus sufficiently under control. There is no doubt that Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance gave an extremely sobering message this morning about the challenge we face over the coming months.
The Opposition will support the SIs because they will help limit the transmission of the virus, but it is also important that this place plays its role in scrutinising the legislation, which is why we are having this debate. I want to raise a number of issues, starting with the timing of the regulations. Since 11 May, the Government have been advising the public to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where they might find it difficult to maintain social distancing and might come into contact with people whom they would not normally meet, yet face coverings became mandatory on public transport in England only on 15 June, in shops and transport hubs on 24 July, and in the other relevant places covered by the regulations on 8 and 22 August.
The question of why there was such a delay between the Government’s recommending their use and mandating their use featured heavily in the debate on the wearing of face covering regulations last Monday, more than seven weeks after they originally came into effect on 24 July. As the Minister will no doubt recall, I asked her at the time whether she could explain why there was such a delay between the Government’s advising people to wear masks on 11 May and the introduction of the wearing of face coverings regulations on 24 July—a period of some two and a half months. The Minister responded not in the debate but in subsequent correspondence, and I am grateful to her for her reply. I would have been even more grateful if I was satisfied with the answer I had; unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case.
In a letter to me, the Minister says:
“Our advice from the Deputy Chief Medical Officers is that evidence is limited but suggests that face coverings may have some benefit in reducing the likelihood of someone with the infection passing it on to others, particularly if asymptomatic disease is common, which is now established for the novel coronavirus.”
That is something that we all understand and accept—hence we are not opposing the regulations—but it does not really explain the reason for the delay in making it mandatory, although the Minister goes on to say in her written response to me:
“The Government reflected on how the public had responded to the guidance to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces.”
Again, it is not in dispute that the Government would have reflected on this, but we do not know what those reflections uncovered or why it was determined that regulations were required. The letter continues:
“As lockdown restrictions began to ease across the country, we felt it necessary to mandate the use of face covering in some indoor settings such as shops, supermarkets and indoor transport hubs. As shops reopened, we anticipated an increase in footfall and introduced these measures to provide some reassurance to people and help them benefit from some small additional protection that face coverings can offer when it is not always possible to socially distance. Nevertheless, social distancing and hand hygiene remain the most important way to control the virus.”
I think that that articulates rather better the Government’s thought processes, although it is to be noted that their position is that social distancing and hand hygiene remain the most important weapons against coronavirus; however, neither of those measures has become compulsory. It may be that it has been deemed, on balance, that they are too difficult to enforce in any meaningful way, but if the Minister could add anything on that point I would be grateful.
I have a couple of quibbles with the explanation. It talks about shops reopening, but of course supermarkets have remained open throughout, so I am not sure how that can be part of the reason for the delay. Although some shops were closed in the lockdown, most were reopening by early June and all non-essential retail was back open by 15 June. On that basis, the regulations should have come into force by that date—not five weeks later. Given that the Government’s own explanatory memorandum states that mandating the use of face coverings in a range of public indoor settings offers a reasonable protective measure to reduce the risk of infection on contamination by the virus, why was there a delay? Why not introduce the measures more uniformly across indoor settings in the case of shops when they reopened, instead of five weeks later? In the case of other settings, why do it in stages over the period of a month, causing confusion over when they were or were not required? As Members of this House and the other place have rightly said, the delays have not only fuelled confusion over where people should wear face coverings; they have caused people to lose trust in the Government’s message and, sadly, to stop following their advice.
That brings me to another issue, which is that conflicting advice and confusing statements from Government are not helpful in the fight against the coronavirus. If we want people to understand the rules and follow them, we need clear communication from the Government and the rules need to make sense.There is a struggle to understand, at times, why the rules still apply only to some people and not others. Will the Minister explain why, for example, the regulations do not apply to those who are actually working in shops, transport hubs and the other places where they apply? That was raised in the previous debate, but we did not get a satisfactory answer. Surely someone in a restaurant or pub serving members of the public is going to come into contact with large numbers of the public, so I wonder why it is not a requirement that they wear a face covering.
It is correct that many retail environments have put up screens to ensure that their checkout staff are protected, but many staff are of course engaged in other activities around the store, such as stacking shelves, often when members of the public are walking past. What is the difference between someone in that situation spending a significant amount of time in the aisles, and someone who is shopping there as a member of the public?
The last time the Committee met I also did not get a satisfactory answer about schools. It is notable that in the incredibly long list of indoor places where people gather and might find it difficult to socially distance, schools, colleges and universities barely get a mention. The National Education Union was right to say that the “slow” and “incoherent” way in which the decision was reached would not inspire confidence from parents or teachers. We are aware of the confusion caused by the Government’s 11th-hour U-turn about requiring secondary school pupils to wear face coverings in school corridors in local lockdown areas in England—an announcement made just days before schools returned. Of course that makes little sense to a pupil who lives in a local lockdown area but who is educated in an area that is not under lockdown, and who therefore is not subject to the same requirements.
Current guidance means that it is school leaders who have to make individual decisions about the use of face coverings in their school. Not surprisingly, the National Association of Head Teachers has said that that approach is “neither helpful nor fair”. I for one have received emails from concerned parents asking why the wearing of masks in schools is not compulsory. I understand their concerns when the country has about 75,000 teachers off, and 740 schools that are either wholly or partly closed because of the virus, and when teachers and pupils alike are unable to get tests.
As the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said, it was
“in no way unpredictable or surprising that the demand for Covid-19 tests would spike when schools reopened more widely this term”.
We certainly have been calling on the Government to take more action over the summer to prepare for the autumn.
Obviously, with increasing numbers of local authorities now facing lockdown restrictions that affect more than 13 million people, more areas face local restrictions, meaning that more pupils will be required, by default, to wear face coverings in communal areas. But what about other areas? It is widely acknowledged that we are now seeing a rise in cases all across the country, with the R rate estimated at being between 1.1 and 1.4.
The Opposition support the use of face coverings becoming compulsory in communal areas in secondary schools as a step towards reducing infection rates. In her response to the debate, I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why that is not being made mandatory and why instead we continue to see this variation across the country.
Also, what about universities? It has been reported that some universities require face coverings to be worn in all shared indoor spaces, while others do not. Again, the responsibility should not be placed on individual institutions. Local authorities are also rightly concerned about spikes in infection as universities return. Universities have been calling for clear national guidance on the use of face masks on campus to help reduce the spread of the virus. As many students have returned to university, will the Government or the regulator publish guidance calling for all universities to take that step?
On enforcement, as the explanatory memorandum notes, although the majority of the public have complied with the regulations, there is a minority who have not done so. We support measures against the very few people who are frequently and repeatedly breaking the rules that, of course, are there to protect us all.
As we have already discussed, the new premises cited in the amended regulations include casinos, members’ clubs, social clubs and conference centres. Putting aside for a minute the question of why they were added to the list so late on, I want to explore the inclusion of members’ clubs and social clubs in a little more detail.
There is no doubt that such clubs have been extremely hard-hit, like many other parts of the economy. In particular, the restrictions on large gatherings have affected their ability to hold functions, which for so many of them represent the difference between their making a profit or a loss. However, something perplexes me somewhat—what is the fundamentally different element between what I would generically describe as a social club and a pub? What is the difference? I do not know how often the Minister frequents either of these types of establishment—
Could it not be argued that a social club has more control over who is inside the club? Unlike a pub or a bar, where anyone can walk in, in a registered social club people have to be members or signed in, so there is proof of who is there. Does my hon. Friend agree that social clubs have more control than a pub over who is actually in their space?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, it was the case until fairly recently that there was no legal requirement on pubs to take test and trace details, so they were in a very different position from social clubs.
However, the main thing that perplexes me is that if we look at the layout, the function and the activity of pubs and social clubs, they seem to be extremely similar. Can the Minister explain from either a political or scientific perspective why they are being treated differently for the purposes of these regulations?
It has been said that these regulations play an important role in giving people the confidence to travel, to return to the workplace and to frequent the retail and the hospitality sector. However, for that confidence to be in place, we need the enforcement regime to be universal and rigorous, and at the moment that does not appear to be the case.
The latest figures that we have for public transport show that between the regulations being introduced, which was on 15 June, and 20 August, there were 115,423 interventions to remind passengers to wear face coverings, with at least 365 fixed penalty notices issued. However, we also know that by 20 August only eight fixed penalty notices had been issued under the relevant place regulations, but if the Minister can update us on that today I would be grateful.
Even allowing for the time difference between introducing the regulations for public transport and transport hubs, one has to wonder why there is such a disparity between those figures. They suggest that people are more compliant in transport hubs and retail spaces than they are on public transport, but frankly that is unlikely. Alternatively, is it more likely that the disparity can be explained by the lack of enforcement in transport hubs and shops? Can the Minister confirm if that is the case and can she also confirm what is being done to ensure compliance?
As several Members said in the previous debate, we need clarity on how these requirements will be enforced. What we are hearing across the country is that they are not being enforced as effectively as they could be. The legal requirement to wear a face covering when using public transport was introduced in June, and then in shops the following month, but it was clear that the police did not see it as their role to enforce that requirement
I wonder whether the high level of interventions taking place on public transport are mainly in London. The Minister will recall how we discussed during the last debate the fact that Transport for London staff were specifically mentioned in the regulations. As I know from my own constituency, however, little enforcement is happening on public transport. I have had multiple constituents complaining that when they go on buses and trains, some travellers seem to be able to travel without face coverings, and are not being challenged. Despite the regulations providing very broad powers to a wide range of people, it is still not clear who those people are, and whether bus or rail companies have the powers they need to enforce the regulations, despite their staff being an obvious choice.
We have the same unanswered questions about the retail sector, which faces similar problems with enforcement. Just as bus companies are reluctant to ask their bus drivers to enforce the rule, many of the major supermarkets are not asking their staff to police it, relying instead on encouraging shoppers to play their part through signs and public address announcements in store. Regarding enforcement numbers, it would be interesting to know how many of the fines or fixed penalty notices that have been issued so far related to transgressions in retail environments.
We know from a shopworkers’ survey carried out last month by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers that 75% of shopworkers have been abused by customers who were asked to socially distance, and almost half had experienced abuse as a result of asking shoppers to wear face masks. In that circumstance, it is not surprising that shop staff are reluctant to carry out that role. Nobody should face abuse for asking people to comply with public health measures, and such reprehensible behaviour by members of the public should not go unpunished.
The Minister has quoted a figure of 96% compliance with the wearing of face coverings in shops. I wonder if she could explain the nature of that survey: was it simply asking people whether they had complied with the regulations, or was it based on observation? I should imagine that most people contacted by a polling company and asked whether they intend to comply with the law would answer that they did—who wouldn’t? Four percent, possibly, but from my own observations, I suspect that the compliance rates are rather lower. Next time Members visit their local shops, I urge them to have a look around and see for themselves whether there is an issue of compliance and enforcement.
In July, the Prime Minister increased the pressure on the police to uphold face mask laws, seemingly at odds with the Police Federation, which described the task as “impossible”. Does the Minister agree with that description? If not, would she at least accept that the low number of fixed penalty notices may indicate a problem with enforcement?
Listening to those who represent the people on the frontline is important. With the rule of six and the new legal requirement to self-isolate, the number of enforceable restrictions is increasing. I was concerned to read, in a response to a written ministerial question I received last week, that no physical checks are currently being carried out on people who are requested to isolate. Presumably, if fines are now to be issued to those who break quarantine, there must be some kind of enforcement to make that effective. There are very real pressures on the police, due to the reduction in their numbers over the past decade, and they simply cannot continue to be handed responsibilities if those responsibilities are not accompanied by sufficient resources to enable them to do their job. We need answers that have not been forthcoming to date. Will the Minister set out what resources have been handed to the police to ensure these measures are complied with?
Despite media reports that covid marshals are already operating in the streets, we still have not got to the bottom of who they are, what their role is, or how they will be resourced. We do know that council leaders have expressed concerns that they are not able to resource them, following a decade of cuts; of course, councils are already facing significant, multi-million-pound shortfalls in their finances this year. The Minister was unable to answer questions in Committee last week, and the concern is that despite the emphasis the Prime Minister has placed on them, the scope of covid marshals will turn out to be disproportionate to the reality of what is happening on the streets.
When the Minister responds, will she be able to confirm whether covid marshals will be required to enforce the wearing of face coverings in relevant places, on public transport, or both? If that is the case, how will they be funded, and how will this be communicated? It is important that people know not only that their actions can be subject to enforcement, but by whom.
For there to be public confidence in the rules, adherence to them and compliance with their enforcement, it is vital that everyone understands who has the power to enforce them. Uncertainty about that will only create friction, tension, and greater uncertainty.We need absolutely crystal clarity from the Government about who is able to enforce these rules and the circumstances in which they are able to do so.
Order. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the marshals are not within the scope of the orders. He should move back on to the subject.
From the Chair, I am.
No doubt the Minister can answer the questions raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham and by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) last week on whether the wide enforcement powers created by the original regulations, the amendments to which we are discussing, were intended to cover face coverings as well.
It is not clear; we have not been given a list of people who can actually enforce these powers. The regulations are relevant to marshals if marshals are given the powers and included in the list. We do not know whether marshals are in the list of individuals to whom the Secretary of State could give powers.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope that we finally get some clarity on that today.
I again raise the Opposition’s concerns about the way these regulations have been brought in, and the delayed scrutiny and debate of them. Many points and questions I and other Members have raised should not be being heard weeks after the regulations came into force. Although the amendments to the regulations on the wearing of face coverings were laid during the summer recess, as I raised earlier, had the initial regulations been debated in a timelier manner, perhaps that situation could have been avoided altogether. As the Minister will be aware, the Opposition have repeatedly called for regulations to be debated before they come into force. I have raised the issue of new regulations being introduced and not debated until weeks later on every occasion that we have discussed coronavirus regulations, yet it still happens every time we debate a new statutory instrument.
Despite the Government’s own acknowledgement that they are aware of Parliament’s concerns about allowing for the timely scrutiny of regulations, particularly in relation to the timing of debates, we are once again debating regulations weeks after the event. I note that we are perhaps debating these regulations rather more promptly than the previous face covering regulations, and that the Government have scheduled 17 sets of regulations for debate this week, which will hopefully bring us a little bit more up to date. Of course, I have made it clear on numerous occasions that we accept that the initial coronavirus regulations had to be introduced hurriedly in response to the initial threat from rising numbers of infections from what was, at the time, a new and unknown disease, but we are no longer in that situation.
Each of these regulations contains the phrase at the start:
“the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
I accept that, earlier on, that would have been the case, but that cannot really be said of these regulations. What is the urgency for these two sets of regulations to correct oversights and omissions from earlier regulations and other regulations increasing the level of fines for transgressions? Is it really the Government’s position that correcting their own mistakes is a good enough reason to override parliamentary scrutiny? What is the reason for the urgency in the increase in fines? As I say, we have no problem with the laddering proposals in these regulations, but what required them to be introduced before there was any debate?
I am concerned that the Government appear to be falling into a regrettable pattern of treating parliamentary scrutiny as an afterthought, relying on claims of urgency that are really not justified as Members on both sides of the House and in the other place have repeatedly expressed their desire for these debates to be held in a timelier way, to ensure full parliamentary scrutiny. Despite those multiple pleas and the Government’s assurances that they have listened to those concerns and are working hard to address the problem, it seems that every time we face new regulations, we still face a rubber-stamping exercise, weeks down the line.
These regulations are too important not to be debated and given full and timely parliamentary scrutiny before they become law. I make this plea as I have done on a number of occasions. The Government should be aware that we remain extremely concerned about the continuing contempt being shown for parliamentary scrutiny. They can and should make time to debate regulations before they become law.
We believe it is possible to arrange, through the usual channels, for these Committees to be set up at short notice, so that important regulations such as this are debated in a proper manner before they become law. I know that many on the Government Back Benches share that view, and I will of course clear my diary, if necessary, to ensure that the Opposition play our part in ensuring proper scrutiny of, and accountability for, such regulations. It seems likely there will be more regulations on their way. I hope we can debate those in the proper and orderly manner that it is this Parliament’s duty to do.
Before I call Mr Jones, I remind the Committee that the measure is about the locations where masks should be worn; it is not about the empowerment of enforcement agents. Will Members remember that when they speak?
I will not challenge you, Mr Efford, and I welcome you to the Chair today. We had a debate last week about enforcement and who could and could not enforce the regulations. The Minister promised to write to us last week with a long list of individuals, but we have still not got it.
Well, I am sorry but I have not received it, and I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston has, either. The list would include people who could be designated by the Secretary of State. He could designate, for example, marshals, but I shall leave it there.
In terms of these regulations, my hon. Friend points out a growing trend with this Government: they seize emergency powers. We in Opposition support them because we saw back in March that clear action needed to be taken, but there has been no give and take in terms of trying to involve the Opposition or even Parliament in how the regulations are implemented.
My hon. Friend raises a very good point about the way in which the regulations have been introduced, because it raises a broader issue here. For these regulations to be effective, they have to have public buy-in. We are elected to this place to represent our constituents. We have seen over the past few weeks the utter confusion there is now about what people can and cannot do—added to that is the announcement of just half an hour ago. When the Secretary of State introduced the lockdown regulations for the north-east last week, he excluded any reference to childcare, so my inbox and that of everyone else in the north-east was inundated with people questioning whether they could take their grandchildren to school. I am glad to see that sense has been arrived at this afternoon and the clarification has been made, but that is one example, and these regulations will lead to more confusion, as I shall illustrate.
Again, these regulations have not been well thought through. First, we discussed last week how a relevant place is defined. The first regulation extends the number of places where a face mask is needed in what is deemed a relevant place. Before, it was shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, banks and post offices, but not included were restaurants that could provide table service to customers, bars, pubs or areas of a shop or shopping centre that provided for the consumption of food and drink, and seating areas in coffee shops, supermarkets, cafés and food courts. We discussed whether seating areas in transport hubs were covered, and I got clarification on that from the Minister this week.
The relevant places are then extended to include indoor places of worship, crematoria, burial ground chapels, museums, galleries, cinemas, public libraries, public spaces in hotels such as lobby areas of hotels, and community centres. I will come back to the issue of clubs in a minute. To me, this is not very clear. Many hotel lobbies, for example, have seating areas where people perhaps just want to sit and wait to be checked in, but many hotels have seating areas where someone can order a sandwich or a drink or another type of refreshment, so are those areas excluded? Occasionally, for example, I walk into the Radisson Blu hotel or the Royal County hotel in Durham and ask for a sandwich at the reception, and it is delivered to me as I sit in the reception area. Am I then exempt from wearing a face mask or not?
I will come on to community centres, and I am sure hon. Members will know of similar situations to mine. I have a number of very good community centres in my constituency that provide food, but not regularly. They have seating areas for luncheon clubs and various catered events. Under the definition in the regulations, the community centres should be excluded on the basis that they have seating areas and provide food. Do they actually have to provide food at that time? Are we saying that if they are providing food, people there do not have to wear face masks, or that if they are not providing food, people do have to wear face masks? Those are things that will be very confusing to local organisations. It would be interesting to know how that actually works.
Another issue is the definition of a place of worship. That is pretty simple in that a place of worship is a church, a synagogue, a mosque and so on, but increasing numbers of churches do not actually have fixed buildings. They meet in people’s houses as community churches. I have a number in my constituency, and I am sure that there are some in London as well. Are they covered under the rule of six? I imagine that there would be more than six people in those congregations. Are those houses covered as places of worship? For those individuals, that is what they are. We might not recognise them as traditional places of worship, but for their congregations, they are. Will those congregations have to wear face masks in the houses where they hold their services?
I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston about social clubs. Many of them were struggling before the pandemic as it was. Their membership tends to be elderly, so a lot of people will not be going to the clubs. They are no different from pubs, in my opinion—except that, importantly, the regulation around them is more strict because they know exactly who goes in, and there are disciplinary proceedings if things happen. Putting them at a disadvantage is wrong.
I now come to the question of wearing face coverings in nail bars, beauty and hair salons, barbers, tattoo and piercing parlours, massage parlours, storage and distribution centres, auction houses, spas, funeral directors, veterinary surgeons and so on. Based on these regulations, if the hon. Member for Aldershot goes into his barber or his hairdresser to have his locks coiffured, he will have to wear a face mask. I am aware that many women, as well as men—the hon. Gentleman included—have their hair washed when they go to their barber or salon. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman goes to a salon rather than a barber. Does the person have to wear the face mask while they are actually having their hair washed? That creates some very difficult problems, does it not?
I went my local barbers a few weeks ago, where I had a disposable gown put on me. To be fair to them, they were good at making sure that people socially distanced, and hygiene was very good. If we are asking people to wear a face mask when they go to a salon, including when they have their hair washed, that will be very difficult.
The Minister says no, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Aldershot has a different view. Asking a person to wear a face mask when they have their hair washed will cause difficulty, because they will then be sitting in a salon with a damp or wet face mask on. What is the science as to how effective a face mask is if it is wet? I am not a scientist, and we do not have here my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who last week actually went into the science of the way in which face masks work. Clearly, some of the more robust ones might stand up to that use. The one that I have with me may well do—I think it was washed yesterday by Mrs J—but I am sure, Mr Efford, that by the end of your salon appointment some of the more disposable ones would be floating around in the handbasin. Again, the issue is just the confusion that the measure causes.
The other issue is about fines. Clearly, No. 10’s strategy over the weekend was to sound tough on fines: “We are going to start fining people. If people don’t follow the rules, they are going to get fined.” [Interruption.] Does the Minister want to intervene?
Was it wind?
The problem is that what No. 10 was saying might sound tough, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, how many people have actually been fined? The problem with these types of regulations is that they are confusing to people, so people are not going to be very clear about how they will be enforced. This does come down to enforcement—we had this discussion last week. I have no problem with a police officer or someone else—I think it was a community support officer under the regulations last week—giving out fixed penalty fines if they think that right. We asked for a definition last week of a TfL official, for example; they are not identified. We also asked another question, because in the regulations there is a long list of people and then there is a catch-all provision whereby it could be anyone whom the Secretary of State designates to give those fines. That is why my hon. Friend and I raised the issue about marshals. I do not want to go down that path and upset you in any way, Mr Efford, but if the Secretary of State actually gave local authority marshals the power to issue fines, I would find that very uncomfortable; I am quite happy if people have had training in dealing with these situations. We were offered a list last week, but I am still waiting for it.
This does matter, because we are now extending the regulations to other areas. I come now to my closing remarks, which are about the entire Government approach to this area. We are supposed to be seeing now a super-duper new communications centre at No. 10, but frankly, there is confusion outside the House and these provisions will add to it. The unintended consequences of some of the regulations that have been brought in lead to that confusion, and it is made worse by some Ministers who try to act tough in the way in which they put things over. It is important that we be able to communicate the position, and I do not think we can, with the way these provisions are structured. The Government have been remiss. We should have had more opportunities for debate. I am glad to now hear from Conservative Back Benchers the arguments for why we need more scrutiny of these things in Parliament, which would allow us, as representatives of the people, to have a say before they actually come forward.
Absolutely. I do apologise: he is right honourable—he will be “Sir” soon.
On face masks for hair washing, salon owners have a responsibility to their staff and themselves and to their customers to keep everyone safe. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot will not mind my saying that I am not quite as follicly challenged, and I had my own hair washed at the hairdressers two weeks ago and I wore my own mask. I will admit that the ties that went behind my ears got slightly damp, but there were no masks floating in sinks or anything like the other extravagant descriptions that the right hon. Member for North Durham provided us with about a day in the hairdressers. There were no problems whatever. I have yet to see anybody not wearing a mask walk into a hairdresser’s salon without their being given a mask by the staff there. It would be extraordinary if somebody had an appointment at a hairdresser’s salon and just walked in without wearing a mask. So, the answer is, “No—that is not a problem at all”.
I accept the point the Minister is making, but until now there was no indication that people actually needed to wear a face mask. She talks about her own experience, but how, for example, would a hairdresser cut the hair of the hon. Member for Aldershot, or shave it round the sides, if he had a face mask on? Does that not make it very difficult?
I literally cannot go into the ins and outs of a hairdresser’s means and ways of cutting somebody’s hair, Mr Efford; all I will say is that we have had no complaints.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of worship in homes—the answer is a very blunt no. Houses are not covered. He also mentioned hotels and hotel foyers. Again, if there is a bar or a café inside the hotel, or wherever one may be, then one is allowed not to wear a mask.
I will ask for an answer on that one. I would imagine that if it were in an environment where food was normally served in a hotel, it would not have to be open, although I will wait for a definite answer.
However, I would challenge the right hon. Gentleman—and I will answer a question asked by him and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston during this debate about the figure of 96% of people wearing masks. That figure came from the Office for National Statistics. It was not a case of what the right hon. Gentleman suggested, but with the ONS—people were actually just answering a survey. All the people here have been going around shops and hairdressers, and it is hard to go anywhere in a public space and find anyone who is not wearing a mask. However, I have asked for an answer about whether a bar has to be open, and I will ensure that the right hon. Gentleman receives it.
As for community centres—[Interruption.] Sorry, I thought the right hon. Gentleman mentioned social clubs.
No, I just mentioned community centres. Many community centres have facilities for providing food, but do not provide it on some days, for example. On the days when they do not serve food, will people have to wear face masks, or will people be exempt only when they are actually serving food?
Again, a community centre will be run by people who are responsible, and have responsibility for their staff and the people in the community centre. Any community centre would have a policy that people should wear masks. But again, I will get back to the right hon. Gentleman on that particular point.
If a luncheon club is going on and the Minister is saying that people have to wear face masks, it gets down to the point about leaving it to the actual local people to decide. That is not the regulation. It needs clarifying, so they can say, “Fine. If we’re providing food, then people don’t need to. Clearly, if we don’t, or have some other event on and food is not included, then they may have to comply.”
As I said, Mr Efford, I will revert to the right hon. Gentleman with an answer to that particular point.
On the substantive points raised by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, he raised one overarching question a couple of times in his speech, namely why, if we made the guidance on 11 May, we did not introduce it officially until after that date. That is for two reasons. First, the science on wearing masks was evolving, and evidence was coming in from China, Lombardy and other places where masks were being worn, or not, and where studies were taking place on the efficacy of masks in prohibiting the spread of the virus.
Secondly, at the same time, we began to ease restrictions, and as we eased the restrictions we saw an increase in footfall. It was necessary to bring in the regulations because we were easing the restrictions, and the public were coming out on to the streets and into the areas where we were doing so. However, as I have said before, we have seen huge compliance from the public.
The right hon. Member for North Durham did not mention that I was incredibly generous in engaging with him last week on the points that he made about covid marshals. They are out—I was hoping for a nod from the Chair—
I will not take any more interventions, and we will now move on. Covid marshals will be subject to their own SI shortly, but this Committee is about three SIs on face coverings. I will keep to the point of face coverings, which is what I am here to address. I am not here to debate an SI on covid marshals.
I have set out why we felt it necessary to do as we did after the guidance. We were also receiving information that people were happy with wearing face coverings, and, from public compliance and people wanting to keep themselves safe, it was obviously the right thing to do at that time.
The Minister is absolutely right to say that she has been generous in taking interventions, both today and on previous occasions. I want to try to understand what she has said about the delay. She has talked about the science evolving, and of course we accept that. However, virtually all retail was open by mid-June, and yet the regulations did not come in until 24 July. I am trying to understand why there was such a delay between those two dates.
I revert to the substantive point: we were constantly easing regulations at the same time as we had issues to do with Leicester. We had areas in the country where rates were rising at the same time as we had national easement. It is very complex, but at the time it was felt that the public had complied and were wearing masks to go into shops and public places. However, we felt it was important, as footfall increased and we had spikes in other parts of the country, that we introduce guidance nationally for people to wear masks.
I will answer some of the shorter points that the hon. Gentleman raised. He asked me how many people had received FPNs: it is eight to date. I am not aware of what fines were charged, and whether they were on the ladder or went up to the full amount, but eight FPNs have issued so far. I was also asked why we are not legislating for handwashing.
No. It is incredibly difficult to legislate for people to wash their hands. However, given how compliant and how willing the public have been to wear face coverings—we only have to see how many people are carrying hand sanitisers, and how responsible and conscientious the public have been—I am not sure there will ever be any need to legislate for handwashing. That would be an incredibly difficult piece of legislation, and I am sure the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston agrees that that is not where we want to go.
The hon. Gentleman brought up the question of staff in various areas. I go back to my previous answer to the right hon. Member for North Durham: it is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, although we strongly recommend that employers consider their obligations, where appropriate and where mitigations are not in place. It is also important to mention that the list of where to wear face coverings and where the exemptions apply is not exhaustive; it is something that is reviewed almost daily. We listen to representations from Members on both sides of the House, and from organisations and individuals, about where they think the exemptions should apply, and what else should be included in the list. This is a constantly moving feast. The fact that we are here today is not the end of it—the process will continue. Businesses are already subject to legal obligations to protect their staff, so a safe working environment is what we expect of everywhere where staff are employed and where members of the public come on to the premises.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston mentioned face coverings in schools. I will mention universities as well; I know that his son has gone back to university this week. The Department for Education has updated its guidance recently on wearing face coverings in schools, following, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the World Health Organisation’s statement about children over the age of 12. However, the Government’s absolute priority is to get children back to school and keep them in school.
The Department’s guidance sets out that face coverings should be worn by staff, by visitors and by pupils when moving around the school. They should be worn in further and higher education settings indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. However, as we discussed last week, obviously that does not apply when people are eating, because it is difficult to eat with a mask on—it is not practical. Schools are not included in the regulations before the Committee, with the exception of an exemption for pupils of religious schools receiving educational provision in a place of worship.
It is important that university students can start the new term and the campuses can remain open. Again, education is an absolute priority, and it is also an important thing for students’ mental health and wellbeing. It is important that these things are done safely and we have been working closely with universities, and the sector, to help them to prepare for their intake of students, which, as Members know, is staggered from the beginning of September to almost the end of October, depending on where the university is, and which years are going back there.
Universities have introduced a number of measures such as staggered term times and staggered returns. There have been some assertive information notices across universities, such as “Don’t kill your nan”, and requirements about where students should wear face coverings. We have helped universities to make campuses safe by reiterating the face covering message throughout to students, including where they should wear them. Again, there is an impression that students will completely disregard all the social distancing regulations. I am not saying that they will be perfect, but universities have stepped up to the plate and are doing their bit. I am not sure which universities are providing disposable face coverings, but I think that the message about what students should be doing will be put out strongly to them.
The Government’s aim, with all the regulations and all that we are doing about face coverings, is to achieve as high a compliance rate as possible. We are incredibly impressed with the public’s response and the compliance so far.
Will the Minister say a little about the distinctions between pubs and social clubs? As I and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham have explained, that is an important issue for our constituencies, and we want to understand that distinction.
I believe that social clubs were part of the original discussion. I shall find out why they were not included. I cannot guarantee that I will be able to write to the hon. Gentleman about that tomorrow, as before, but I apologise and I shall get back to him and provide an answer.
The Government have always been clear that the highest priority in managing this national crisis is protecting our public and saving lives. Face coverings and public compliance in wearing them is a part of that endeavour. I am satisfied that the additional premises included in the amending regulations are necessary, reasonable and proportionate. The amending regulations offer further clarity for members of the public on where they should wear a face covering, exempt further categories of person and update the penalty structure to maximise compliance with the policy. Our guidance has consistently set out to the public that, to protect themselves, they must continue to follow social distancing measures, wash hands regularly, adhere to the isolation guidance and wear face coverings where appropriate. The current guidance from the Government states that people should also wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces, where social distancing is more difficult to maintain and where people might come into contact with others whom they do not normally meet.
Today has provided an opportunity for the Government to hear people’s concerns through the contributions made during the debate. Parliamentary scrutiny is a vital part of the regulation-making process, and I am pleased to have been able to set out the content of the regulations to the Committee. I hope that the Committee has found the debate informative and that it will join me in supporting these amending regulations.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 839).
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 882).—(Nadine Dorries.)
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place and on Public Transport) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place and on Public Transport) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 906).—(Nadine Dorries.)