The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: †Sir David Amess
† Allin-Khan, Dr Rosena (Tooting) (Lab)
† Argar, Edward (Minister for Health)
† Cartlidge, James (South Suffolk) (Con)
† Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Meon Valley) (Con)
† Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)
† Hill, Mike (Hartlepool) (Lab)
† Hillier, Meg (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
† Holmes, Paul (Eastleigh) (Con)
† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)
McDonnell, John (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
Mahmood, Shabana (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
† Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Trott, Laura (Sevenoaks) (Con)
† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
Whittome, Nadia (Nottingham East) (Lab)
Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 21 September 2020
[Sir David Amess in the Chair]
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) Regulations 2020
With this it will be convenient to consider the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 898), the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 930) and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 935).
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. These regulations are on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. As you have indicated, I will also deal with three other sets of regulations, all of which relate to the original statutory instrument.
The regulations that we are discussing today, made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, came into force originally on 1 August. At the end of July, the Secretary of State announced that restrictions already in place to tackle the outbreak of coronavirus in Blackburn with Darwen needed to remain in place, and that due to increased transmission of covid-19 in the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council area, the restrictions should apply there too.
However, the epidemiological data at that time allowed my right hon. Friend to agree to removing the restrictions previously in place in Luton. Therefore, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Luton) Regulations 2020 were revoked and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) Regulations 2020 were made in their place. That meant that certain businesses were not allowed to open and gatherings of more than 30 people in private homes or outdoor public spaces were prohibited in those two local authority areas.
These regulations were reviewed regularly, as required, and since then the amending statutory instruments that we are also debating today have been made, coming into force as follows: S.I. 2020/898 on 26 August, S.I. 2020/930 on 2 September and S.I. 2020/935 on 3 September. On Wednesday 26 August, further amendments were made, reflecting a fall in incidence rates in certain parts of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s area, justifying the relaxation of restrictions in those wards. Consequently, the regulations were amended to cover only specified wards in the Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council area as well as the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council area, allowing those wards where the incidence rate was lower to come back into line with the ongoing national picture and national restrictions.
A similar review took place the following week, and there was evidence that the incidence rate in parts of the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council area had fallen, so the Secretary of State again decided that it was appropriate to remove certain wards from the regulations. On Wednesday 2 September, the protected area was amended by specifying the remaining wards in Bradford where the restrictions needed to remain in force—those where the incidence rates continued to be unacceptably high. The amendment that came into force the next day, 3 September, corrected an omission, in the previous one, to remove one further ward from the Bradford protected area.
The concern about the outbreaks in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford has been significant, and engagement with local leaders has been extensive, repeated and productive. I place on the record my thanks to the local authorities, local councillors, the local resilience forum, public health officials and the joint biosecurity centre for all their work in relation to the regulations and subsequent reviews. Like many colleagues in the House, I had the privilege of serving for many years as a local councillor before entering the House, and I think it important that we recognise the role that many local councillors and local councils across the country are undertaking at this time, in very difficult circumstances. I recognise that with our thanks.
I emphasise that the decision to take action on each occasion was not driven by numbers alone; it was a scientific judgment about the overall situation. The numbers were as follows: on 1 August, the rate in Blackburn with Darwen was over 70 per 100,000 people; by 26 August, it had fallen to 52 per 100,000 people; and by 2 September, it had fallen again to 48 per 100,000. Similarly, on 1 August the rate in Bradford was around 47 per 100,000, falling back to around 44 per 100,000 by 26 August, and remaining steady in the following week. However, those advising the Secretary of State and local public health officials also took account of the overall situation, including local insight and knowledge, in addition to the raw epidemiological data.
Action had already been taken to protect people living in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford in the weeks before these regulations came into force, such as increases in testing and public health capacity. We also gave additional funding to the upper-tier local authorities involved, enabling them to enhance the various local interventions and to support the measures put in place. It was hoped that those interventions and the work of the local Public Health England teams and other local teams would get the infection rate down without our having to take more drastic action. Regrettably, however, the rate remained unacceptably high, so we needed to impose restrictions to reduce the risk of transmission.
In general, these regulations maintain business closures in the protected areas as they were nationally before the relaxations on 25 July. At that time, the national incidence rate had fallen to a sufficiently low level for it to be agreed that more close-contact businesses and services could reopen. However, as I have already set out, the epidemiological data and understanding of the outbreaks occurring in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford did not support the removal of those restrictions in either place.
Given the urgency of the situation in both locations, we used the emergency procedure in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to make the present set of regulations as soon as we could. They give effect to the decisions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In particular, regulation 3 required the following businesses to close, in addition to those required to close by the remaining national restrictions: casinos; indoor skating rinks; indoor swimming pools and water parks; indoor play areas; indoor fitness and dance studios; indoor gyms and sports courts; bowling alleys; and conference centres and exhibition halls. Regulation 4 restricted gatherings to no more than 30 people, whether in private gardens or outdoor public spaces.
These regulations must be reviewed at least every 14 days, to consider the need for the restrictions to continue. Following such reviews, the Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford regulations were amended, as I have already mentioned, on 26 August, and on 2 and 3 September, reducing the remit of the protected area each time so that the restrictions applied only to wards within the Blackburn with Darwen and City of Bradford areas where the incidence rates remained unacceptably high, allowing targeting of the restrictions. Regulations 5 to 9 in the original statutory instrument set out how the provisions will be enforced, making it a criminal offence to breach either the requirement for certain businesses to remain closed or the ban on gatherings of more than 30 people.
As with the national regulations, those who breach the regulations can be issued with fixed penalty notices, with increasing amounts to be paid by repeat offenders or those fined following conviction. To assist everyone living in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford who is or was affected by the regulations, we published guidance on the www.gov.uk website, clarifying what they can and cannot do.
Since these regulations and their amendments have been implemented, the Government have continued to monitor and review the ongoing situation. In fact, the incidence rates in both local authority areas have risen recently across most wards. The incidence rate for the seven days from 2 September to 8 September in Blackburn with Darwen has now risen to over 100 per 100,000 people, and during the same period it also rose to over 100 per 100,000 people in Bradford.
We are debating only these four SIs today, but there have been regular reviews since they were made, considering the position in each local authority’s area. As I say, we remain concerned by the continued high level of the virus across the broader areas covered by the restrictions imposed by these regulations—driven primarily, it appears, by community transmission.
We always knew that the path out of the lockdown would not be entirely smooth. It was always likely, and it was always made clear, that infections would rise in particular areas or workplaces, and that we would need to be able to respond quickly and flexibly to such outbreaks. These restrictions have demonstrated our willingness and ability to take action where we need to. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the Government have acted with speed in our response, moving rapidly to take the steps and action needed.
I suspect that members of the Committee—especially the hon. Member for Tooting, the shadow Minister—will wish to touch on the process by which the regulations are being scrutinised, and I will be happy to respond in my winding-up speech should she wish to do so.
We will, of course, use the experience of the restrictions in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford to continuously inform and develop our responses to any future local outbreaks. This issue has been raised in previous delegated legislation Committees where similar regulations have been discussed, but we will make public the outcome of these latest and subsequent reviews in due course. I am grateful to all Members for their continued engagement in this challenging process, and for their scrutiny of the regulations. I reiterate my gratitude to not only the local councils, local authorities and public health teams, but to Members representing seats in the area, who, regardless of party, have all behaved throughout with the very best interests of their constituents at heart.
In particular, I want to thank the people of Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford who, after national restrictions, have endured a continued period of very challenging restrictions. I know what it can be like, both as a resident and as a Member of Parliament representing such areas: parts of my constituency outside Leicester were among the first to have local restrictions. I saw then the extraordinary resilience and determination of the people of my city and constituency, just as we are seeing it in those other areas. They endure some very difficult times, and it is right that we recognise their sacrifice in doing the right thing.
Although it is unfortunate that the restrictions cannot be lifted at present, it is thanks to people’s continued efforts that it has not been necessary at this point to impose more localised restrictions, although we have seen changes at a local level in other areas. I would highlight—I am sure I do not need to—the words of the chief scientific advisor and the chief medical officer today, which sound a warning for us all that we have to continue to focus on following the rules to suppress the virus. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I will start by saying that Labour Members will not oppose the regulations. Keeping people safe and preventing the spread of the virus remains the No. 1 priority, and Labour Members will always support regulations that aim to achieve that. It is important, however, to consider the impact that the regulations have already had and will continue to have on those living in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford.
The national lockdown, necessary as it was, led to a period of social isolation unlike anything many of us have experienced before. The mental health impact has been profound, with rising levels of loneliness, depression and anxiety across the country as a whole. When the restrictions were slowly lifted, it was not only a relief for many of those struggling with their mental health, but a lifeline. Although targeted local lockdowns ensure that the difficulties experienced by individuals affected are not spread nationwide, that does not make their sacrifices any easier.
Mothers are having to give birth on their own. Within the regulations there is reference to circumstances whereby individuals can attend a person’s giving birth, but what has the reality been? Can the Minister tell me how many women locally have given birth on their own? Not being able to visit loved ones is not easy at the best of times. In a period of a public health crisis and economic uncertainty, with no real end in sight, the toll is significantly greater. That is why the people of Blackburn and Bradford need all the support that they can get from their Government. What additional resources are being offered to support the wellbeing of those in the affected wards?
People who rely on others for deliveries, shopping and care needs have been understandably worried. I completely understand that the specific set of restrictions imposed by these regulations was designed to avoid a more severe economic lockdown that could potentially create more problems than it solves. However, those decisions must be made in full partnership with local authority leaders and public health experts on the ground.
Communication is key if local lockdowns are to be effective. Will the Minister explain how the decision was made to restrict socialising, rather than economic activity, and outline how that was agreed with local leaders at the time? It would be useful to know how regular the communication with local leadership has been throughout the time when the regulations have been in place.
It is local people who need to abide by, enforce and live with the regulations; they cannot be sidelined in the decision-making process. They need immediate, clear and decisive communication from central Government so that they can act to address increases in case numbers before they become unmanageable. That process must be completely transparent and should be a partnership involving working together to keep people safe, not something announced by Ministers at the last minute without engagement.
It would be foolish to presume that the regulations have not had economic consequences. With households forbidden to socialise with others, local pubs and restaurants have been experiencing much lower footfall than normal. The hospitality industry has already been decimated by covid-19, and such local restrictions make it even more difficult. That is not to say that the restrictions should not be brought in. However, the businesses in question must be adequately supported.
I understand that the Government have taken steps to provide significant support to businesses and workers since the beginning of the pandemic, but with the winding down of support schemes in the next month, the future of many local businesses and their employees is desperately uncertain. Will the Minister please outline what additional targeted economic support, in addition to the national measures already in place, is being offered to areas with local restrictions to ensure that they do not fall behind the rest of the country during the recovery?
As we have said since the beginning of the pandemic, lockdowns are effective in preventing the spread of the virus only to a certain extent. They are short-term measures that bring a host of economic, social and mental health problems, and without an effective test and trace strategy coinciding with them they cause just as much harm as good.
On the issue of the effects on mental health, a number of concerned constituents have now come to see me about visits to care homes and to relatives in supported living accommodation. Does my hon. Friend agree that there appears to be a one-size-fits-all approach to visiting, and that that needs to be looked at in the light of the experience in places such as Blackburn with Darwen, and Bradford?
I thank my hon. Friend for his heartfelt and articulate intervention. He expressed the feelings of many families who feel ripped apart, unable to see those they love the most. A one-size-fits-all approach is not fitting at a time like this. We have to take into consideration the deep pain that families are going through.
We have been promised a “world-beating” test and trace system for months. Yet here we are, six months on, and our entire testing system is in a dire state. Members may be tired of hearing us talk about the state of the test and trace system, but we must be honest about the position we are in. Without a successful, adequate test and trace system, we risk losing lives and further affecting people’s mental health and businesses.
It has never been acceptable that there should be reports of people being asked to drive more than 50 miles to be tested. However, at this stage it is unbelievable. If people are being told to return to work or to go to school, but are prohibited from stopping in the street to chat with their neighbours, the least that should be expected of Government is to guarantee access to tests to those who need them. The Government knew that encouraging people to return to workplaces and opening schools would undoubtedly lead to a rise in demand for testing. Yet they have been nowhere near equipped to deal with it.
At this point, I would like to ask whether new concerns have been raised since schools and universities have gone back. How are restrictions ever to be lifted if people cannot get access to testing? I would like to know from the Minister what actions the Government are taking to rectify that, and I would like assurances that areas in local lockdown are not facing prolonged restrictions owing to problems with the Government’s own test and trace system.
Adequate testing provision also relies on communication of what people need to do to self-isolate properly and for the correct amount of time. Nationally, there has been changing guidance on the incubation period of the virus, and the Government ignored World Health Organisation guidance in the early weeks. That led to mixed messaging and confusion about self-isolation guidance.
Locally, it would be helpful to have answers to the following questions. On “relevant persons” being responsible for the dispersal of gatherings, have any of the local authorities within the scope of the SI raised concerns about licensed premises and the inability to carry out checks due to not having enough resources to do so safely? How many fixed penalty notices have been issued for not adhering to the regulations, and how many offences were carried out under the regulations?
The decision to lift restrictions in certain wards, but to keep them in neighbouring ones, seems counter- productive. If infection rates are dangerously high on one end of the road, surely there is a risk of further spread of the virus. If they are not dangerously high, why does one end of the road have restrictions while the other does not? Can the Minister please explain the reasoning behind that? Again, have Ministers made these decisions in full partnership with the local communities that they affect, or have they overruled local leaders who raised concerns?
As I have already mentioned but feel it is necessary to reiterate, imposing restrictions without engagement with local authorities is absolutely the wrong way to go and will lead to confusion, frustration and an inevitable resurgence of cases. Only by working together can we curb the spread of the virus. I hope the Government listen to our concerns, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting says, we support the extension of the regulations. It is absolutely vital in a period of a public health pandemic that we put lives and people’s safety first. The rates are very high in Blackburn with Darwen, and I want to be clear about what support the Government are providing to the local authority to communicate with its residents.
The Minister talked about putting information on gov.uk. Although I can reassure him that I find that a useful resource, it is not useful for everybody. It assumes a level of digital connectivity, which is not the case for lots of people, whose access, even if they have a mobile phone, is data limited. For many people, there will be language issues with access. There is a cost to a local authority in providing information in the right languages; sometimes that is orally, not on paper, because of the literacy levels of residents. What extra funding and support is being provided to the council to ensure that this can be funded, and that it is not having to make a choice about what other services it cuts to do that?
There is also a cost to enforcing the regulations and, crucially, pre-empting them. I completely concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting that we need to ensure that councils are seen as partners in the process, because they have tentacles that run deep into the community: into faith groups, community groups, tenant groups and those individuals—we all know them in our constituencies—who are like gold dust. They are the people who can talk to a neighbour and persuade them to do the right thing—perhaps those people are scared or unable to communicate as clearly about it. The key issue is that a lot of people will be having to make the right choice but will be suffering in hardship.
It is a welcome step that the Government have finally announced that they will increase benefits to £500 for the isolation period. It would be helpful to know whether that is 10 days or a fortnight, and whether the Government are considering any support for people who are giving up jobs and will not get paid. It is easy to say that people will get £500, but they have to get through the benefit claims. In the meantime, they can end up with quite significant bills. For people on low incomes, £100, £200 or £300 is an insurmountable object. For many months or even years to come, that becomes a huge issue.
Only a few weeks ago, the Business and Planning Act 2020 was passed. It encouraged off-sales from licensed premises for the same hours as the licences on those premises, yet we now see in Blackburn with Darwen, and elsewhere in the country, a curfew—a closure of such premises from 10 pm to 5 am.
I would be grateful if the Minister outlined the rationale. What happens after 10 o’clock that makes the virus more likely to spread? There are many other environments where people are able to meet and will be doing so. What is the particular rationale for that? If they are to open at all, why not later? If they are not safe, why are they opening at all? Maybe I am being too black and white about it, but it would be helpful to hear what the Minister has to say.
Overall, I am confused, as are many residents and constituents, about the messaging that we are getting from the Government. Six hundred people can meet and mix in a school. It is quite right that our children should be back at school, which is something I fully support. Sixty people can be in a pub, but there is the rule of six. Of course, there are different rules altogether in Blackburn with Darwen. I do not think it is down to the Minister, but how will the Government, for whom he speaks—his boss, the Prime Minister, at No. 10—finally start getting some clarity out on this issue? The rule of six sounded so simple, but it has raised as many questions as it was supposed to resolve. I did not criticise it in the first few days because I felt that at least it sounded clear, but the more you delve into it, the less clear it becomes. It is important that local authorities are funded to be proactive and ahead of the curve. It is Blackburn with Darwen today, with other areas that have been locked down in the north-east and Merseyside and so on. However, as the Mayor of London is highlighting and as those of us in London know, it is likely to hit London soon and other areas of the country are there. Local authorities and local public health teams are able and willing to be proactive: not sitting at their desks waiting for a trace call, but able to be proactive, out there in the community to try and pre-empt things and be ahead of that curve. Are the Government putting any thought into how we can use that huge, useful and talented local resource to make sure that, together, we work—if I dare say “to beat this virus” I echo No. 10, so let me say—to manage the difficult health situation we are all suffering at the moment?
Multiple questions were asked. I will endeavour to answer as many as I can, but where a specific figure was asked for by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting, or the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, if I do not have it to hand, I will endeavour to write to them with any further information.
I am grateful, as always in these meetings, for the tone adopted by the shadow Minister: while challenging, it was reasonable and pragmatic. She is quite right to highlight the importance and the focus of all Members on keeping people safe. I particularly highlight the fact that she, in her other work, goes a little bit above and beyond most Members in doing that. I thank her for that. She raised a number of points and I will try to capture them all.
The hon. Lady’s first point was around social isolation: the mental health cost and the cost on people’s lives of the national lockdown restrictions—people have seen the light at the end of the tunnel, but then local restrictions have been imposed. It will not surprise her to know that, while some of my constituents were only caught up in the local lockdown in Leicester and Leicestershire for a few weeks, I still had casework and people writing to me raising exactly that issue.
Support bubbles, while not a solution to everything, have been a big step in helping to combat loneliness for those who are single and very isolated. It is not a panacea for all of those problems, but it was an important step forward. I know the investment the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) is making in this space, and I know that she and the hon. Lady have spoken about that, certainly across the Dispatch Box and I suspect probably in the corridors of this place. My hon. Friend shares the determination of the shadow Minister to make sure that we are able to do everything we can to tackle the mental health cost of the pandemic, and she is right to highlight the impact that that can have on particular groups.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool always makes thoughtful and compassionate contributions in this House and in Committees such as this one. He is right to highlight the impact on people of a lack of visits, often for very good reasons. Before I was a Minister, I was co-chair, with the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia. People with dementia are another group where you can see the rapid decline that a lack of human contact can bring about. That is something, in terms of mental health, that the Government are fully seized upon, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention takes that incredibly seriously.
The shadow Minister was also right to talk, as I did in my opening remarks, about the sacrifices that people have made throughout, and it is right that we remember all of those and are grateful to everyone for what they have done to protect their fellow citizens. I do not believe that the Department has the statistics that she asked for in respect of those giving birth alone within that particular area, but I will ask that question on her behalf. I know it is something that, again, my hon. Friend the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and others across the House have been raising—quite rightly. The guidance has been updated and clarified. It is important that trusts adhere to that guidance and follow the guidance set out by the Government.
The shadow Minister talked about partnership working, as did the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch. They know that I had a background in local government in London before becoming a Member of this House. As such, I am very clear that when we work in partnership with local authorities and local councils, we achieve a far better outcome, because we combine the scale and—for want of a better way of putting it—the clout of national Government with knowledge of individual communities and what works within them. In that way, we get a much better outcome than if we try to pursue one at the exclusion of the other.
The hon. Lady and the shadow Minister asked what the engagement meant in practice with regard to local authorities being consulted and engaged in the making of these regulations and the changes. Although I do not attend meetings of the Joint Biosecurity Centre or the gold meetings that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chairs, the views of local council leaders and local public health leads all feed into his work and form a clear part of his decision making and the consultations that he undertakes. This does not mean he is bound to follow exactly what those people say, but they are consulted, and he takes it very seriously. I know this because I saw it from the other side of the fence, as it were, as a constituency MP in Leicestershire. I think that that is the only sensible way to approach this, and of course, local Members of Parliament also get to feed their views into the regular review periods and review sessions that the Secretary of State undertakes.
I will clarify the figures and write to hon. Members to make sure I have the right ones, but my recollection—it is only a recollection—is that across the four tranches of support for Blackburn and Darwen, for example, about £11 million of Government support has gone to the council. However, I commit to checking that that figure is accurate and writing to hon. Members to confirm it. There is financial support to help councils cope, just as we put in in Leicester, and that support is not only to help them cope with the additional work they have to do and the local public health work, exactly as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch said. Forgive me for coming back to my own city, but in Leicester, multiple languages are spoken, and one of the key things was to provide the councils there with funding to put out communications in a variety of languages and forms, to try to address the point that has been raised by all those who have spoken: it is not just about doing this work, but communicating it so that people know what is happening in a way that is accessible and clear to them. In my experience, people want to do the right thing, but it is up to us to make that as clear to them as possible. This is inevitably complex, because the regulations change, the circumstances change, and the scientific advice we receive and act on changes. However, it is incumbent on us to try to make all of those things as clear and intelligible to everyone as possible.
The shadow Minister raised the issue of test and trace. We have made it clear, as has the Prime Minister, that the UK has achieved a significant amount in terms of its testing system over the past six months. Per 1,000 people, we are testing at a higher rate than any large European country, including France, Spain, Italy and Germany. We are testing on average 2.3 people per 1,000; each of those countries is testing about 1.15 or 1 person per 1,000, so we have massively increased our testing capacity. However, it is absolutely right—the Prime Minister was very clear about this—that we are open with the British people about the fact that a lot more needs to be done, and at pace. Although we have scaled up capacity, we need to do more.
The shadow Minister asked what reassurance I could offer to suggest that we are making progress in that area. She will be aware of what the biggest bottleneck is: although demand has significantly increased, this is not about blaming people who are understandably anxious, worried or concerned, and go and get a test. Yes, it is the people who have symptoms who should get tests, but this is not about blaming people who are anxious and worried: it is just a reflection of the fact that demand has gone up significantly. The real bottleneck—the real challenge—is to make sure capacity keeps up with that demand. The lab capacity is the bottleneck that we have seen. A new lighthouse lab came on stream recently in Loughborough, near my own patch, and more are coming on stream on an almost weekly basis to meet significantly increased lab demand, with greater use of automation and machine analysis of the tests in those labs. I suspect that the shadow Minister has a greater sense of what that means in practice than I do as a non-scientist, but we are rapidly expanding lab capacity to meet that need.
The hon. Lady, who is a very experienced parliamentarian, is encouraging me to nail my colours to the mast, and I will. Yes, I believe we are. The Prime Minister has been very clear that there will be 500,000 tests across the pillars by the end of October. That is a very clear target, and it is one that he intends to meet, just as we met the 100,000-tests target. It was very difficult to do that, but we did it, and I am confident that we will meet this target. In this place, it is sometimes easier to set very low targets, because we know we will hit them. That is not the way of the Prime Minister or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who wants to set ambitious targets because he knows that if we meet them, we will be delivering what we need.
The Minister is making thorough points, but we are all keen to understand the capacity. Certain numbers are claimed, and perhaps, as he just said, there will be 500,000 at the end of October—we will see—but there is a difference between claimed capacity and real, delivered capacity. As I said in a previous Delegated Legislation Committee, yesterday I went to the testing centre in Coventry, which supplies Coventry and Warwickshire. It is a large facility; I do not know how many facilities there are of an equal size across the UK—perhaps the Minister would confirm that in writing to me in the next couple of days. Given that only 16 tests are done in one hour, over a 10-hour period that is 160 tests. If we factor that up, even if there were 100 testing centres of that size, that is not a huge quantity, compared with the 500,000 the Minister is claiming. Perhaps the Minister can respond in writing; it is unfair to ask him to give an answer now.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Regardless of the capacity in car parks or testing centres, there is a limited value to doing multiple tests if they are not processed in the lab in a timely fashion because of the bottleneck of lab capacity. That is possibly why his test centre is seeing fewer people than it would have the physical capacity to process if the lab capacity were not a challenge.
My recollection, which is a couple of weeks out of date, is that the capacity to process the tests was about 165,000 for community testing across all pillars and all types of test—the swab test as well as the antibody test. In that 500,000, there are multiple pillars. The capacity to process tests and the tests done were the same, and were, I think, about 165,000 a few weeks ago. We are using the capacity that we have, but it is constrained in the labs. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify that. I will check the exact question that he posed when I see the transcript of this debate, and I will try to give him as direct and detailed answer as I can to exactly what he said.
The final thing that I was going to touch on before concluding was something raised by the shadow Minister. Again, I do not have the stats on a localised level to hand, but if I can get them I will write to her. She raised the fixed-penalty notices and offences within that area. I do not have up-to-date, detailed stats for that exact area, but if I can obtain them, I am of course happy to write to her. I reiterate my gratitude to all Committee members, local councillors, local authorities and the people in the affected areas for their forbearance with the challenging restrictions to protect people.
Oh, yes. I mentioned this previously. The challenge is not pubs and hospitality venues, which are all doing a phenomenal job to keep their customers safe and try to ensure that they function as a business. They have had a very tough time, and I pay tribute to them for what they are doing, the measures they have put in place and how diligently they are working. Pubs in my constituency outside the lockdown area, when bits of it were in, went so far as to check, when they signed everyone in, whether the postcode came from within the lockdown area, and if it was they would very politely say, “You shouldn’t be here.” I pay tribute to landlords, restauranteurs and others.
We are anecdotally hearing that if people have been in a pub or out for dinner for two or three hours—how can I put this gently?—their adherence to or recollection of the regulations can lapse after a few drinks. The regulations try to strike a balance that addresses that and reduces the risk of those contacts through groups mingling while allowing those sectors to continue to operate in as a safe way as possible. We are cognisant of the health impact and the economic impact on them if restrictions were to be much tougher, so we are seeking to strike a scientifically advised balance in addressing those issues.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.822).
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.898)
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.898).—(Edward Argar.)
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.930)
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.930).—(Edward Argar.)
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.935)
That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No.935).—(Edward Argar.)