Monday 9 March 2020
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I remind the Committee that, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are in session, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes from the sound of the Division Bells.
Gambling Act 2005 (Variation of Monetary Limits) Order 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, Section 99 of the Gambling Act 2005 imposes monetary limits on the per-draw and annual proceeds of any lottery promoted in reliance on a lottery operating licence. This order will amend the per-draw sales limit from £4 million to £5 million. As a consequence, the maximum prize limit will increase from £400,000 to £500,000, due to the rule that the prize must not exceed 10% of per-draw proceeds. This order also amends the annual sales limit from £10 million to £50 million.
In July 2019, the Government announced proposals to help society lotteries: that is, fundraising lotteries run by charities and other non-commercial organisations such as sports clubs or local community groups. Last year, society lotteries raised over £330 million, in support of a diverse range of charities, including hospices and air ambulances, which so many in this country rely on. The current annual sales limit has been in place since it was implemented in 2007, and the per-draw sales and prize limits have been in place since 2009. Indeed, the issue was looked at by the DCMS Select Committee in 2015, which recommended that the department and the Gambling Commission examine the sector in some detail. This led to the 2018 public consultation. I am grateful to the committee for raising this important issue.
I know that stakeholders on both sides have strong views, evident in the 1,600 responses the department received to its consultation. A key consideration in developing the changes being debated today has been the relationship between the National Lottery and society lotteries. Together they raise around £2 billion a year, improving our communities and life in this country in countless ways. It is imperative that any changes enable both to grow, and that society lotteries’ growth is not at the expense of the National Lottery. As Minister for Civil Society I can say that this is particularly close to my heart, as the sector benefits considerably from funds raised by the National Lottery.
I can assure the Committee that we have considered in detail the relationship between society lotteries and the National Lottery. The final package is underpinned by independent, evidence-based advice from the regulator, the Gambling Commission. It has advised that the changes I am bringing forward today will preserve the balance in the sector and maintain the key distinction between the National Lottery, which offers the largest prizes in support of many good causes, and society lotteries, which offer smaller prizes with a focus on a specified good cause.
I say very deliberately that society lotteries should have a clear focus on the charitable and not-for-profit purposes they support, and it is of the utmost importance that players know which causes they are supporting with their ticket and how much of the ticket price is going to support the cause. I am therefore delighted to see that the Gambling Commission is currently consulting on additional transparency measures for society lottery licences. I take this opportunity to thank it for its consideration of the issue and I look forward to seeing its conclusions.
The most significant change is the increase to the annual sales limit to £50 million. The current limit of £10 million is restrictive for larger society lotteries wishing to grow. Some have set up additional lotteries or an umbrella structure to facilitate growth, which incurs high administrative costs and can be bureaucratic to operate. For large charities operating at or close to the existing limits it is costly to add additional licences, either within an umbrella structure or a multiple-society structure. For example, in response to the consultation, Cancer Research UK estimated that moving to a multiple-society model would cost around £345,000 to set up, with additional annual running costs of around £130,000, thereby reducing the proportion of income for its charitable purposes.
For most societies, a £50 million limit would mean that they no longer need to hold more than one lottery operating licence, leading to cost savings and higher returns to good causes. It also means that society lotteries approaching the current annual sales limit can continue to grow and raise valuable funds for their beneficiaries without stopping or slowing their draws, as some do at present. This order includes transitional provisions to allow licence holders to benefit from the increased limits straight away on a pro rata basis, rather than having to wait until the beginning of the new calendar year.
For the vast majority of the sector, increasing the per-draw sales limit incrementally from £4 million to £5 million, combined with the new annual limit of £50 million, will provide both the headroom for further growth and the flexibility to increase the size and frequency of draws as operators wish. Where individual per-draw lottery sales exceed £250,000, the maximum prize cannot be more than 10% of the proceeds of that lottery. The maximum prize limit will increase from £400,000 to £500,000. We know that most society lotteries only offer relatively small prizes compared to their sales, but this change will allow for some additional flexibility, while remaining distinct from the largest prizes offered by most National Lottery games.
The Gambling Commission will be monitoring the impact of the changes carefully and the Government will keep a keen eye on progress, in particular to ensure that additional funds are directed to good causes and do not lead to an increase in administrative expenses. To satisfy ourselves in this regard, the Government will review the impact of the changes 12 months after implementation, looking at new data and evidence that has emerged over the course of the year. As part of this, we will look again at the case for a £1 million prize, as well as the link between sales and the maximum prize, and returns to good causes. Once we understand the impact of the current changes, we will also look at the case for a £100 million licence and any additional conditions that may accompany that.
To conclude, by increasing the limits we will enable society lotteries to raise even more funds for the causes they support by reducing burdensome administrative costs. Recent research published just last month by the Gambling Commission shows that the National Lottery and society lottery sectors are both currently growing, with participation up two percentage points for both, meaning that overall funds raised for good causes are growing. I welcome this approach. It is clear that society lottery funding brings tangible benefits. The Carers Trust stated in its response to the consultation:
“Unrestricted funding gives us the flexibility to allocate funds to projects and posts which are harder to fundraise for, and contribute towards our overheads and running costs.”
I look forward to seeing the impact of these changes on organisations working in my sector, and I commend the order to the House.
My Lords, I apologise, but this is not quite as simple a statutory instrument as the Minister has said. There are a number of issues and questions that I want to put to her. I was delighted that, on 19 November last year, we were able to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the National Lottery and the staggering £40 billion that it has been able to give to good causes since it was introduced by John Major in 1994. Equally, we should celebrate the incredible work done by small-scale society lotteries that have provided funds for hospices, schools, clubs and many other good causes alongside the National Lottery.
My concern is that the original, untaxed society lotteries were characterised by relatively low prizes and generally limited distribution footprints. Those factors traditionally differentiated them from the National Lottery and, as the Minister said, that distinction helped them both to thrive and funds to go to good causes because they were not in competition.
However, then came the idea of grouping together a number of these society lotteries under a single umbrella; two key examples are the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Health Lottery. I have argued on many occasions that, although both of them undoubtedly do good work, they are being allowed to operate contrary to the concept of there being a single national lottery.
As I intend to demonstrate, notwithstanding what the Minister said, they are already having a damaging impact on the National Lottery. Currently, they are run by private external lottery managers and their revenues have increased dramatically, from £179 million to £736 million over the last 10 years. The measures in this statutory instrument look set to cause even greater damage to the National Lottery than has already been done. We must gauge the measures being proposed against the impact that they will have on the National Lottery.
Your Lordships’ Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, of which I am a member, has already taken evidence on some of these issues. From that, we know that running concurrently to the legislative process we are discussing today—the Minister has already referred to this—is a public consultation by the Gambling Commission in response to concerns about transparency raised by the previous Lotteries Minister.
Public trust and confidence are vital to preserve the integrity of both the lotteries and the charities that operate and rely on them. Where sales are in the hundreds of millions of pounds and the purpose is charitable, it is only right that the levels of transparency are high—higher than they are now. Players should be able easily to find out how often prizes are awarded, how good causes are chosen and how their money is spent.
For example, we know that the National Lottery has operating costs of about 5% of revenue but, as the Select Committee heard in January when both Camelot and the People’s Postcode gave evidence, the People’s Postcode Lottery has operating costs of 28%; it spends almost as much on operating costs as it does on giving to charitable causes—in marked contradiction to what the National Lottery does. I also understand that the Health Lottery spends more on expenses than it returns to good causes, although this information is not easy to ascertain. Indeed, DCMS noted that
“the two sector leaders currently return amongst the lowest proportion of revenue to good causes.”
So, the Minister says how good these society lotteries are—indeed, the individual small ones are—but we discover that the amount of money that these combined umbrella lotteries give to good causes is almost similar to the amount they spend on administration. I hope that the Minister can assure us that she will watch this issue carefully so that we can make changes leading to higher returns to good causes. As a first step, and before any result of the consultation is seen and any major final decisions are made, can the Minister at least ask those two umbrella lotteries whether they will make public the information on the various issues that I have just raised?
What is the key component of that administration cost? The vast majority of it is spent on advertising, seen in the volume of advertising on television and radio and in newspapers coming through our letterboxes. Even currently at Westminster Underground station, we see that billboards have been taken out. The advertising I get at home from the People’s Postcode Lottery certainly goes out of its way to make it look as if it is operating in exactly the same way as the National Lottery. Camelot, which operates the National Lottery, told the committee that this had led to a marketing “arms race” in the lottery market. The People’s Postcode Lottery is spending 75% of the amount spent on advertising by the National Lottery, yet is only 5% of its size. It is allowed to spend so much because the Gambling Act 2005 removed any cap on expenses, replacing it with the simple condition that expenses should be “reasonably incurred”.
Umbrella-style society lotteries can therefore spend significant sums—as they are doing—as long as a minimum of 20% is returned to good causes, and they can claim to be “reasonably” incurring expenses such as these vast sums of money on advertising. Such spending has led to this extraordinarily fast growth, undermining the original intention that there should be a single national lottery. As I will show, that has reduced the funds for National Lottery good causes. What does the Minister understand by a “reasonably incurred” level of expenses? Does she believe that the expenses currently incurred by the two umbrella lotteries are reasonable under that definition?
I have argued for many years for the reintroduction of the expenses cap on the large-scale umbrella lotteries. Is the Minister prepared at least to look at reintroducing a limit of, say, 5% or 10% on the level of expenses allowable for them?
We read in paragraph 10.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum that the Government received clear evidence from the Gambling Commission that
“licensed lotteries have had no … significant detrimental impact on National Lottery sales to date.”
I accept entirely that the National Lottery has continued to grow in the face of growing competition from these other organisations. However, a detailed independent report commissioned by Camelot showed that, contrary to the evidence that the Minister and the Explanatory Memorandum gave us, between 2011 and 2017, the impact on the National Lottery was estimated at £703 million in reduced sales and £266 million in reduced returns to good causes.
Understandably, the National Lottery distributors are concerned because they have relied on this funding. Paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum acknowledges that the order increases the per-draw limit, allowing more headroom for these lotteries to continue to grow and providing even greater competition to the National Lottery. If further evidence were needed, we read in paragraph 7.6:
“It is noted that this will bring the top prize potentially offered by licensed lotteries directly in line with the National Lottery’s Thunderball top prize.”
So, if one wanted evidence that there will be growing competition and impact on the National Lottery, it is provided in the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum —on top of the clear evidence that, even before these changes are introduced, there has already been an impact.
Not only will the good causes continue to lose out, but the Treasury has already lost out. The Minister will know that, as the National Lottery is taxed, Governments have lost 12% of the income lost by Camelot and the National Lottery.
Incidentally, I acknowledge that this is outwith the statutory instrument, but it is relevant to the issues we are debating. I wonder whether the Minister is aware of the very strong case that has existed for many years for changing the way in which the National Lottery operates: if the National Lottery was taxed in exactly the same way as other gambling organisations, the evidence shows that there would be increased money not only for good causes but for the Treasury—so I hope the Minister will agree to review that evidence.
Returning to the measure before us, the economic case for whether good causes are best served by having a single National Lottery provider has been revisited on numerous occasions. I am sure that the Minister has been advised of this. Surely, she would have agreed with the evidence, which is there for all to see. It shows that, if there were 10 lotteries offering a jackpot of £1 million each, far less would be returned to society than having a single lottery with a £10 million jackpot. If she is not swayed by that argument, will she at least acknowledge that the evidence on which she is basing today’s decision is outdated? The evidence provided to her by the Gambling Commission was, at the time, already outdated—it is now four years out of date—and we have now seen a further erosion of the potential levels of income that we would have had from the National Lottery. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that it is out-of-date information on which we are basing this decision.
Large prizes are the preserve of the National Lottery, as acknowledged by the Government, who said that
“for many societies, the good cause, rather than the prize, is the primary motivating factor for playing.”
However, at the time of the consultation, as the Minister acknowledged, some in the sector were even arguing for a £1 million top prize. That would seem to be parking the umbrella lotteries’ tanks on the National Lottery’s lawn. It would be a real danger if the Government were to even contemplate going in that direction. I know that it is contained in the statutory instrument, but it would be enormously helpful if the Minister, when she responds, states categorically that she and the Government believe in there being a clear distinction between society lotteries and the National Lottery.
I am supportive of the National Lottery and society lotteries, but I am deeply concerned about the impact of umbrella lotteries that operate in a loophole within the legislation, and in a way that is detrimental to the National Lottery and the good causes it supports. This is not particularly efficient, and it takes vast sums of money in operating costs, rather than giving money to good causes. As a comparison, the National Lottery has a 5% operating cost, whereas one of the umbrella lotteries has a 28% operating cost—that should support the case I am making.
Having said all of that, I am well aware that there is no support for opposition to this, so I shall not seek, at any stage, to divide the Committee on this issue—but I believe that there will be continued erosion of the National Lottery and good causes.
I end by saying that I hope that the Government will consider and improve transparency measures, reintroduce an expenses cap, review the system of taxing the National Lottery and ensure that there are no further changes that disproportionately benefit, as these do, the umbrella-style lotteries.
My Lords, I have no difficulty in agreeing entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Foster, has said about some of the questions that do, and must, remain under review. Certainly, the hardest thing of all is the balance between the interests of the National Lottery and the society lotteries, and this statutory instrument seeks to establish such a balance. It is clear from the supporting documentation and the National Lottery’s responses to these proposals that the National Lottery does not feel terrifically positive about that as far as its own interests are concerned.
The present limits on prize money and amounts to be raised were set 15 and 12 years ago, and therefore for me—and, I think, for my party—at this stage it seems reasonable and proportionate to contemplate an increase from £4 million to £5 million, with the same percentages for the top prize money. I do not think that anyone on our side wants to oppose this SI, but we urge that close attention be given to how it all works out.
This is a more satisfactory statutory instrument than some of the ones that I have stood here to ask about. There has been a consultation and an attempt to work out some of the likely impacts of the proposals. The proposals in this statutory instrument seem okay, but we should take with a pinch of salt the suggestion that we might go rather quickly towards much higher totals. We would need robust evidence that the pace of increase was proportionate and appropriate—so that hint ought to be squashed straightaway. As and when it is time to look at further increases, let us do so, but let us not give that hostage to fortune within the proposals before us now.
The umbrella lotteries have been amply referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Foster: I understand that the Minister will clarify that and I shall see whether my thinking on this is right. But one of the objects of moving the figures upward is to make these umbrella lotteries less necessary, and therefore to avoid duplicating administrative costs because of the multiplicity of bodies that come together to form the umbrella. I do not know whether metaphorically you can bring bodies together to form an umbrella, but noble Lords will know what I mean. It would be very good to have a word of clarification on that. Will there be a material reduction in administrative costs? That would go some way towards meeting the point raised, properly, by the noble Lord, Lord Foster.
The extra transparency that the Gambling Commission and committees of the House are looking at has been hinted at. We certainly need to have some answers to the questions that have been raised, and I hope that we will. It is important to note that there has been cross-party approval and support for these proposals, including from the Liberal Democrats—or, at least, named Members in the paperwork that I have received.
Finally—there is no need to say more than needs to be said—a proper process has taken place and a proportionate set of suggestions about increasing the amounts seems to be contained within these papers. I would be very careful about giving a hostage to fortune regarding further increases at the moment, although perhaps later that could be brought to our attention as a separate matter. I would like to know how these umbrella bodies will be affected by the increases in administrative costs that we are talking about. With all that said, we do not want to stand in the way of this SI being approved.
I start by thanking both noble Lords for their careful scrutiny of the instrument that we are discussing, and for their questions. Perhaps I might start by trying to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I spend my life trying to reassure noble Lords, but I will try again. Our clear aim is to set a framework that encourages both the National Lottery and society lotteries to thrive. We will monitor the impact of the changes very carefully, and we will not allow the growth of society lotteries to come at the expense of the National Lottery. I hope that that goes some way towards confirming our intent.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said that part of the purpose of the instrument was to remove the pressure to create umbrellas out of bodies. None of us is quite clear about that; it feels uncomfortable. But, by raising the limit to £50 million, all the current society lottery providers, with the exception of the People’s Postcode Lottery, will be able to move from an umbrella structure back to a single structure. This goes back to the point raised by Cancer Research UK in its response to the consultation: that that will remove some administrative costs, which will allow more money to go to good causes. I think that all of us can align on that. I understand that the People’s Postcode Lottery has also indicated that it will seek to reduce the number of lotteries under its umbrella. So I hope I have addressed that point.
More broadly, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, questioned whether the changes could have a negative impact on the National Lottery. As the noble Lord knows, the Gambling Commission has advised that changes to the limits will have minimal impact on the National Lottery. The reforms are designed to allow society lotteries to raise more money for the good causes they support, but they take very careful account of the relationship between the society lotteries and the National Lottery. The distinctions remain in terms of the size of prizes and the frequency of draws, so we continue to believe that substitution between the two is likely to remain minimal.
The noble Lord cited the Camelot report in terms of the negative impact on National Lottery sales. Again, I can only reiterate the Gambling Commission’s advice, which was based on independent research. It does not believe that it has had a negative impact, and obviously that impact will be carefully monitored. The latest research, published just last month, shows participation in the National Lottery and society lotteries going up by about 2 percentage points. I believe that that evidence was given to the committee that the noble Lord sits on.
The noble Lord also asked about reasonable costs. Obviously with the National Lottery there are economies of scale, but the noble Lord will also be aware that society lotteries have been in existence for a lot longer, and we have a diverse range of business models. The minimum acceptable return that has been agreed with society lotteries is 20%, but obviously the average is 45%. The People’s Lottery is at 32%, but we know that it hopes to increase that. Again, the one-year review will look at this in detail.
I vowed I would not intervene, but on this I really must, because it is incumbent on the Government at least to define what they mean by “reasonable” in this context. For example, does the Minister think it is reasonable that the People’s Postcode Lottery is spending on advertising 75% of what the National Lottery spends? Is that reasonable when the People’s Postcode Lottery is currently only 5% of the size of the National Lottery?
I am sure the noble Lord will understand that the decision on what the People’s Postcode Lottery spends on its marketing budget is for it. What we look at for reasonableness is the growth in money going to good causes, and, given that both parts of the sector are increasing at the moment, we are comfortable with that, but we will keep it under close review.
On transparency, which both noble Lords raised, and the consultation that the Gambling Commission is undertaking at the moment, the Government absolutely agree that society lotteries need to demonstrate the highest levels of transparency. The consultation seeks views on new guidance which will allow society lottery operators to provide players with more information about their odds of winning a prize, how good causes are selected and the breakdown of lottery proceeds. I know that my honourable friend the Minister here would not be afraid to legislate if there were concerns about transparency.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked about reintroducing the expenses cap. He will be aware that that was removed in 2005 and, since then, the approach has been to focus on the minimum return of 20%, with flexibility for operators to split the balance. Obviously, the return is currently significantly higher than that, so there are no current plans to reintroduce the cap. The Gambling Commission consultation will also make players aware of how to access information about the breakdown of proceeds before they buy a ticket.
Returning to the noble Lord’s question about reasonably incurred levels of expenditure, I should have added that that is handled by the Gambling Commission, as the regulator for the sector.
Turning to taxation models for the National Lottery, we have discussed them, and options for changing to a gross-profit tax model, with the Treasury, but that remains a matter for the Treasury to decide on.
I apologise profusely, but too often we hear from Ministers that decisions on taxation are a matter for the Treasury. I entirely accept that that is true, but there is a duty on, in this case, her department to provide evidence to the Treasury to suggest that it should seriously consider making a change to taxation that would, in this case, benefit good causes and the Treasury itself. My question now is simply: has her department recently provided any of the clear, detailed research evidence that shows that a change would make the benefits that I suggest? Has it done it or not? If it has not, will it agree to so do?
The answer is yes. As the noble Lord is aware, the fourth national licence competition will open in April, and both my department and the Treasury have been looking at the case for how the taxation system should work. I have managed to reassure the noble Lord on one thing, which I shall regard as a triumph.
As we have all agreed, the National Lottery is a uniquely important part of British society. Each year, it raises about £1.6 billion for good causes in the heritage, arts, sports and community sectors; that has amounted to an impressive total of £40 billion over its 25 years. Society lotteries raise more than £330 million a year for good causes, and that amount is increasing year on year. It is right that we do everything we can to support both sectors to grow, thrive and optimise the contributions they make to funding good causes across the country.
Legal Services Act 2007 (Approved Regulator) Order 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I venture to suggest that this order is straightforward and uncontroversial. It designates the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales—for ease, I will refer to it the institute—as an approved regulator under the Legal Services Act 2007 for the reserved legal activity of the administration of oaths.
In summary, the order, if approved, will allow the institute to authorise and regulate individuals and firms administrating oaths within the scope of the Commissioners for Oaths Act 1889, the Commissioners for Oaths Act 1891 and the Stamp Duties Management Act 1891.
As the Committee is aware, the Legal Services 2007 Act defines six reserved legal activities, which only individuals and firms regulated by one of the 11 approved legal regulators can provide to the public. The administration of oaths is one of these activities.
The institute is already an approved regulator and licensing authority under the 2007 Act, but only in respect of probate activities, which is also a reserved legal activity. It regulates more than 300 firms providing probate services and wishes to expand the range of legal services its members can provide. As such, it made the required application to the Legal Services Board, seeking to expand its functions. Following a recommendation from the Legal Services Board, the then Lord Chancellor confirmed in May 2019 that he agreed to make an order to designate the institute as an approved regulator for the reserved legal activity of the administration of oaths. It is envisaged that expanding the institute’s remit will improve consumer choice, enhance competition and enable firms who are regulated by the institute to expand their practice.
This order fulfils the statutory objectives in the Legal Services Act 2007 and is supportive of better regulation in the consumer and public interest. I commend the draft order to the Committee.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, has just pointed out, this is uncontroversial. I have no objection to it. It took me back to my years as an articled clerk in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the perk that one had was to take clients to another solicitor who would administer an oath on probate papers. This would cost the individual 10 guineas, and the shillings in those guineas were for me. There were only 10 shillings, but at a time when I was earning £4 a week, which was extended to £5 a week when I got married, that was quite a considerable sum.
I have only one question. It was thought the right policy that oaths should not be administered by the solicitor, or commissioner for oaths, who was handling the case, but should be taken elsewhere to another solicitor. If he did not give the articled clerk the shillings and the guineas, he did not get the work, because the articled clerk knew where to go. Is that still going on, 50 years later? Is that intended to be the practice when it comes to dealing with chartered accountants?
I am most obliged to noble Lords, if only for their brevity. I am not certain what happened to the shilling or the guinea, but I understand that the practice remains that, where the oath is to be taken, it is taken by a lawyer in a different firm or entity.
The noble Lord referred to the administration of oaths by accountants. That is not necessarily the case. The institute will be the regulator, but it will regulate, in due course, alternative business structures that will include lawyers. Generally speaking, it is to enable those lawyers to be engaged in this reserved activity that this order is being made.
Legal Services Act 2007 (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) (Appeals from Licensing Authority Decisions) Order 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I venture that this is also a straightforward and, I hope, uncontroversial measure. The order relates to the functions of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives which, for ease, I will refer to as CILEx. In summary, the order—if approved—enables the First-tier Tribunal to hear and determine appeals against CILEx in its role as a licensing authority.
As the Committee is aware, the Legal Services Act 2007 defines six reserved legal activities that only individuals and firms regulated by one of the approved regulators can provide to the public. CILEx is an experienced regulator under the 2007 Act and authorises and regulates individuals and firms in respect of five of the six reserved legal activities: the conduct of litigation, rights of audience, reserved instrument activities, probate activities and the administration of oaths. In February last year, an order designated CILEx as a licensing authority as well as an approved regulator. This meant that, as well as regulating individuals and firms, it can now license alternative business structures. ABSs are legal firms that are partly or wholly owned or controlled by non-lawyers. They were introduced by the 2007 Act to encourage competition by allowing, for the first time, lawyers to join with non-lawyers, for example accountants, to raise external capital. Notable ABSs include Co-op Legal Services and the big four accountancy firms.
ABSs have been permitted by the Legal Services Act 2007 since October 2011, and there are now over 1,300 in England and Wales. Most of the other legal services regulators, including the Law Society and the Bar Council, are already licensing authorities. The 2007 Act stipulates that there must be an independent body to determine appeals against decisions of licensing authorities, and this order enables the General Regulatory Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal to fulfil this role.
Over the last 12 months, since CILEx became a licensing authority, there has been an interim appeals procedure—agreed by the Legal Services Board—in place. However, it is more appropriate that the First-tier Tribunal determines any appeals against CILEx in its role as a licensing authority. The First-tier Tribunal has judges with experience in considering regulatory appeals.
Furthermore, similar orders have been made in the past in respect of appeals against decisions of the Bar Standards Board, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, when they are each designated as licensing authorities.
I assure the Committee that, although Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service will face additional costs associated with the potential increase in cases to be determined by the First-tier Tribunal, CILEx will meet the set-up and operating costs, so there will be no net financial impact on the public sector.
In conclusion, this statutory instrument is necessary to regulate better in the consumer and public interest. I commend the draft order to the Committee.
My Lords, I support the order. I declare an interest in that a close family member is a judge in the First-tier Tribunal—but not, I believe, in the General Regulatory Chamber.
I have been a strong supporter of CILEx from its inception. Indeed, I addressed some of its early conferences due to, as I mentioned in relation to the previous order, my experience 50 years ago of the integrity and probity of legal executives who needed a body to represent their interests in the way that that has happened. I am delighted to see that it has been given this particular power. The strange thing is that there was a temporary appeals provision with a panel set up by CILEx itself; clearly that was unsatisfactory. Far better that it should go through the tribunals system. What are the fees of the tribunal likely to be? Will they be more expensive than the present appeals system, unsatisfactory as it is?
I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I agree with the observations of the noble Lord as to the importance of CILEx as an institution. I recently met with its representatives, as I do on a regular basis; they bring to regulation a degree of innovation and forward thinking that is to be welcomed.
On the potential cost, fees will be set by the Courts Service. Generally, there are only about 10 of these appeals each year. I do not anticipate the level of fees being an inhibitor to the discharge of these functions.
Extradition Act 2003 (Amendments to Designations) Order 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this order is essential for the UK to fulfil its obligations under several treaties. It is required to implement an extradition agreement between the EU and Norway and Iceland to which the UK is party during the transition period, and to implement bilateral extradition treaties with Kuwait and Morocco. I shall explain in a little more detail why these changes are being brought at this time and the effect that they will have on our extradition arrangements.
First, the first part of this order will replace the designation of Norway and Iceland as category 2 territories, currently based on the European Convention on Extradition. It makes it clear that Norway and Iceland become territories designated under category 1 of the Extradition Act, based on the surrender agreement between the EU and Norway and Iceland, which entered into force on 1 November 2019. The agreement will facilitate the exchange of warrants between judicial authorities, which is executed through a simplified decision-making system.
In short, this will mean that Norway and Iceland will be treated in a similar way to EU countries for the purposes of extradition. However, there are some differences. Notably, parties can refuse to extradite their own nationals and can refuse extradition on the basis that the offence concerned is “political”. This agreement also allows parties to require that an extradition take place only where the offence concerned is a criminal offence in both countries—something known as “dual criminality”.
As the Committee is aware, during the transition period, the EU justice and home affairs tools that the UK has opted into, including this agreement, will continue to apply. The legislation will ensure that there is no disparity between our international obligations and domestic law, which could result in legal uncertainty and impunity for wanted fugitives.
The second part of this order will implement the extradition treaties concluded between the UK and Morocco in 2013 and the UK and Kuwait in 2016. The designation of these countries under category 2 of the 2003 Act will allow the UK to process extradition requests from Kuwait and Morocco in line with the obligations of these treaties. Both treaties set out a timeframe in which a full extradition request must be provided to the UK by Kuwait and Morocco when an individual has been arrested on a provisional arrest warrant.
This order therefore also ensures that this is reflected in our legislation by setting out that, in the case of Kuwait and Morocco, the judge must receive the papers within 65 days of the person’s provisional arrest, in line with standard practice. This allows for the countries to provide the request to the Secretary of State within 60 days, as the treaty provides for, and for the Secretary of State to have five days to certify the request and send it to the appropriate judge.
Once the designations have been made, the Kuwait and Morocco treaties will be ratified. The introduction of the formal bilateral basis for extradition for conduct covered by these treaties will lead to a more efficient and effective process for extradition between the UK and the respective countries. Morocco and Kuwait are important partners for the UK, and these treaties will enhance our ability to work in close co-operation with them on important issues.
I urge the Committee to consider the amendments made by this statutory instrument favourably to ensure that the United Kingdom can comply with its obligations under the relevant international extradition arrangements. When considering any request for extradition, our arrangements are balanced by the provisions in the Extradition Act 2003, which serve to protect an individual’s rights, including their human rights, where extradition is not compatible with our law.
Extradition is a valuable tool in combating cross-border crime, and offenders should not be able to escape justice simply by crossing international borders. No one should be beyond the reach of the law. Having efficient, clear and effective extradition arrangements is vital for safeguarding our security and preventing fugitives escaping justice. I commend the regulations to the Committee and beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the order. Kuwait and Morocco both still carry the death penalty; according to Human Rights Watch, there were seven executions in Kuwait in 2017, and I understand that it outlaws same-sex relations. Does the Minister have any information about seeking assurances in the past from these countries? She says that they are important partners, but are they trusted partners—as regards their judicial system or how politically expedient their approach to these matters sometimes is?
I have no comments on Norway and Iceland. You could hardly hope to find a pair of countries more different from Kuwait and Morocco. In Committee in the Commons, the Minister was asked whether it is government policy to remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. That was in the context of the discussion about human rights in Kuwait and Morocco. The reply was that we are a signatory. We know that; the question was, and is, about the future. I do not know whether the Minister will be in any better a position to talk about government policy for the future on this subject, but clearly it is a matter of considerable interest.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for explaining the order. I have no particular comments to make in respect of Norway and Iceland becoming Part 1, and no longer being Part 2, territories other than that, for me, it illustrates what a stupid decision it is no longer to take part in the European arrest warrant procedure. That is obviously for another time but I think that it will benefit nobody but criminals; I am sure that we will come back to that in other debates.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, outlined, there are some concerns about Kuwait and Morocco. In respect of Kuwait, the treaty was signed in 2016 but, since then, it has resumed executions and is now talking about lowering the age at which someone can be executed. There are genuine concerns about that and it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could explain what the process will be. We are genuinely worried. We do not support the death penalty in any circumstances and it would be very worrying if people could potentially be sent back to face it. In addition, Kuwait outlaws same-sex relationships, with a maximum prison sentence of seven years, so, again, we would be very worried if someone in that situation were to be extradited to Kuwait.
It would be useful to hear from the noble Baroness whether the Government have received any assurances from the Kuwaiti authorities since the treaty was signed in 2016 and since that country changed its laws regarding executions. In this respect, in 2018, my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury tabled a Motion that was debated on the Floor of the House. It would be useful to know whether anything happened following that Motion being debated. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s reply.
I thank both noble Lords for the questions on this statutory instrument that they have rightly asked. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether our intention in the future is to remain part of the ECHR. At the moment, that is our intention, although, as she acknowledged, I cannot speak about what will happen in the future.
The question that I thought might be brought up was about the death penalty in Kuwait. It is important to make it clear at the outset that extradition is prohibited by statute if the person concerned might face the death penalty, unless the Secretary of State gets adequate written assurance that the death penalty will not be imposed. The UK Government oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. As we all know, it undermines human dignity and there is no conclusive evidence that it is a deterrent. Any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is clearly irreparable, so extradition from the UK is not possible where the person has been, will be or could be sentenced to death, and that is made explicitly clear in the Extradition Act.
Extradition is obviously a very important tool in bringing perpetrators to justice. We can maintain extradition relations with countries that have the death penalty while making it absolutely clear that we will never allow a person to be extradited from the UK if they will face the death penalty elsewhere.
Kuwait and Morocco are not listed as priority countries in the FCO’s human rights report. Therefore, no explicit exchange of human rights assurances was sought in addition to those that make up the extradition treaty. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is all the more reason for us to be explicit on extradition and the death penalty.
Our very good relations with both Kuwait and Morocco provide further comfort, so we can raise a range of human rights issues with them. We do so in the context of ongoing bilateral dialogue.
On LGBT status, it is important to note that the same standard of safeguards applies to UK extradition relations with all Part 2 countries. Whether a request is compatible with a person’s human rights is assessed by the UK’s judiciary in extradition cases. If a court found that a person would, for example, be subject to inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment as a result of their extradition, they would not be extradited. I hope that provides the comfort that the Committee rightly seeks on this statutory instrument.
Immigration (Citizens’ Rights Appeals) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations are introduced under the powers in Section 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. They provide an important right of appeal against immigration decisions on citizens’ rights. The regulations are required to meet our obligations under the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement and the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement.
The Government have been clear in our commitment to protect the rights of EU, other EEA and Swiss citizens who have made this country their home. They are our friends, our family and our neighbours, and we want them to stay.
The EU settlement scheme makes it easy for EU citizens and their family members who want to stay in the UK to get the immigration status they need. As announced last month, we have already had more than 3.2 million applications, with nearly 2.9 million people granted status. If an applicant disagrees with the decision in their case, they can apply again to the scheme completely free of charge and they have until 30 June 2021 to do so. They can also apply for an administrative review, meaning that their case is reviewed again by Home Office caseworkers, if they are refused on eligibility grounds or granted pre-settled status rather than settled status. The fee for this service, which is £80, will be refunded if the original decision is withdrawn due to a caseworker error. These appeal rights provide further reassurance to EU citizens that they remain welcome and can continue to live and work in the UK and that we will uphold our commitment to guarantee the rights of EU citizens.
The regulations basically do two things. First, they establish appeal rights against a wide range of decisions affecting a person’s right to enter and live in the UK under the EU settlement scheme. This includes those refused leave under the scheme or those granted pre-settled status rather than settled status. It also includes those refused entry clearance in the form of an EU settlement scheme family permit or travel permit. The regulations provide an appeal route for those whose rights under the scheme are restricted; for example, where their status is revoked or curtailed.
Secondly, the regulations ensure that existing rules and procedures are applied to the operation of appeal rights. They go further than required under the agreements by providing appeal rights in line with the UK’s more generous domestic implementation. This means that anyone who can make an application under the scheme, including non-EU family members, will have a right of appeal if refused or granted pre-settled status.
Appeals under the regulations will follow the same process as current immigration appeals. They will be heard by the immigration and asylum chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. With permission, there will be a further onward right of appeal to the Upper Tribunal on points of law. The exception is where the decision is certified on national security grounds or where sensitive information cannot be made public. As with current immigration appeals, these cases will be referred to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
The regulations are undeniably complex. This is because of the number of situations requiring a right of appeal under the agreements. There is also a need to apply existing rules relating to appeal rights, which are themselves complex.
However, we are committed to making the appeals process as simple as possible for applicants. The decision letter will tell them whether they can appeal and will direct them to the relevant information on GOV.UK. There is also support available by phone, in person or in writing for those who do not have access to online facilities or who need additional assistance.
These regulations ensure that we comply with the requirements of the agreements and are an essential part of our commitment to protecting the rights of EU citizens. I commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. She mentioned administrative review. I want to take this opportunity to ask her about the experience so far. I came across a blog, although I cannot remember whose. I think it was a barrister’s. It seems to have become the custom for members of the Bar—I am very glad of it—to blog as their way of advertising their services. I will probably get some complaints, having said that. This blog said that, following a freedom of information request, the inquirer found that 89.5% of applications that had gone for administrative review were successful.
The noble Baroness mentioned refunds. Does she know how much has had to be refunded, what the associated costs of doing so might be and whether the Home Office has a view about why this is happening with so much success at that stage?
Since the order came into force on 31 January, when will time start running in the case of decisions made before today or before the matter goes to the House—in other words, before the SI is approved?
I confess to having some concern about Regulation 14, which allows for an appeal from outside the United Kingdom. Will it not be the case that many appellants will have been required to leave? Concerns have been expressed in other parts of the immigration forest about the difficulties of appealing from abroad.
Am I right in thinking that this SI will be the basis for any claim with regard to invalidity—for instance, if the Home Office has said that the applicant is not an EU citizen and is therefore not in the settled status scheme?
Given the number of grants of pre-settled status that have been made, has the Home Office made any assessment of the numbers of appeals against that status from people who think that they should have been granted full settled status? It seems to me that there could be an early and considerable spike in the work.
The Minister mentioned the considerable help currently available from a number of organisations that have received grants to assist applicants for settled status. The EU Select Committee—it may have been the EU Justice Sub-Committee—heard from some of the organisations a couple of weeks ago. At that stage, they were waiting to hear whether their funding would continue after the end of this month. If she has any news on that, the Committee—and, even more so, the organisations concerned—would be glad to hear it.
Finally, can the Minister give an assurance that the Government will not rely—or at any rate, routinely rely—on the exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018 from the requirement to
“provide information to a data subject”
in the interests of effective immigration control? She will be well aware that I have raised this before, and I alarmed by a report in the press over this weekend about the very large number of occasions where information has been refused. Other than all that, I support the regulations.
It is absolutely fine. I shall not repeat them because it would detain the Committee longer than necessary, but the noble Baroness has raised some very important points. I support the regulations and we are pleased they are here, but our concern and worry is that the people who are vulnerable are those who have not picked up on the need to use this system. If they do not use it, they will find themselves, in June 2021, to be in the UK illegally, even if they have been here for many years. That is what we are worried about.
The other point of concern is that there have been a few issues in the Home Office in terms of appeals and other problems in the past. We are very worried that someone might find themselves in difficulty, so what we are looking for from the Minister is some reassurance about that and about how people will be treated. What will the Government do to ensure that people know they need to apply for this? It may well be that some of those people who are here from elsewhere in Europe are in quite low-paid jobs, do not have a lot of money and are just not picking up on it. What we do not want is a situation where people do not understand that they need to apply and find themselves in difficulty with the authorities and potentially being removed from this country when, had they applied, they would have been given the right to stay here. That is the reassurance every noble Lord here is looking for. In principle, I am very happy with there now being a right to appeal, so I will leave it there.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their points. I thought this would be the easy SI and that every noble Lord would be so happy with the appeal processes. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked why so many appeals are successful. An appeal may succeed where new information is provided.
I apologise. I meant that an administrative review may succeed when new information is provided. I understand that about 900 applications for the admin review have been received. The noble Baroness asked when it starts—I am assuming 31 January.
On what happens if people miss the deadline, we have been very clear that where there are reasonable grounds for missing the deadline people will be given a further opportunity to apply.
I am sorry; I did not think I had asked terribly difficult questions. On my question about the time running, there are time limits for appeals, but we have gone beyond the point when the SI is effective because that date is 31 January. I am not clear whether the time from 31 January to now is taken off the time available to an appellant to get the appeal in. This is quite a practical point. I will go on rambling so that the Minister can talk to her officials and is able to get this on to the record as I think that would be helpful. Perhaps I was clear in my question.
No. I am asking whether the period between 31 January and whatever the date is in March counts for the period towards the number of days within which an appeal has to be lodged because the order is in force but people will presumably will not be making applications under it until has gone through the parliamentary process.
On pre-settled status appeals, there are 900 applications for administrative review, but whether they are for pre-settled status I do not know. If I have the figures, I will provide the noble Baroness with them. On her question about immigration control, this is not for the purposes of immigration control. I thought the noble Baroness might be concerned about that. The funding for the groups that are helping runs through the financial year.
I wish to make it clear from these Benches that we do not think that is satisfactory. We understand about financial years and so on, but for a small organisation, or a medium-sized or quite large organisation, which does not know whether it will be able to continue the service it is pretty difficult that it will be within a couple of weeks of the end of the year.
I totally understand that point. It is frustrating for any group or organisation waiting for future funding announcements to be in this position right at the end of the financial year; I really get that. I just want to answer the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on vulnerable people. As he knows, we have set out some funding for organisations who will help vulnerable people. I think they are the last cohort of people on whom our attention will need to focus: as he says, people who do not even know that they must apply. That work is well under way across the country and, given the number of applicants, which is 3.2 million, it is clearly going well for most people, but he is right to raise that final cohort.
I am glad that the noble Baroness has recognised that point, but can we have an assurance that the Government will look at them sympathetically? There will be people who do not know that they have to apply and, in a few months’ or a year’s time, find themselves illegally in this country who thought they were here legally. I hope that, at that point, the Government will treat people reasonably and understand that it may well be through no fault of their own—they have not picked it up—they are in these difficult situations.
Totally, and that is what this reasonable grounds process is all about. We actually want to find reasons to grant people settled status, so the point the noble Lord makes about not being harsh on people is absolutely right. The other day, I came across a Romanian lady who did not know what to do. I helped to point her in the right direction of applying. Yes, those people who still do not know now will need that extra bit of help. I beg to move.
Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, in the time available to me, I would like to remind your Lordships of the level of seriousness with which we should address the level of Covid-19 and the context for the Government’s response. I will then explain the workings of the regulations in detail and how they fit into our wider strategy for addressing the outbreak.
On 31 December 2019, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization of an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan City, which was then classified as a new disease, Covid-19. On 30 January 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak of Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern.
Based on current evidence, the main symptoms of Covid-19 are a cough, high temperature and, in severe cases, shortness of breath. It is a new virus, so there is a lack of immunity in the population and, as yet, no effective vaccine. This means that Covid-19 has the potential to spread extensively in the population.
As expected, case numbers are increasing, but the UK remains well prepared for such outbreaks. As of 9 am on 9 March 2020, 24,960 people had been tested in the UK, of whom 24,641 were confirmed as negative and 311 were confirmed as positive.
Although our knowledge is growing by the day, much remains unknown. The four UK Chief Medical Officers have made it clear that the disease currently presents a moderate risk to the public, but that planning and preparation for the potential of a more widespread outbreak is sensible. As the Prime Minister has made clear, there could be a very significant increase in the number of cases of coronavirus in the UK.
Tackling Covid-19 requires a robust, integrated and proportionate response. On Tuesday 3 March, the Prime Minister introduced the UK’s coronavirus action plan, providing the public with information on what the Government have done and on their plans to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
The Government’s approach to tackling Covid-19 can be summarised in four phases: contain, delay, research and mitigate. The Government have focused hard over the past weeks on the containment phase, taking precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible. A crucial aspect of that is ensuring that people who are contacts of known cases or are considered to be at high risk of infection are isolated from others for a period of time, ensuring that they cannot infect others but can readily access help if they fall ill.
However, we have been acutely aware that there are important gaps in our public health legislation that could potentially undermine the success of this policy. It was to address these gaps that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care laid an instrument before Parliament on 10 February 2020 and made a Statement in the other place on 11 February 2020 about that action. My noble friend Lady Blackwood repeated the Secretary of State’s Statement about the instrument in this House and answered questions at the time.
The regulations provide the power to screen, isolate and detain those at risk of spreading Covid-19 and, if necessary, to keep them isolated for a period of time. The powers are proportionate—they include a number of important safeguards to ensure that all actions are proportionate. Importantly, the regulations apply only in respect of Covid-19 and have a sunset period of two years from the date of coming into force.
Clear statutory tests are set out in the regulations to ensure that the imposition of requirements on restriction, including that of detention and isolation, must always be proportionate and necessary. There is a right of appeal to the magistrates’ court against the imposition of any requirements. There are also clear checks on detention, such as a requirement for any detention lasting over 14 days to be reviewed as soon as is practicable, and subsequently every 24 hours, by the Secretary of State.
Although the regulations provide powers to impose restrictions on groups, the powers are proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. For example, each person in the group would have to be believed to be infected or potentially infected and to be at risk of infecting others, or to have arrived on the same conveyance from the same infected area. That analysis will be considered for each individual.
These regulations will help us to slow down transmission of the virus and make it easier for NHS and public health staff to do their jobs. While the risk that Covid-19 poses to the public remains moderate, the new regulations are essential to ensure that the Government remain suitably prepared to contain the spread of the virus for as long as possible.
I would like to explain in detail the powers in the regulations for the benefit of the Committee. The powers can be used by different designated individuals depending on what is most appropriate for the circumstance. A Part 2 order is an order that a justice of the peace can make under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. These are powers to order health measures in relation to persons, things or premises such as isolation, detention and quarantine. This regime continues to apply as it always did. The regulations do not impact on the current ability of local authorities to apply for orders under the Part 2A order regime.
The Government have taken steps to introduce these regulations in addition to the existing legal framework, as this made it difficult to take appropriate action in advance of an individual becoming unwell, even if there was a strong suspicion that they could be incubating and spreading disease. Secondly, so-called Part 2 orders, which enable restrictions on individuals on public health grounds, could be applied only by local authorities. This potentially undermined a more uniform approach to disease control and meant that the Secretary of State was reliant on others for the timeliness and effectiveness of those critical public health measures. Thirdly, the existing legislation has limited enforcement powers, making it more difficult in practice to deal with people who are trying to evade public health precautions or regimes or who do not follow advice or the conditions that are set.
It is important to note that the regulations are appropriate to the containment stage of the outbreak. Regulation 3 places stringent requirements on when the regulations can apply. First, the Secretary of State must declare that the incidence or transmission of coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health. Secondly, the incidence or transmission of the virus must be at such a point that the regulations may reasonably be considered effective in preventing its further transmission. These are important safeguards. If the declaration of a threat were revoked, the regulations would cease to apply.
Regulation 4 sets out that the Secretary of State or a registered public health consultant may require that someone is detained for screening and assessment either if they reasonably believe that the person is or may be infected with coronavirus and may infect or contaminate others or if that person has arrived in England from an infected area.
Regulation 5 permits them to impose various restrictions to ensure that screening and assessment can take place and to impose further restrictions or requirements as considered necessary for the purposes of removing or reducing the risk of infecting or contaminating others. Regulation 6 outlines in more detail what screening may involve, while Regulation 7 sets out further restrictions which may be applied, including restrictions on travel, activities and contact with others.
Regulation 8 covers the isolation of persons who are or who are suspected to be infected with coronavirus, while Regulation 9 sets out safeguards such as a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the well-being of anyone detained, and to review any continued detention over a 14-day period. Again, these are important safeguards when imposing restrictions on individuals.
Regulation 10 relates to the application of the provisions to groups. Regulation 11 enables a registered public health consultant or the Secretary of State to apply for a Part 2A order, which currently can be applied for only by a local authority. Regulation 12 covers appeals, while Regulations 13 and 14 enable police constables to enforce detention requirements or to initiate detention if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that someone is, or may be, infected with coronavirus. It is important to note that they must as far as reasonably practicable consult a registered public health consultant before taking action in relation to initial detention, and must have regard to any guidance from Public Health England. Regulation 15 covers offences, while Regulation 16 sets out that the regulations are subject to sunsetting two years from the date of commencement.
The regulations apply only to England; health is a devolved matter, therefore we continue to consult with the devolved Administrations regarding appropriate measures for any individuals who may return directly to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That includes options in primary legislation that would cover the entirety of the UK.
These regulations therefore enable the Government to take the necessary steps to minimise onward transmission from individuals who are or may be infected or contaminated with coronavirus and ensure that these are proportionate and effective. While we expect the vast majority of individuals to comply with public health advice without the need for legal enforcement, it is important that we remain suitably prepared for all eventualities. Given the seriousness of the threat posed by Covid-19, the regulations are a reasonable and necessary part of our strategy to protect the public. The Government will conduct a lessons-learned review in line with previous incidents and infectious disease outbreaks.
I take this opportunity to thank all our NHS, Public Health England and other front-line staff, including those on the borders, who are working so tirelessly on the response to Covid-19. Thanks to all their efforts, the Government, the NHS and other front-line responders are well prepared to respond to Covid-19. I also use this opportunity in Committee to thank the public for their pragmatic and sensible response to the situation to date. We must continue to take that approach to ensure public safety and refrain from panic and disinformation. As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has said, dealing with this disease is a marathon, not a sprint. We will be guided by the science and the advice of the Chief Medical Officers. We will continue to do everything that is effective to tackle this virus and keep people safe, and the regulations are an important element of that work.
As a final and important reminder, all of us—including noble Lords—can take actions to support the Government’s response that are simple but effective, such as washing hands and catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue. These and other precautions, including these regulations, are a necessary and proportionate response to protect public health. I commend these regulations to the House and beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive explanation of the order. When I started to read the policy background, it all came flooding back to me, having sat in his position in 2008 dealing with amendments put forward to modernise the legal framework for health protection and considering what powers were needed. My first question, therefore, is, why is the 2008 Act not sufficient to cover the eventuality of this virus, when these regulations relate to the 1984 Act? It is just a technical, anorak-type question and I am interested to know the answer.
I have given the Minister notice of my other questions, the first being about the differing legal structures in the United Kingdom, particularly between England and Scotland. Where are the regulations being considered? Are they being considered? Have they already been adopted by the devolved Administrations?
Echoing the brief discussion we just had in the Chamber, a further question relates to when this becomes a serious and imminent threat. In our scrutiny, we need always to focus on whether the orders and the Bill about to come before us give too much power or just enough power to a Secretary of State.
The statutory instrument refers throughout to detention or isolation. Can the Minister explain the difference between them? Is detention where somebody is arrested and detained, and isolation where they stay in their home? What would compel them to do that? I would like that to be unpicked.
Will the measure add significantly to the workload of magistrates’ courts? Has some estimate been made of that, and will it be properly funded?
My next question is about police involvement if people will not take the precautions required of them by law. Can we be assured that the police will be protected appropriately if they have to be involved in arresting or detaining people? That goes for other people involved in incarceration of any sort, because prisons and so on are contained environments that pose their own questions and dangers.
Finally, given that we do not know how long the coronavirus outbreak will last and what will happen, is two years too long a time for these regulations? Would not one year be more sensible?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed explanation of the regulations. I too have warned him in advance of an area on which I want to focus.
In general, we are content with the principles and are reassured that the Government have made it plain that the measures are a last resort when people will not co-operate and public health is seriously at risk. The points that we are raising are more about the detail of how things will work.
Reference was made to consistency across the four devolved nations. On a previous Statement, I asked whether there might be a “Gretna Green” benefit to belting over the border. I still want reassurance that there will not be variation between the devolved nations. Can the Minister inform the Grand Committee about discussions going on with the three devolved nations to ensure consistency and to prevent people trying to dash over a border, whether it is towards Gretna Green, across to Northern Ireland or into Wales?
My main point comes back to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about why the 2008 Act is not enough on its own. My focus today is very much on what happened in coalition regarding the Health and Social Care Act and the moving of directors of public health into local authorities. My concern is that some directors of public health have been told that they do not qualify as public health officers. Under “Interpretation”, Regulation 2(1)(d) defines a public health officer as
“a registered public health consultant or a person working within Public Health England”.
That is important because, in Regulation 4, it is that person as defined in the recitals who is able to effect the order. I just want to check that, given the document that was republished and updated in January this year—Directors of Public Health in Local Government— which makes it plain right from the start that this is a joint appointment. It says that a director of public health must be
“jointly appointed with the Secretary of State of the Department of Health and Social Care (in practice, Public Health England)”
and local government, and among their statutory duties are
“exercising their local authority’s functions in planning for, and responding to, emergencies that present a risk to the public’s health.”
Paragraph 4.5 of that document says that they must be registered with the General Medical Council, the General Dental Council or the UK Public Health Register, meaning that they are qualified and have to maintain that qualification with all the validations and re-examinations required.
Therefore, my question to the Minister is as follows: directors of public health resided inside Public Health England less than five years ago, but because they are no longer in Public Health England, why do they now suddenly no longer qualify? If it is a misunderstanding in Public Health England, please can we have public reassurance about that? If it is due to a lacuna in the legislation, clearly we cannot deal with that through these regulations but we happen to have a handy Bill coming along in the next couple of weeks in which we could perhaps make that clear. From the conversations that I have been having with directors of public health around the country, it seems that they are, as one would expect, heavily involved with both the health side and the community side. The key stakeholders—such as the fire services, the Courts Service, the police, the Prison Service, universities and those involved in education—are absolutely vital in dealing with matters where members of the public or organisations refuse to follow the rules relating to identification, quarantine and isolation.
My Lords, as I understand it, this is the first opportunity that we have had, outside of UQs and Statements, to fully debate this whole issue. I want to speak at a little greater length on this matter because I think that we are entering a crisis which perhaps we have underestimated at this stage.
As I understand it, these regulations apply where the Secretary of State makes a declaration that the incidence or transmission of coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and that the incidence of coronavirus is at such a point that the measures outlined may reasonably be considered as an effective means of preventing the further transmission of coronavirus. I will argue in my contribution that, prior to the use of regulations, advice should be given in the form of information—far more information than is available at the moment to the public—to help individuals avoid contamination and infection.
Before I start, I need to declare an interest. Some years ago, I had surgery on my lung to remove a tumour, leaving me with half a lung and with COPD on the remaining two lobes. As a result, I have major breathing difficulties. I also want to make it clear that I am not speaking only on behalf of myself; I approach this whole debate as one among the many hundreds of thousands who are in the vulnerable group described as “persons with pre-existing conditions”. Before moving to the thrust of my case—on the provision of information, which is what I want to concentrate on—I want to make three points.
First, the use of the terms coronavirus and Covid-19 is unhelpful and confusing. We need single-term terminology in the public debate. Secondly, repeating the statement that masks are of little value and are no defence, which we hear repeatedly on television, is irresponsible. Masks protect others from infection by those who are unaware that they are carriers. If they are so ineffective, why are doctors, nurses, health assistants, virus-testing personnel, ambulancemen, laboratory assistants, research chemists, health professionals generally and even undertakers worldwide all wearing masks, as can be seen on every television screen in the country, every day and every night on every new bulletin?
Thirdly, I am curious about the statistics on mortality rates, particularly among the elderly. The way this debate is being presented, it is as if 1%, 2% or 3% of those who are stricken with this condition may die, but that confuses groups of people, including the elderly and the young. I understand that the real figure for people in the 70 to 80-plus age group is appropriately 15%, which is substantially more. We need clarification on that.
In my view, the public should ignore the advice on masks and follow the practice of health professionals. I understand that this mistaken advice is being given to avoid panic among the wider population. It will do the reverse, as such advice emphasises in the public mind the distinction between the no-panic case from government and the reality of the practice of healthcare professionals on the ground in the real world that they can see on television every evening.
I turn to the provision of information. The best way to secure public co-operation in the avoidance of infection is to provide authoritative information. That is the story behind the calls for freedom of information legislation in the late 1980s. I was at the heart of that debate in the Commons, and our mantra was “information influences conduct”. To avoid infection, we need information from authoritative sources that is regularly updated as more information is made available to government. When the public have confidence in the scale of transparency and the source of the information, individuals are more likely to act responsibly. Apart from providing information, the state can do only so much, as is the case with the National Health Service and local authorities. The less information it provides, the less it will influence conduct. The less it provides, the more the fake news merchants will dominate the debate and the more they will influence public reaction and conduct. Inadequate and confused messages from government will lead only to a mix of panic on one hand and resigned inertia on the other. We need more than “Wash your hands, cough and dispose and do not touch your face”. It is simply not enough. If you provide more information, the public will make far more realistic assessments of the actions that they need to take. The terms contain, delay, research and mitigate are important, but they are meaningless to Joe Public. In fact the public will not even know what they mean. As contain morphs into delay and further morphing goes on, the message will become even more confused and obscure. The public want authoritative messages and updated and detailed information on where the dangers lie, in particular to elderly groups.
I have spoken to a number of people in my former constituency over the past week, and I will now set out what I believe the public want to learn and know. These are questions being asked by the vulnerable groups; they want authoritative information and answers.
We are told that the research money has been increased to £40 million. Reuters put out a very interesting article the other day. It reported:
“A global coalition set up to fight epidemic diseases issued a call on Friday for $2 billion … to support the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus that is causing COVID-19 infections around the world. Describing the outbreak as an ‘unprecedented threat in terms of its global impact’, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said that while containment measures would help slow the spread, a vaccine was key to longer-term control … ‘It is critical that we ... invest in the development of a vaccine that will prevent people from getting sick.’ … But on Friday it said these funds would be fully allocated by the end of March. ‘Without immediate additional financial contributions the vaccine programs we have begun will not be able to progress and ultimately will not deliver the vaccines that the world needs’.”
Those were the comments of Mr Hatchett, CEPI’s chief executive. On Friday, the British Government announced another £20 million of additional funding. The total is now £40 million or £50 million; I am not absolutely sure about the final figure. The point is that the budget is insufficient. What pressure are we putting on other countries to contribute to this budget to make sure that it meets the demands of those people who believe that it is necessary if a vaccine can be found in the foreseeable future?
Further, is the virus affected by temperature? We read all sorts of things on the internet. If so, at what temperature is it destroyed? That is the first question on my list of questions about the detail.
Should a vulnerable, at-risk person use public transport, be it a train, Tube train or taxi? The public are asking these questions. Should the elderly be using these facilities?
Can the virus survive any of the following circumstances: a hot drink; water; fruit juice; milk; beer or wine; a drink with a high alcohol content; an ice cream; a burger; takeaway food; or a restaurant meal? In each case, what is the lifespan of the virus? Again, the public are asking these questions, each of which should be answered separately.
What general information do we have on the lifespan of the virus? Can a fish, bird, animal or any other species catch the virus? The internet is full of explanations from people who cannot be described as authoritative sources for this information. Of course, the reference behind that is to pets. To what extent can a pet potentially be dangerous?
Can disposable polyurethane gloves be reused following washing? If so, in what fluids? Tens of millions of them are being sold on the internet. The question is, will they be effective if they are used more than once in contaminated circumstances? Will they wash in hot water? I know that these questions may seem naive to some but they are the kind of questions being asked by the general public.
Can a pair of gloves, whether they be made of fabric, leather, plastic or another daily wear material, pass on the virus? If so, can the gloves be decontaminated and reused? Can a simple face mask made of plastic be used repeatedly? Can it be washed for reuse? Is there a difference in terms of efficacy between a single-fabric face mask and a filter mask? I have two such masks here. The question is, are they in any way of use in the circumstances I described at the beginning of my contribution?
What antiviral substances are effective in killing the virus? Also, what substances are ineffective? Is there a base alcohol requirement in any decontaminant? Can the virus survive on any of the following inanimate items and, if so, for how long? Again, we have seen material on the internet, but we have nothing authoritatively on whether and how long the virus can survive on: a light switch; a newspaper; a piece of correspondence; a letter; a fabric, such as clothing; furniture; metal items; glass; a milk bottle; a plastic container; a piece of china; cutlery; a coin; a bank note; plastic packaging on food; a cash machine; a computer; a mobile phone keypad; a handle; handles on public transport, such as on a Tube train; a handkerchief; a toilet seat; a toilet chain; a towel; or a petrol pump nozzle. There is no authoritative information on these items, and we are getting into a dangerous period.
I have listed some of the items that I have been asked about—and there are more. The public will want clear advice and individual answers that identify the likelihood of contamination for each listed item and, crucially, the length of time that the virus could survive under such inanimate item headings.
What advice can be given on the possible contamination of food, such as cold meat, cooked fish and poultry, raw meat and fish, fresh vegetables and salads, fruit, cheese, and spreads, including butter? It might be that the process of vacuum packing affects contamination one way or another—who knows?
Will the Government publish the stats on the age of persons, which I referred to before, who fall under the following categories: in hospital care and deceased—which I referred to before?
Finally, is Worldometer a good source of information? It seems to be the primary source for the public of information on this matter on the internet.
In conclusion, I fully understand that to some, many of my questions may appear to be simplistic, naive and an indicator of my own ignorance. Such criticism is of no concern to me. These questions will stand the test of time. There are 67 million people in the United Kingdom, and these are the kinds of questions many of them are already asking on the internet and in public meetings. We are Parliament and it is our role to secure answers on these from the Government. I do not expect answers to them today, but only after they have been fully considered. I hope that they are made public and are widely circulated to counter misinformation. I can only repeat that, when the public are told the full truth and given the full information in an authoritative form, they will respond positively and constructively. Until that happens, there will be nothing but panic, confusion, upset, frustration and, in some cases, dangerous indifference, particularly among the elderly and the vulnerable groups, who are the focus of my contribution today.
My Lords, first, I apologise to the Committee that I came in late. The business proceeded slightly faster than I realised, but I am most grateful to noble Lords for allowing me to intervene briefly.
The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, clearly illustrated the need for messaging out to the public. One of the difficulties is that the answers to many of his questions are just not known scientifically. It is a range of probabilities only; the way the virus behaves on different surfaces and with different substances is different. The infectivity may vary with the viral load to the individual as well as the individual’s own immune system. That makes it really complicated in terms of defining. You cannot give a false sense of security to people by saying, “Well, you are fit and well, and your immune system is okay”, because those people may become very ill, particularly if they have a large viral load. We saw that with the Chinese doctor who initially highlighted the problem. Tragically, he died.
I take this opportunity to ask a few questions. This order refers to Public Health England but we have devolved Administrations, and Public Health Wales and Public Health Scotland operate differently. Some aspects of this statutory instrument concern the police and justice, yet the Ministry of Justice and its overarching responsibilities are not devolved, so there is a difficult interface between the devolved and non-devolved competencies. Can the Minister provide some reassurance on the daily round-table consultations that are going on to make sure that decision-making is absolutely seamless and that the devolved Governments are taking forward—and, I hope, mirroring—such legislation so that we do not end up with different systems operating across what are effectively artificial borders? In areas such as Shropshire, there is a huge amount of cross-border flow between England and Wales. Linked to that, can the Minister clarify that equipment, and its distribution to where it is needed, is also part of the consideration of the protection of the public so that we do not have an outcry if one part of the country cannot access equipment as well as another?
Testing is difficult: it is a complex and finite resource, and it takes some hours to run the test. A lot of the public do not understand that it is not like a pregnancy test; it is not a quick dip and a quick answer. With such a finite resource, will the Minister clarify where the governance sits for the management of negative results? One of my anxieties is that people may have a false sense of security from a negative result, because they may get the infection the day after it and subsequently become positive. Although it is helpful to confirm positive cases, a negative result does not mean that you are not going to get the coronavirus infection further down the road.
Linked to the cross-border issues, can the Minister also confirm that the use of beds and the availability of things such as ITU beds and ECMO are being considered across the whole country? I worry that difficult decisions are going to have to be made and it will be very important to have clear standards against which to make them. If it looks as if we are becoming like Italy, that will certainly more than stretch services to the limit; it will take them beyond it.
Will we need additional statutory instruments for the reregistration of people with healthcare professional qualifications of any sort? If so, when will we see them? I was rather hoping that it might be today. This relates to my earlier question about registration on specialist registers. Is the GMC working to find alternative ways of putting those who have completed training on the specialist register without bringing them all together in an exam hall, which seems to be an unwise move when their competencies have already been assessed through training?
That concludes my questions, but I thank the Minister for his clarity, for explaining things really well, for answering questions on the Floor of the House and for answering unanswerable questions with such honesty. It is terribly important that he and those advising him try to be very clear and open about the things that we do not know.
My Lords, I will start by talking about two matters that are not central to the regulations but which are important pieces of context. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his incredibly candid and heartfelt comments, which none of us here could help but be moved by. I would also like to express sympathy for his personal situation. We all know friends, relatives and people who are in a vulnerable position. While the CMO’s advice is that for a lot of us the virus does not present a huge risk, for some people it does. That cannot but be on their mind and we think about them a lot, so I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing that message of seriousness and his personal testimony.
I will also address directly the noble Lord’s questions. I am afraid that I cannot answer the important technical questions he asked; I am grateful for his appreciation of that fact. However, I reassure the Committee that our approach is to seek to be as transparent as we possibly can be. In answer to the noble Lord’s question, there is a daily update on the PHE website, where all the figures that we know and can prove are published—they go up at 1.45 pm every afternoon. That is a serious matter, and we are looking at ways of making that a more easily accessible dashboard with a deeper set of numbers that you can look at locally; we could then publish as reasonable and proportionate an amount of figures as possible while keeping secure the anonymity of those involved.
The other part of our approach comes very much from the spirit of the CMO himself, whom many of your Lordships will have met. He is an enlightened character who is extremely committed to evidence-based policy recommendations. We all plague him with questions much along the same lines as those the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked, seeking from him reassurances about particular technical questions. He is able to speculate and to say, “Maybe this or maybe that, but I can’t give you any clear reassurance on that because there is no data on it”.
One of the things about trying to preserve the pact with the public that our decision-making is supported by evidence is to avoid going into the kind of tempting speculation that the situation draws you into. There is temptation there, but, as a cardinal rule, we have to apply a self-restraining ordinance on trying to give people the answers and the speculation that, emotionally, they naturally want. The questions of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, are exactly right, and I reassure him that battalions of scientists are trying to get to the bottom of those answers. Lots of evidence is being worked up, and I believe that answers to many of those questions will be forthcoming. However, until they have the sign-off from the scientists, it is not right for us to indulge in speculation. That is the foundation of our approach, which I mentioned earlier. Although it is incredibly frustrating, from a public policy point of view it is the right approach. However, I will try to address just a couple of the questions that the noble Lord asked, without falling into my self-defined bear trap.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked about masks. Broadly speaking, except for the most comprehensive hazmat suits that cover you from head to toe, masks are mainly used to limit the number of germs that you emit rather than that you consume. I think we are all interested in the work going on in Taiwan, where all schoolchildren wear masks, not to protect them from the germs but to try to stop them infecting the people next to them. That is an interesting insight, but it is not the approach that the CMO has recommended.
On the delicate issue of mortality rates, I completely sympathise with the noble Lord’s point that there is wild speculation on these numbers, and it would be fantastic to have a more reliable set of figures. I will say only that it is extremely difficult to know mortality rates, because you simply do not know how many people have the virus in the first place. Large numbers of people are infected and infectious but completely asymptomatic and never go near a test kit, so we cannot know what the mortality rate is at any age. I recommend that the noble Lord treats all mortality rates data with great suspicion. It is not the way we are guiding ourselves.
On the coalition on vaccines, the noble Lord is entirely right that substantial resources will be needed to mobilise a usable vaccine around the globe. However, the advice we have is that creating a vaccine for a completely new virus will take longer than the cycle of this virus through the population. While that work is being done, and the Government are supporting it as a matter of urgency, it will not provide a quick or easy answer to our situation.
A lot of the public have asked about pets. It is important. We are aware of reports that a pet dog whose owner tested positive reportedly contracted a low-level infection. Those reports are causing a lot of concern, but the WHO says that there is currently no evidence that pet animals can transmit the disease to humans and the story has been greeted with scepticism by scientists I have met—but we do not have scientific evidence on that.
All noble Lords asked about the devolved Administrations. I shall clarify two things because there is an important point here. The regulations are for England only. We are working extremely closely with the devolved Administrations. There is an extremely good spirit and an extremely collaborative approach. We do not see an administrative or policy issue at the moment. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have made it clear that a coronavirus Bill is being considered and one of the matters that could be considered in such a Bill, were it to be introduced, might be the formalisation of these regulations to bring them into line across the four nations. I cannot give cast-iron reassurances on this because we have not published the Bill. It has not been through the process, but we are very conscious of this issue. It is a big priority, and I reassure the Committee that the conversations with the devolved Administrations are working very well and we are hopeful that a solution to this obvious lacuna will be addressed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about directors of public health. I know that she is concerned about them. The public health consultants who are described in the regulations are members of a register that is run and controlled by Public Health England. They are not the same as directors of public health. I completely understand that there is an argument to be made that perhaps they could or should be directors of public health, but that is not how the regulations are currently drafted. Instead, they are people who are on the register. If the noble Baroness would like to know more about that register, I would be happy to send her details and perhaps a link to where the details can be found.
In the past they have been on that register, and the big concern is the move from one department to another. If I am being told that that is not the case, that is not the feedback I am getting from directors of public health. As the Minister knows, I have other concerns about the relationship between Public Health England and directors of public health, which is why I asked for clarification.
I completely understand the point of clarification. If there is information available on what proportion of directors of public health are also public health consultants, we will share it with the noble Baroness. However, the way that the regulations are drafted at the moment means that the powers in the regulations are held not by directors of public health but by public health consultants.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again but the point is not about the register kept by Public Health England. My point concerns the definition of public health consultant—I am afraid that Hansard now has the relevant document, otherwise I would quote from it—and most directors of public health have to do that qualification because the job description, which is in the statutory guidance, says that they must be registered. That is my problem, and I know that it is clearly a problem for some of them as well. There is a bigger issue here. Should this become a pandemic and we see a large spike in numbers, we will need everyone qualified in public health to be able to do this, and there seems to be a problem in excluding the people at the heart of managing coronavirus within their wider communities.
The noble Baroness makes a very reasonable point. My understanding is that this decision was made not on a personnel basis but on an administrative basis. We are seeking to restrict the number of people who are able to execute these potentially quite serious powers. Having a list of available people is a legally clear and responsible way of doing things, but creating a new administrative definition goes beyond the powers of these regulations. However, I have already taken on board the noble Baroness’s points about the role of directors of public health in this epidemic. Those points have been listened to and are being followed up, and I will continue the dialogue that we already have in place on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked why the 2008 powers are not sufficient. The answer is that it is mainly for practical reasons. The 2008 Section 2A powers give local councils powers but mobilising local councils to do things, sometimes at the weekend, sometimes at ports where they are not necessarily administratively present and sometimes overnight, is administratively a challenge. We found that in practice during the containment at Arrowe Park, it was really Public Health England officials on the ground who dealt with the situation and who needed these powers both in their back pocket and in their administration of the situation. That is why we have sought to do this. It is fair to say that a lessons-learned review is expected in the years to come and this will be the kind of issue that we will look at again.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked what the difference is between detention and isolation. Although I do not have the legal definitions in front of me, my understanding is that isolation can be in someone’s house—literally holding them away from the rest of society—whereas detention involves confining someone to a place that they cannot leave, such as a police cell or a jail. Both are covered in these regulations. It is worth saying that you could, for instance, seek to isolate someone in a hotel room near the Arrowe Park facility and that would be covered.
The noble Baroness also asked about magistrates’ courts. I reassure her that MoJ colleagues were fully consulted on this and they did not see a problem. The objective was to try to create a low bar for an appeal to make the appeal process as easy and accessible as possible, recognising that these are very serious powers and we want to make them as sensitive as possible. In terms of police involvement and whether the police would wear suitable suits, they absolutely would. Police officials are highly protective of their workforce. Public Health England is working closely with the police to ensure that they have both the guidelines and the kit necessary to protect the workforce.
On the term of the regulations, I agree with the noble Baroness that two years is longer than we hope or pray this virus will continue. However, the advice from the CMO was that we cannot necessarily plan for that. Viruses sometimes last longer than expected; they can create multiple strains, and it may take time to have the lessons-learned review and to bring in new powers. That said, it is also possible that a coronavirus Bill that overtakes these regulations will be brought to the House later this month and the sunset clauses would necessarily be included in that.
Will the Minister reconsider something that he said to me? He said that he could not answer many of the questions that I asked. Almost all of them were to do with contamination, and virologists can answer them—I am told by a virologist that they can all be answered; we went very carefully through them. Can the Minister take each of the questions that I asked and answer them individually on the basis that virologists will be able to give him the information that he requires?
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is entirely right to press me on this. I should be honest: obviously, I am not a doctor. However, we have arranged for another briefing from the Chief Medical Officer in Room G at 4 pm tomorrow. He is the epidemiologist who can convey to the noble Lord both the extent and limits of current understanding of the virus. I have sat with him sufficiently long to have the impression that a lot of speculation, guidelines and history are associated with such viruses that we might reasonably apply to this one. However, its behaviours are not fully understood. Although the genome is broken, we do not fully understand its genetic makeup. The advice from the CMO generally is to hold back on pretending to understand things that are not yet fully explored.
I say to my noble friend that I would not use the internet as my source of information on any of these issues. I would use the BBC, which has been running extra programmes—in fact, I have just received an email from the head of the World Service listing all the extra programmes that the BBC is producing which will give us lots of advice. Its website is useful. I want to put it on the record to my noble friend that I would steer clear of those sorts of discussions on the internet and look at the BBC’s websites.
The great majority of the British population will not go into some of the technical areas that my noble friend would go into. That is why I am trying to find a single source of information for people to be able to go to which is authoritative and gives answers, with the latest information and knowledge available, on each of the questions I have asked. I persist in believing that the Government should arrange for this information to be made part of the public debate, because it would be helpful to everyone concerned.
I understand the point and will take it back to the department.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about testing. She is entirely right to focus on that, because we are at the stage of the cycle when questions about testing are very much on our minds. She asked where we were focusing our testing. The most important area for testing is those people who are most vulnerable but who might have the virus. She is entirely right that someone who tests negative today may well test positive tomorrow. Where that is most dangerous is within hospitals. Hospitals are centres of infection. It is one reason why, if you phone 111, they recommend that you do not go to your hospital or your GP. Therefore, testing within hospitals is where we are focusing our resources.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that we are moving incredibly quickly to increase capacity of ECMO beds. There will be a huge amount of pressure —we cannot hide that—but those most in need are being prioritised. Training is going on to support those with the technical knowledge of how to run the equipment and purchasing is going on to create new kit.
On reregistration of clinical professionals, all the concerns raised in Committee and in the Chamber about the provenance of people seeking to reregister are fully understood. Provision is being made to make sure that criminal record checks and competence checks are in place. However, these remain incredibly valuable and skilled people who can support us, so we are determined to mobilise them if possible.
I referred to difficult decisions possibly being made. Can the Minister reassure the Committee that the Government are working with the heads of all the royal colleges—particularly their ethics committees—to make sure that unified guidance is going out to commissions across all the disciplines? Unfortunately, the different colleges have at times a tendency to work in their own silo, but this will be across all of them. It will have to go across the professions, rather than across the individual trusts and internal organisations. Therefore, a round table or regular consultation with them to make sure they all give the same messages is important, and it would reassure the public.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, makes an important point. The CMO currently has a weekly call with all the presidents or relevant members of the royal colleges, and there is an incredibly energetic interface between officials at PHE and the colleges. New guidance is being drafted at the moment. As our understanding of the epidemic increases so the CMO’s certainty and confidence about the advice he is giving will be clearer. We are therefore seeking to publish really good guidance for employers, voluntary organisations and all the groups who need it. The CMO also works closely with the CMOs of the other three nations, and I understand that is an incredibly healthy and productive relationship. It has served very well to ensure that the devolved authorities are fully involved in decision-making and that there is transparency on key issues such as ethics, which the noble Baroness was right to mention.
Committee adjourned at 6.03 pm.