The following Statement was made on Wednesday 3 June in the House of Commons.
“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the introduction of public health measures at the border in response to coronavirus. This is another cross-government measure in our continued collective fight against the virus, to save lives and protect the British public by preventing a second wave of the disease. Our priority has always been to protect people’s health and to keep those in the UK safe from this virus, and introducing this measure now will play an important role in our fight against coronavirus.
The tragic events of recent months have shown that, in a world of serious threats to the UK and to global stability, pandemics have no boundaries. Throughout this national endeavour, the introduction of public health measures has been to protect the public, keep the virus under control and now to protect our hard-won progress as we move in the right direction.
The scientific advice has been consistent and clear, and thanks to the collective determination and the resolve of the British public we are past the peak, but we are now more vulnerable to infections being brought in from abroad. Some have suggested that public health measures at the border should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at that time, the scientific advice was clear that such measures would have made little difference when domestic transmission was widespread. Now, however, the transmission rate in the United Kingdom continues to decline, and international travel is likely to resume from its record low. Therefore, the scientific advice is that imported cases of the virus pose a more significant threat to our national effort and our recovery. Travellers from overseas could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the UK, and therefore increase the spread of the disease. The Government are therefore taking a proportionate and time-limited approach to protect the health of the British public.
I will recap and recall to the House the key points of the public health measures that the Government are putting in place from 8 June. These temporary requirements are set out in full in the Health Protection Regulations laid today. These will apply across England, with the devolved Administrations laying their own regulations to set out their enforcement approaches.
To limit the spread of infection, arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days; this is the incubation period of coronavirus. This follows expert medical advice and is in line with the NHS test and trace service self-isolation period for anyone who has been in contact with the disease.
Working with key industries, the Government have deliberately included a limited number of exemptions to the self-isolation rules, to allow essential services and supply chains to continue, keeping food on our tables, and getting vital medicine and PPE to the frontline. The responsibility for sector-specific exemptions sits with relevant Government Departments.
Arrivals to the UK will be required to fill in a contact locator form, including details of where they will isolate and how they can be contacted. That form will be found on GOV.UK and a Government-led working group, with the industry, has developed a process for carriers to inform travellers about the information they need to provide in order to travel to the UK. The form must be completed in advance of travel to provide details of the journey. Border Force will be at the front line of enforcing this requirement. Passengers will require a receipt, either printed or on their phone electronically, to prove that they have completed the form. Border Force will undertake spot checks at the border and may refuse entry to non-resident nationals who refuse to comply. It will have the power to impose a £100 fixed penalty notice on those who do not comply. Our fantastic front-line Border Force officers are world class and are consistently working to keep our borders safe and secure.
The data collected will be used by Public Health England, which will undertake checks and ensure that people understand and are following the rules. If Public Health England has reason to believe that someone is not following the law as they should be, it will inform the police.
We trust the British people and our visitors to play their part in acting responsibly and following the rules to control the spread of coronavirus, but we will not allow a reckless minority to put our domestic recovery at risk, so there will be penalties and enforcement for those who break them. A breach of self-isolation could result in a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution. This programme will work alongside test and trace to help us further minimise the public health threat of coronavirus.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Secretaries of State for Transport, Business and Health have worked across Government and the devolved Administrations, with science and industry, carefully to develop the policy for this public health action. In line with all Government Covid-19 measures, and as I announced on 22 May, the measures will be kept under regular review to ensure that they remain proportionate and necessary. I can inform the House that the first review will take place in the week commencing 28 June, and the measures will be assessed on an ongoing basis thereafter, together with all other measures to fight this disease.
We will publish in due course more information on the criteria that must be satisfied for these health measures to be lifted, but I can update the House on some factors that will be considered. These include the rate of infection and transmission internationally and the credibility of reporting; the measures that international partners have put in place; levels of imported cases in other countries where there are more relaxed border measures, and the degree to which antibody and other methods of testing prove effective in minimising the health risk.
Country-specific reports will be provided to allow us to monitor global progress, but we will consider reviewing these measures only when the evidence shows that it is safe to do so, because public health will always come first. As we have considered for all our cross-Government Covid-19 measures, we will take into account the impact on the economy and industry.
The aviation and travel industry is home to some of Britain’s most successful businesses and supports thousands of jobs. Across Government, we understand how tough the public health measures to prevent a second wave of coronavirus are for this sector. The industry has a proud record of making the safety of its passengers and staff its No. 1 priority. It also has a record of dynamism and innovation. Engagement with the industry is crucial, and we are asking it to work with us on these measures.
We are liaising with bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation on this and other Covid-19-related issues, and we will continue to work closely with companies and carriers. That is why, with my right honourable friend the Transport Secretary, we will tomorrow host a round table to work across the travel sector and the broader business sector on how we can innovate and move forward together and form a long-term plan for the industry. The Government and the industry share the same aim: to get Britain and our economy moving again in a way that is safe and practical for everyone.
Our priority has always been the safety of our people. That has driven our evidence-led cross-government approach to this whole crisis. The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel abroad, or against any travel at all to countries where the risk of Covid-19 remains unacceptably high. There has been engagement with embassies representing countries around the world to explain our approach. By taking this public health action alongside our other measures, including test and trace and continued social distancing, we will ensure that we can have greater freedom in the longer term. Of course, that includes international travel corridors, a subject that has already been discussed in the House this afternoon.
Currently there should only be essential travel, but we will continue to work across Government and with the sector to explore all options for future safe travel. Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned, and of course we will need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe. We are not alone in our fight against this disease or in the measures that we have taken to stop it.
These measures are backed by science and supported by the public, and are essential to save lives. We know that they will present difficulties for the tourism industry, but that is why we have an unprecedented package of support—the most comprehensive in the world—for employees and for business. We will all suffer in the long run if we get this wrong, which is why it is crucial that we introduce these measures now. Let us not throw away our hard-won progress in tackling the virus. First and foremost, we owe it to the thousands of people who have died, as well as to the millions of people across the whole United Kingdom whose sacrifices over the previous months in following social distancing have together helped us to bring this virus under control. I commend this Statement to the House.”
The Statement was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.
My Lords, I begin by expressing our thanks to our Border Force staff for their tremendous work, which is sometimes overlooked, in keeping our country safe. Regulations were laid yesterday to bring in the measures announced in the Home Secretary’s Statement in respect of the 14-day self-isolation period for people coming into this country, as from next Monday. There is no impact assessment with the regulations, which is due, we are told, to the rush with which they are being introduced. This is despite the fact that the Prime Minister gave notice of these quarantine measures nearly four weeks ago in his televised address to the nation. Surely the Government are not bringing in such a significant measure without providing some meaningful information on both the expected and presumably favourable impact they will have on the number of new Covid-19 cases coming into this country and their expected economic impact on the airline, travel, tourism and hospitality sectors, including on jobs. Can the Government now provide the meaningful information they have on these two aspects that led them to the conclusion that introducing these particular measures was imperative?
In the Statement, the Home Secretary said:
“Some have suggested that public health measures at the border should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at that time, the scientific advice was clear that such measures would have made little difference when domestic transmission was widespread.”
Actually, people like me were not suggesting that sensible screening measures at the borders should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak, as the Home Secretary claimed and when no doubt the scientific advice was that that was a bit late. What was being called for was for such measures to be taken before the virus had really taken hold and the figures were low, yet when we were well aware of the extent of the problems already building up elsewhere in other countries, including in Europe. We did a limited amount of quarantining at first, but then it stopped. Now we are told that it is necessary. Given that, why was it stopped when large numbers of people continued to enter this country, certainly prior to our lockdown? Why is it necessary now, when other countries are beginning to ease their restrictions, if it was not necessary much earlier?
There was always one significant way that the virus was going to get into our country, and that was from people, or goods, arriving from or who had been to destinations that already had it. There must be a strong suspicion that, as with PPE and with testing and tracing, the measures were not in place when they should have been because the Government were caught unprepared and were too slow. As a result, the capacity to introduce and apply appropriate measures was just not there when it was really needed.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary was asked by the shadow Home Secretary to make available the scientific evidence on which the measures announced in the Statement was based. I am now asking the Minister to give that commitment on behalf of the Government when she responds. It is not enough to say that scientific advice will be published in due course. Information and evidence must be available already, otherwise how could the Government’s decision to introduce the self-isolation measures from next Monday have been based on scientific advice? I assume that these measures now have the wholehearted approval of SAGE, but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that.
The regulations have a sunset provision after 12 months and will be reviewed by the Secretary of State at least once every 21 days, with the first review on 29 June. Can the Minister, on behalf of the Government, give a commitment that they will now come back to Parliament before the end of that initial three-week window on 29 June to outline the Government’s proposed exit strategy from these measures and provide a comprehensive plan of support for all the jobs that are now even more at risk? Will she also give a commitment, on behalf of the Government, that there will be an Oral Statement to Parliament on each review date of the requirements in the regulations, so that the Government can advise Parliament of the outcome of the Secretary of State’s reviews and Parliament can question the reasons for any decisions made or not made?
Turning to the Explanatory Memorandum that relates to the SI affecting passengers arriving in England, paragraph 6.12 states:
“People who temporarily cross over the border from Wales or Scotland into England for a reason falling within these exceptions do not have to self-isolate … This is not applicable in relation to Northern Ireland which does not share a land border with England.”
Will the Minister spell out in a bit more detail precisely what this means in practice for Northern Ireland compared with Wales or Scotland? Why, if it is the case that Northern Ireland is being treated differently under these regulations from Wales or Scotland, is this necessary and unavoidable?
Finally, where does responsibility for the implementation of these regulations lie? I ask because the Home Secretary made the Statement in the Commons yesterday and our Home Office Minister in the Lords is responding today. However, the regulations implementing these measures are in the name of the Health Secretary. I know the Government are very keen to tell us that everything is dealt with on a cross-government basis, but where does responsibility lie for the implementation and operation of these measures? Is it with the Home Secretary, the Health Secretary, another Cabinet Minister—perhaps the Transport Secretary—or the Prime Minister? If things go right with these measures, and it is in the interests of the country that they do, we do not want to watch everyone in government trying to claim credit. If things go wrong, we do not want to witness an unseemly exercise in buck-passing.
My Lords, I would prefer to look forward, but I cannot avoid putting this measure into the context of current public attitudes. This is not just about quarantine; it is about how much confidence the public have in what the Government say and in what they tell us to do. There is a widespread view that these quarantine measures are unenforceable, and an even wider view that the Government have lost touch with reality. Today, the Prime Minister, in the vaccine summit, is urging the world to act collaboratively. Has it not occurred to the Government that, given our high rates of infection compared with many—probably most —of the countries to which people from the UK wish to travel, and to which they will therefore return, the risks to those countries are greater than to the UK? Last Friday, the UK had more deaths than the whole of the EU and EEA in total. Sir Patrick Vallance yesterday summed up what the public are thinking.
We have had monitoring and triaging at the border. Will that apply to those exempt from quarantine? I am interested to know from the Minister when the Government will publish in full the advice they have received, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has just referred, and the extent of consultation with stakeholders, including those who can reliably advise on the availability of tracking, tracing and testing.
Regarding enforcement, what discretion will there be on the level of fine and how will it be enforced when the recipient has returned abroad? We have just heard the Statement on the aviation industry, so I am not glossing over the issues with that by making just two points. Is progress being made in thinking about moves towards reducing damage to the environment by frequent flying? And, more immediately, how will the—presumably socially distanced—queues at the border be handled? We have seen images of Tuesday’s queues of MPs unencumbered by luggage, although possibly encumbered by baggage. Can the Government tell noble Lords the level of holiday bookings in place through to September? They must have talked to the industry.
It is not open to many people to take a holiday and then a period of isolation, so people must be cancelling. Many will have travel insurance. What do the insurers have to say about meeting claims on that basis? I hope that the Minister will not say that this depends on the detail of each policy. It is a wider point. I say that because I know that, in a different sector, there has been resistance to paying out when the insured thought that they had all the right cover.
I particularly want to ask about business travel. I had seen no comment on this until Mrs May’s observation yesterday that
“international air travel is necessary for trade; without it, there is no global Britain.”—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/20; col. 850.]
There must be many people who, as part of their work, come and go between the UK, France, Belgium and further afield on a frequent basis. Of course, there is also travel for family reasons. There are people who work in the UK in large or small microbusinesses but whose home is in France, and vice versa, or who work in both countries but not on a regular basis of at least once a week, as the statutory instrument envisages. Why not have an exemption for people who travel irregularly and less frequently? Would that not actually give more of a chance for an infection to show itself? We heard in the previous Statement that there is no minimum period for a stay abroad, even if it is a couple of hours.
Is there any exemption for people who need to travel for international humanitarian purposes? I do not mean health workers coming to the UK. I did find it ironic to read that services to ensure the continued operation of the aviation industry are exempt. What estimate is there—I particularly want the Minister to share this with noble Lords—of the numbers of people exempted through the 12 pages of categories scheduled to the SI? What guidance will be published on matters such as travel to and from airports, or, given the restrictions on the hospitality industry, finding a hotel in which to self-isolate? The Home Secretary said yesterday that this would be in advance of 8 June; well, it would have to be. What assessment has been made of the likely transmission from those who are exempt, as compared with the extent of transmission if there were no restriction?
People need to plan ahead as far as they can in uncertain times. The quarantine measures are to be reviewed in three weeks. I end specifically by urging the Government to reconsider that period and to apply a serious—not tick-box—weekly review, and, generally, by urging clarity and coherence.
I thank noble Lords for their questions. The science advice has been consistent. It has been clear that
“as the number of cases in the UK decreases, the potential proportion of imported cases may increase”.
So, as noble Lords have said, we need to manage the risk of infections being introduced from elsewhere. When the virus was at its peak, these measures would have been ineffective.
SAGE minutes of 23 March stated that
“numbers of cases arriving from other countries are estimated to be insignificant compared with domestic cases, comprising approximately 0.5%”.
It is for SAGE to determine when to publish its advice. Of course, the minutes have been published and are on the GOV.UK website. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what SAGE thinks of certain government decisions; it is for SAGE to advise the Government rather than approve government decisions. He asked about the next review date and whether there would be an Oral Statement on each review date. I am not sure about that, but I am happy to commit to doing one—and if I do not, I am sure that noble Lords will ensure that I do.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about the tourism industry. I recognise that the measures will have an impact on tourism and the aviation industry, which are significant contributors to the UK economy. The Government continue to support businesses in the tourism sector through one of the most generous economic packages provided anywhere in the world. We have always recognised that the measures we have taken to limit the spread of Covid-19 will have a substantial impact on our economy, including on sectors such as tourism, but that was essential to protect the NHS and save lives. The Government will continue to work with the travel industry and other countries through forums such as the OECD and the G20 to co-ordinate an international response. We want to ensure that the UK remains an internationally competitive destination for business and leisure and that, when it is safe to do so, UK residents can resume travel and support the UK’s outbound tourism sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about people travelling from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. Those arriving in England on a journey from another part of the CTA—Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands—will be required to provide locator details and self-isolate only if they have entered the CTA within the last 14 days. For example, if they travel to England through another part of the CTA but their journey started from a destination outside the CTA within the last 14 days, they will have to self-isolate only until they have spent a total of 14 days in the CTA. Those who have been in the CTA for longer than 14 days will not have to provide locator details or self-isolate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the penalty for breach. Given the high levels of compliance we have seen to our measures to date, we expect that the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures. The police will continue to use their powers proportionately and will engage, explain, encourage, and only as a last resort enforce. That is how they have acted all through this, but they will take enforcement action against the minority of people who endanger the safety of others. That is the right thing to do.
British nationals and foreign citizens who fail to comply with the mandatory conditions could face enforcement action. A breach of self-isolation would be punishable with a £1,000 fixed-penalty notice in England or potential prosecution and unlimited fine. The level of fine will be kept under review and immigration action will be considered as a last resort for foreign nationals. The legislation is created under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.
In terms of the proportion of arrivals who will be exempt, we think that it will capture an estimated 11% of arrivals. The noble Baroness also asked about travel to and from the airport. It is being advised that you do not use public transport to travel to and from an airport but take the car of the person you are staying with.
My Lords, while I thank my noble friend the Minister, I regret that I have to join the critics of this policy. When Europe is talking about freeing its cross-border movement—15 June is a likely date—we are in danger of freezing and closing ours down. This can only bring disastrous economic consequences to our country as we seek a global role. Can my noble friend the Minister name any Schengen country with a higher rate of infection than us? If she has not such information to hand, will she write to me with the relevant infection rates? While quarantine will reduce movement and risk, does not the fundamental fault of the scheme lie in the lack of selectivity between countries based on their levels of infection and our own?
I thank my noble friend. I can name one Schengen country with a higher rate per capita, and that is Sweden. Of course, each country has put in place its own measures. It is difficult to state the relative death numbers with any certainty now; it will be far easier to see with hindsight when we come through this pandemic, hopefully in the next few months. As for Europe, cross-border movement and why we are doing what we are doing now, I hope I can give my noble friend comfort in saying that we will keep these things under review. They are being reviewed every three weeks. Of course, what we want is to be able to lift restrictions and get this country moving and the economy back in action as soon as we possibly can.
My Lords, the regulations make clear that you do not have to complete a passenger locator form prior to arrival in the UK. You may not have internet access abroad or be computer literate. What happens if someone does not complete a form and is not one of the one in 10 spot-checked by Border Force at the UK border? How will their quarantine be enforced?
My Lords, it is advised to have a form completed before arrival at the airport. I understand that Border Force will check whether people have forms completed and will enforce if people do not. I assume—though not with absolute certainty—that forms will be available at the airport should people not have filled them in before they get there. There will be strict enforcement of the filling in of these forms.
My Lords, I would like to probe a little further the scientific basis of this decision. The Government keep telling us that they are being led by the science and scientists but, as I understand it, the scientific advisory group was not even consulted over this specific decision before it was taken, which is why there has been so much criticism from that quarter. Today, for instance, Professor Robert Dingwall said there was a need
“to get the level in this country significantly further down”
to ensure that quarantining travellers would be “a useful measure”. I have one specific question for the Minister: was the scientific advisory group consulted over this specific decision before it was taken? If not, what scientific legitimacy can the Minister and the Government now claim for the decision?
I refer to my entries in the register of interests. My noble friend will be aware that, within British sport, rugby league is unique in that three overseas teams compete in two of our domestic leagues—Catalans Dragons and Toronto Wolfpack in the Super League and Toulouse in the Championship. Each team plays home and away fixtures. A 14-day quarantine period that encompasses players and staff risks making any fixtures involving these overseas clubs extremely difficult, if not impossible, when the rugby league season finally resumes. Will my noble friend take this issue back to the Home Secretary? In considering possible sporting exemptions, will she ensure that rugby league, which has great experience in managing teams in and out of the UK, is fully involved in these discussions?
These are cross-government decisions where Ministers engage with each other. I understand the huge strength of feeling in rugby, football and the many other sports which people would love to have back and engage with. As I have said previously, the Government will regularly review its decisions and the rules that are in place every three weeks. We are committed to getting this country up and free and running—or playing rugby—as soon as we possibly can.
My Lords, I fully understand that this is a difficult judgment call, but I fear that it might isolate the United Kingdom. What issues have shaped how the Government have prioritised decision-making, given that protecting lives is fundamental? Safeguarding British industry that needs to de-risk its supply chain construction is essential, as is contributing to the economies of emerging markets on which the UK relies for supply and demand.
My Lords, I understand the rationale for the decision, which is that we should seek to constrain the transmission of the virus from areas with community transmission to places where it might otherwise be brought where community transmission has been controlled and constrained. The problem at the moment is that we have significant elements of community transmission, and there are a significant number of European countries where there is now no evidence of such transmission. It is the wrong way round. Will my noble friend at least tell the House that the Government will consider whether there is a case for some specific exemptions for those countries—principally, at the moment, our neighbours in Europe—where there is no continuing evidence of community transmission of the virus?
We will, of course, be taking such matters into consideration. I do not know if my noble friend heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary say yesterday that bilateral conversations were going on with countries across the world to see what kind of innovations we could bring forward in order to make movement easier.
My Lords, will the Minister give a categoric assurance that public health measures will not be used as immigration control procedures? What is being done to monitor the visa regime at British posts abroad before people travel to the United Kingdom? What procedures are being adopted to deal with the large number of asylum seekers who have landed on our shores in recent times? Can the Minister give further assurance that there will be no more fishing raids where these people have found accommodation? Otherwise, we will create a bigger problem than we are trying to solve.
The prime drive for the Government is not immigration control, but to ensure that we reduce this virus and the R rate, and that we save lives. The measures that have been put in place are not for any immigration reasons, although immigration enforcement could be used if people persistently flout the rules that we have just put in place. We will ensure that anyone in the asylum system is given appropriate accommodation, in line with public health guidance in terms of social distancing.
I draw attention to my declaration. It is not my intention to shoot the messenger—I both respect and like the noble Baroness—but perhaps she can pass on the strength of feeling in this House, and a very simple message. If the signal you are sending damages your higher education, business and trade, travel and hospitality, and is seen universally as irrational and unworkable, is it not time to stop digging?
My Lords, these measures will be in place from 8 June and will of course regularly be reviewed. I totally concur with the points made by the noble Lord. The last thing that we want to do is damage any of the things that he talks about, but we also have a duty to keep the public safe and healthy.
I am not sure whether SAGE was consulted on this matter, but the Minister will understand that on measures so consequential, transparency is in all our interests. In this spirit, will she undertake to ensure that SAGE and the CMOs of all four nations are consulted as part of the rolling review process?
My Lords, it is fair to say that SAGE advises the Government and the Government make decisions on the back of that advice; SAGE also published the minutes up to 1 May. There would be no point in having SAGE if the Government did not at least value the quality of its advice. At the beginning of this, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, thanked Border Force. I neglected to join him in doing so, but I also put on record my thanks to SAGE, which has been phenomenal throughout this process.
My Lords, from 8 June, some people arriving here will not only face 14 days of quarantine but have stamped in their passports “no recourse to public funds”. I am sure that the noble Baroness the Minister—unlike the Prime Minister—knows what that means: that they cannot access universal credit and disability, housing and child benefits, and are therefore at grave risk in the midst of the Covid epidemic, of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said this morning, we face a second spike. Yesterday, a court ruled that the policy is unlawful. Will the Government remove the requirement of “no recourse to public funds” to ensure that everyone in Britain has access to the help that they need?
I absolutely assure the noble Baroness that everyone in Britain will have the help that they need. “No recourse to public funds” does not mean that people will not have access to healthcare; they will. Nobody needs to find themselves without accommodation—the Government have purchased hotel rooms to ensure that—and nobody will find themselves without access to food either.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an adviser to IFM, which is a shareholder in Manchester Airports Group, but also as someone who I think has had this virus so I know what it is like. Of course everyone will understand the concern that there is to minimise infections in future, but because of that it is extremely important that we in this House—but also the public more widely—see and understand the scientific advice that lies behind this measure, when it involves a move from there being no health checks whatsoever at the border to what look like the most stringent controls anywhere in the world. Will my noble friend undertake that this measure will be subjected to really genuine review as soon as possible with a presumption in favour of a swift reversal, and in the meantime urgently seek bilateral arrangements to mitigate the very significant downside effects that noble Lords have already identified?
I absolutely give that commitment to my noble friend. The sooner that these measures are lifted the better, because it means that the virus will have been completely suppressed, the country will be opening up again and the economy will be moving. Manchester Airport, which I visited just before lockdown started—it was absolutely ghostly at the time, and I do not think any planes have flown out of there in the last few weeks—is my local airport, and I absolutely look forward to it being up and running again.
My Lords, it is widely commented that this is a three-week window-dressing exercise that is political rather than led by the science, in order to save certain faces. Can the Minister answer with a yes or no the question that was asked yesterday in the other place and earlier in this House by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Reid: was SAGE consulted on, and did it recommend, the measures in the new regulations? Yes or no?
Yes, my Lords, the Government are led by the science. It is up to SAGE if it wants to publish papers but it is absolutely not compelled to do so. It has published its minutes up to 1 May. As I said before, SAGE advises the Government and it is up to the Government to make decisions based on that advice.
I would like to follow up on the penetrating questions asked by the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lord Lansley. Surely it must be the case, and surely this is the logic of the scientific advice, that whether you need quarantine when you arrive from a particular country depends on the rate of infection in that country. If countries have very low rates of infection, why on earth are we worrying about arrivals from those countries? Should the principle of differentiation between countries according to their rates of infection not be a fundamental part of this policy if it is to be continued at all?
My Lords, that is why the UK is engaging with different countries and airlines on all sorts of considerations while it considers what the next stage of this process will be. The Government are very keen to review this as soon as we possibly can within the next three weeks, and then the next stages of decision-making will be stated.
My Lords, I have no regard for the opinions of Ryanair, which has refunded only 5% of its passengers, nor of easyJet, where 63% are waiting for a refund. However, will the Minister please reassure me about enforcement? If the police will not enforce the law yesterday, with massed demonstrators packed closely into Whitehall, how will this be enforced with individuals scattered throughout the country?
My Lords, the reason why the locator form is so important is that people will be contacted and enforcement carried out to ensure that people follow the rules. However, as has been the case through lockdown, I think people see the importance of looking out for each other, because each time we break the rules we run the risk of infecting our loved ones and people in our community.
Can the noble Baroness reflect on the difficulties experienced by police in the early days of the lockdown concerning regulation and law versus guidance? Can she tell us what lessons her department learned from that, and how we can make sure that the three agencies involved are very clear about the difference between statute and guidance?
Yes, this was the subject of a question to me a few weeks ago. There were some hiccups at the beginning of this process, and of course the media ran the odd story about the police perhaps being a bit overzealous. The police have, to a huge degree, got not only the consent but the support of the public. Something like 74% of the public think that the police are doing the right thing in how they go about enforcing—in fact, some people think that they should have been even stricter. But I totally take the noble Baroness’s point that people should understand the difference between what the law is and what the guidance is. The regulations are the law and the guidance assists in the application of the law.
I declare my interests as in the register, which include two jobs in Brussels, where I generally spend two days a fortnight—I am talking to noble Lords from there now. I am told that, under the regulations, if I do one day a week, I can travel to and from Brussels without being put into quarantine, and that these measures are backed by the science. But given that, this afternoon, Eurostar had not the faintest idea of what documents I would need to produce to escape being put into quarantine, and given that—with due respect to the Minister—I am still waiting for a reply to an email to her, what science was used to say that I should take four journeys a month instead of two?
I apologise to my noble friend publicly for him not having had an answer to his email. As he knows, the rules will start from Monday 8 June, so it is perhaps not surprising that Eurostar was not entirely sighted on some of the rules that will be in place.
My Lords, on arriving in Botswana on 27 February, my temperature was taken at the airport. I was asked for details of my visit and handed a leaflet explaining what to do if I felt any symptoms of coronavirus. Those with raised temperatures were taken into isolation and tested for the virus. Similar checks were in place in South Africa and Zambia. It was a surprise that, on returning to Heathrow Airport on 12 March, there were no tests at all—not even a leaflet. Why are we so far behind other countries which, with much fewer available resources than our own, followed the science? We are asking people now to complete a form, with no testing, and then letting them catch trains, buses and taxis to all parts of the United Kingdom. This achieves what, exactly? The noble Baroness is the best Minister in the House, but is this just another attempt to divert attention from the Dominic Cummings scandal?
I thank the noble Lord for that kind remark. He mentioned trains and buses, but it is actually advised not to take public transport. On his point about the temperature test, it tells you only that you have a temperature; it does not tell you why. The people who are incubating the virus will not present with a temperature, which is why we decided against temperature testing; it would either give false comfort or not tell the full picture. It literally just tells you: “You have got a temperature.”
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and indeed with other noble Lords in their warm support for the Minister, but I also agree on the need to stop digging now. Does she agree that it would have been much better to introduce these quarantine regulations in March, with the lockdown, and that they should now be amended to be much more selective because of the huge economic damage and small health gain involved?
My Lords, we will not have these measures in place for any longer than we need to, and, as I say, they will be the subject of regular review. Way back, between February and March, we had enhanced monitoring at the border because cases were low here. There was no point doing that when cases reached a high level. However, now that cases are back to a low level, this is the time to put these measures in place. However, I assure my noble friend that they will be regularly reviewed and that we do not want to keep them in place for any longer than we have to.
I agree with comments from other noble Lords and congratulate the Minister on all the work she does for this House and for the country. What advice would she give to people who are thinking of a summer holiday abroad this year, and indeed to those who have already paid a deposit for a summer holiday? Should they go ahead and pay the balance and look forward to a lovely trip because these measures will be long gone before the start of the summer holidays?
I am one of those people who would like a summer holiday and do not know whether I will have one. As I say, we will regularly review the measures that we have in place. We want people to have a summer holiday and we want to unlock the country as soon as we possibly can. There would be nothing nicer than for us all to have a nice holiday at the end of July.
Does my noble friend agree that, because of the very nature of large airports, regrettably, there is no easy option of discriminating between travellers coming from different countries, not to mention the problem of passengers transiting abroad?
My Lords, my noble friend is right that we will have to take all those different factors into consideration. On logistics, we will have to engage with different countries to see what innovations are available for us to ease some of the restrictions and start to make life easier for people. However, as I say, they will be regularly reviewed.
My Lords, I express sympathy with my noble friend for her valiant attempts to defend this policy. However, I can only echo the wise words of colleagues from across the House that one can see the loopholes in these regulations immediately. For example, could my noble friend confirm that anyone who flies in from abroad via Dublin will not be required to quarantine for two weeks?
If someone arrived from Dublin in the last 14 days, they would not have to quarantine. I can see that people will want to flout some of the rules and will try to find loopholes. I can only say that these rules are put in place to keep people safe and save lives.
Are these proposals intended to cover all airports or just the major airports? The same goes for the shipping ports. Does my noble friend remember that when we were trying to tackle illegal immigration people came through the minor airports? Secondly, are we to audit what happens, certainly at our major airports, so that a report can be done about this at a reasonable interval so that we know what has happened?
My Lords, I can barely hear my noble friend, but I assure him that all the airports that are open will be subject to these monitoring arrangements and locator forms. I am so sorry that I did not get the rest of my noble friend’s question. Perhaps we can take this offline.
My Lords, the time allotted for this Statement is now up. We managed to get through 22 noble Lords, so I thank them and the Minister for their brevity. The day’s Virtual Proceedings are now complete.