Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 1 June be approved.
Relevant document: 17th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
Approval period expires 27 June.
My Lords, the amending regulations that we are discussing were made by the Secretary of State on 31 May and came into force on 1 June, and again on 12 June, with changes coming into effect between 13 June and 15 June. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday of this week, there will be a further set of amendments made to the regulations next week.
I begin with the issue of sequencing, which I completely acknowledge is a concern and would like to address up front. Amendments to the regulations have been rapid and frequent. This has been necessary to ensure that the Government can respond quickly to the changing threat from this horrible disease. Events have demonstrated that the regulations have been a success and critical to helping us to reduce the infection rate and protect the NHS. However, the Government recognise that the measures have come at a significant cost to many aspects of our lives. The British people have made sacrifices that few would have previously predicted in order to control the spread of the virus. It is our duty to relieve them of these sacrifices by lifting restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.
The use of the emergency procedure, which involves the unusual step of bringing regulations into force prior to them being debated in the House, has enabled us to do just this. Through this process, we have been able to adapt social distancing measures to best reflect public health interests while beginning a welcome shift towards normality and reopening the economy.
I recognise that there may be frustrations because we have had to run several of these amendment processes in parallel. However, as I outlined to the House 10 days ago, I believe that government action and parliamentary scrutiny working in tandem, even under difficult circumstances, has demonstrated the merits of our constitution. Nevertheless, I wish to reiterate that we do not see this as a precedent for how government engages with Parliament on other matters in more usual times. I have heard the concerns of many noble Lords, I acknowledge their worries, and I am grateful to all parliamentarians for their continued support in this matter during this peculiar period.
Coronavirus is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in decades. That is why the Government needed to introduce these extraordinary regulations to put in place social distancing measures that would slow the spread of the virus and protect our NHS in order to save lives. I am extremely grateful to the public for their continued support for these onerous measures—a commitment which has been instrumental in making these regulations a success.
I am proud of the strength and resilience shown by this country. This strength and resilience has helped us to make great progress, culminating in the continued decline in daily death rates and the drop in our Covid alert level from 4 to 3. Now, we must look towards recovery and a return to our normal way of life as soon and as safely as possible.
On 11 May, the Prime Minister made a Statement to the House outlining the Government’s roadmap for easing restrictions as we entered phase two of the recovery strategy. This involved gradually replacing the current social distancing restrictions with smarter measures that would have the largest effect on controlling the epidemic but at the lowest health, economic and social cost. This began with the amendments on 13 May, debated in this House on 15 June, which were a small step in reducing those restrictions. The regulations were further amended on 1 June and subsequently on 12 June.
The 1 June and 12 June amendments, which we are discussing today, were crucial stepping-stones in this process. It has been necessary for the Government to respond quickly to the reduced rate of transmission and to protect individual rights, all the while ensuring that the regulations in place are proportionate and necessary. We are now looking ahead to phase three of the recovery strategy. Further amendments will be made to the regulations, which will allow us to go even further in relaxing the restrictions placed on the British people and the economy, while protecting public health.
I will now outline the changes made on 1 June, which included: first, allowing increased social contact outdoors, in either a private or public space, in groups of up to six people from different households; secondly, enabling elite athletes to train and compete in previously closed facilities; thirdly, opening some non-essential retail, while expressly providing which businesses remained closed; fourthly, ensuring that venues such as community centres can open for education and childcare services; and fifthly, ensuring that those required to self-isolate on arrival in the UK can stay in hotels. We also amended the maximum review period to 28 days. This longer review period ensures that we will be able to take fully into account the impact of any previous amendments before making further changes.
The changes made subsequently on 12 June included: first, increasing social contact for the most isolated through support bubbles; secondly, further opening of non-essential retail; thirdly, allowing individual prayer in places of worship; fourthly, and finally, opening certain outdoor attractions such as zoos and drive-in cinemas.
The Government continue to work on the process of easing restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, in line with the ambitions set out for phase three in the roadmap. Working alongside scientists and experts, we must act swiftly to respond to current infection rates and our assessment of the five tests that the Government have set out previously. I am sure that we will support the aim to protect and restore livelihoods by keeping in place only those restrictions which are proportionate unnecessary.
I am grateful to all parliamentarians for their continued engagement in this process and their valuable scrutiny, which is entirely right and an important aspect of each set of amendments.
My Lords, we are once again in the unsatisfactory situation of debating regulations that are already in place and, following the Prime Minister’s announcement early this week, now somewhat academic. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in opening this debate. We are, of course, in exceptional circumstances and the Government have had to act very quickly, but I would draw the Minister’s attention to the report today of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which urges the Government to ensure that legislation follows on more closely from any announcements they make. As the committee says, even a short gap between regulations being laid and their coming into effect would better enable those affected to prepare, having seen the law’s actual, detailed requirements, rather than just the headline announcements.
Public confidence would also be enhanced with the timely publication of the full scientific advice available to Ministers. When the crisis first occurred, Ministers were very fond of saying that they were following the science. This was much in evidence in the Downing Street briefings, with the presence of the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser. They have been less in evidence recently, although they did come to the last briefing in Downing Street this week.
The standing down of the Chief Nursing Officer when she would not endorse the behaviour of Dominic Cummings was a standout moment that did great credit to the Chief Nursing Officer—rather less so to Downing Street. Scientists are not above criticism, but surely, we are entitled to see the full advice going to Ministers. In the case of the ludicrous 14-day quarantine period for visitors to this country, we are still awaiting even a summary of the advice. Will the Minister say when it is going to be published? Would he accept that, if the public are to regain confidence in the Government, the full advice should be published?
My Lords, we play a game of illusion—a pretence that these regulations that put restrictions on citizens and keep parts of the economy closed are enacted with the agreement of Parliament. No. These regulations stem from emergency executive powers. Like lapdogs, we are discussing regulations that we cannot influence, revise or halt. Ministers sit in an office and decide the law, knowing that they are immune from normal parliamentary procedures and cannot be held to account. Maybe, back in March, quick-footed action was required due to the slowness of starting lockdown—but is who you can now meet in your back garden really an emergency power?
In the three debates we have had, I have not heard the Minister convincingly explain why we still need emergency legislation to gradually unlock the country. We do not live in a pre-Covid world, so we need to act and behave differently to ensure that the chain of transmission is slowed and broken. The Government should now focus on introducing a framework that allows proportionate, smart and targeted measures; they need to stop this executive, blunt, catch-all approach.
Powers and responsibilities need to be in place to hit local outbreaks fast and hard. Ministers say that powers are in place to implement local lockdowns. That is news to many on the front line and in local communities. Powers exist to close a building, but will the Minister inform the House who has the power to lock down a small area within a town or city when this is needed, and which laws stop that community moving about the whole town or city they live in? That detail is needed, not a general statement that the powers exist. The time for these blunt and undemocratic regulations has passed. We now need smart, targeted and effective local powers to break the chain of transmission and keep people safe. I look forward to the Minister convincing the House that these are indeed in place.
My Lords, I welcome the changes announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, which render discussion of these regulations rather academic. I suggest one more essential tweak to what was said on Tuesday. We are told that the one-metre rule needs additional mitigating factors. That is unnecessary waffle. We should say that at one metre face masks are compulsory for everyone, no ifs or buts.
Today, I want to turn to the investigation of death anomalies and how that must be done carefully and thoroughly. As my noble friend knows, there is a huge industry out there ready to denounce everything about our country as institutionally racist. There is no coherent BAME community. It consists of black ethnicities, Asian ethnicities and all other minority groups who are not white. While their death rates are higher than whites’, there are wide variations between them, so the Government should report on the individual ethnic groups, not just this grouping called BAME.
We must also get to the bottom of why men are three times more likely to die than women, fat people twice as likely to die and people with diabetes—and possibly a lack of vitamin D—also twice as likely to die. None of these conditions is anything to do with racism, but the anomalies are just as great, so we need to know if underlying health conditions are the root cause of death variations. Perhaps they are or perhaps they are not, but we must have an authoritative and detailed analysis so that it is not exploited by those who wish to find institutional racism where none may exist.
My Lords, my remarks are no criticism at all of the Minister, but I am deeply concerned about the regulations. They completely fail to include crucial mitigating measures, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has just said, which are necessary for each step of the reopening of the economy if we are to avoid a second wave of the virus.
In his detailed analysis of countries’ responses to Covid-19, Professor Jeffrey Sachs concludes that the Asia-Pacific region has been successful in controlling Covid using just three low-cost solutions: face masks—which is interesting—physical distancing, and test and trace. I do not think that face masks are mentioned at all in the regulations. Is that not remarkable when Professor Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the other day that people are safer one metre apart wearing masks than they are two metres apart not wearing masks? Yesterday, of course, the Prime Minister took further steps to open up the economy. Can the Minister explain why, when the scientific advice is clear that the wearing of masks reduces risks, these regulations do not pave the way for the compulsory wearing of masks in shops and other inside spaces where one-metre social distancing will be the norm?
Another yawning gap in the regulations is the absence of any mention of the Google/Apple app or indeed any other successful app used in other countries, and whether and precisely how such an app will be rolled out across this country in order to drive down infections and enable the latest plans to open up the economy to be carried out safely. Surely we need regulations now to put a successful app in place. The UK cannot afford to continue doing too little, too late to fight this virus. Christophe Fraser, disease epidemiologist at Oxford University, says that human tracing will not be enough to prevent a second wave. Will the Minister appeal to the Government to include in next week’s amendments to the regulations rules for the provision of a recognised app? If not, why not?
My Lords, we all know that certain areas of the country have suffered more than most from coronavirus, mainly the big cities but not entirely so. In my own county of Cumbria, we have three of the worst areas of the country, which have twice the average compared with the rest of the country.
I suggest that any response in which we loosen up will have to include a local variant if there is a resurgence of coronavirus. In particular, take those areas with many visitors. The Lake District National Park has 19 million visitors a year, with a resident population of 40,000. It is important that we have an assurance today from the Minister—and I hope we will get one—that if there is a resurgence of coronavirus in the national park then the priority will go to protecting the lives of the people who live there as opposed to the understandable desires of visitors who come and marvel at the area’s beauties; they are here but gone tomorrow, while others live here. I worry whether the Government have the will-power and the ability to stand up to the overwhelming tourist industry if there is a crisis. I hope they will do so and protect local residents.
Since we debated the previous SIs on 15 June, we have started to venture out, return cautiously to the shops, sit closer to a stranger and dare to hope that a summer holiday may be possible. These latest two SIs lift more restrictions for England. There is a balance to be struck between protection, thus preventing a second wave, and getting back to a new normal as soon as possible. For many pubs, the ability to serve takeaway meals has been an opportunity to try to keep revenue coming in. My local pub has turned into a takeaway service—with queues appropriately distanced—for older residents in the village and younger ones too, and that is much appreciated.
I am fascinated by a few of the decisions in these SIs. Why are we concerned about “elite athletes” but not young budding musicians? What made a legislator think that a place of worship would be an ideal setting for early years childcare? Does the Minister have any information about take-up, or registration to use such buildings? What consultations were held first with religious authorities?
Many will be glad that churches—and, I assume, other places of worship—can reopen for silent prayer. Usually these buildings are open but unattended. Can the Minister outline the sort of advice given about managing distance and keeping surfaces clear and behaviour appropriate?
I note that the Google Maps app has been collecting our movement data and, presumably, providing it to Public Health England to determine our behaviours out of lockdown. I do not doubt that by default we will have given our permission, but I wonder what practices were going on before Covid-19 and will continue after lockdown. Will the Minister please clarify the situation for the House and place a letter in the Library, copying in noble Lords speaking today? I am content to support these measures.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench. It is also good to see the spokesman for the Official Opposition in the Chamber. These issues are moving very fast, as the Minister said, but the key area for me now is the economy. The economy worsens day by day, and the focus now has to be on that.
As a nation, frankly, we do not need micromanaging. Even the Prime Minister says that the British people have good sense. I hear that pubs are going to have to list the people who are going to have a drink there. They know who they are having a drink with, and if they should fall ill then they know exactly who they are. We do not need any lists collected at the pub.
On cricket—and I declare an interest as president of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club—today we could quite easily handle county cricket on a one-metre basis, let alone club cricket. I know the ECB has been making representations. I hope that when my noble friend has finished with his machine there, he will actually think about that.
Weddings are coming back—hurrah!—but why can we not allow some hymns at a wedding? My goodness, it is not as if that is a major problem of illness. Open-air concerts are part of the tradition of England. They could easily be handled on a one-metre basis. It is a sad reflection on the role of religion in our society that churches were closed when people needed to pray together. They were then taken off the list a bit, but only after non-essential retailers.
On gyms, I thought people went to the gym to keep fit, but they are not allowed to open even though they have distancing.
Lastly, there is still the huge problem for the airlines of quarantine. The sooner that is gone, the more likely we are to recover as an economy.
My Lords, I welcome the regulations as a step in the right direction, but I wonder about the logic that is driving the changes. For instance, Primark could open before zoos could. That seems strange.
There is a question that I have asked twice in the Chamber; on both occasions, I failed to get a response, so I will try one more time. I am sure that my noble friend Minister read at the weekend what the Sunday Times wrote about the vast polling operation that is going on and the focus groups that are being held every week to ask the public—Conservative voters in particular—what they think would be the right policy responses to the Covid crisis. I can only believe that that was why we got extraordinary quarantine regulations saying that people could fly into this country and travel on public transport before being quarantined for 14 days. Can the Minister tell me that focus groups and polling are not dictating the shape of government policy on Covid and that, as we have heard repeatedly, we are being led by the science?
My Lords, once again, I want to concentrate my remarks on the interaction between today’s regulations and the wider issue of public policy on masks. I have argued for four months that, without masks, controlling the pandemic is impossible. That remains my view.
Today, I pray in aid a further report, Face Masks Considerably Reduce COVID-19 Cases in Germany: A Synthetic Control Method Approach. This report by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, initiated by the Deutsche Post Foundation, examined the policy of mandatory mask use in Germany. The report found that after their introduction in Jena, a city in Germany,
“the number of new infections fell almost to zero.”
The report’s conclusion states:
“We believe that the reduction in the growth rates of infections by 40% to 60% is our best estimate of the effects of face masks … We should also stress that 40 to 60% might still be a lower bound.”
I have consistently argued that mask-wearing should be the trade-off against any relaxation of lockdown. The evidence from Jena supports my case. A policy that lacks enforcement will inevitably lead to widespread non-compliance. I safely predict today that, in the event of escalating infection rates later this year, the Government will be pilloried for their failure to follow much of the rest of the world with a mandatory policy. Will the Minister please arrange for me to receive a fully considered written response on the IZA report and its conclusions?
My Lords, in his opening remarks, the Minister said that these measures had to be brought forward because of the need for emergency legislation to be rapid and frequent. As my noble friend Lord Scriven pointed out, that had been the case, and this House and Parliament had given the Government a fair degree of forbearance in the use of emergency powers. In our debate on the legislation, I said that such legislation should never normally be needed and that Parliament would never normally pass it—but we did. It should be commensurate that, when emergency legislation is passed, scrutiny and the ability to debate the measures that the Government bring forward are enhanced.
If the Government say that bringing forward these measures needed to be rapid and frequent, that cannot be said about the procedures in this House. With remote working and hybrid working, we could meet for many hours every day. There has been no limit at all on the Government bringing these measures forward sooner. The Minister says that he does so to afford scrutiny but scrutiny of what the Government are doing is impossible if it comes after the event. That includes this ridiculous situation where we are debating, in one debate, two measures that counteract one another.
On science, which has already been mentioned, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. It has been reported that a communications company that has been carrying out the advice and the Government’s work was recently issued a contract to do the same for the Brexit preparations after next January. Will the Government publish all the data that has been secured from that communications company from polling and focus groups, under the principles of open data, so that we are aware?
Finally, I understand the approach for devolution, which I am passionate about, but the science cannot say one thing for Northumberland and another for the Scottish Borders. What is the Government’s advice for those who live and work across the border? Should they take the advice on where they work or on where they live, at the destination or at the source point? Clarity on that point would be gratefully received.
My Lords, I welcome the regulations, particularly the (Amendment) (No. 4) regulations, which permit the opening of non-essential retail premises. I do so because they have enabled charities to open up their on-street retail businesses again.
When lockdown restrictions were imposed, charities relying on their high street retail arm for income were badly affected. Some charities can trade online but that income is nowhere near what they can obtain from on-street sales. Age UK stated that the closure of its shops resulted in a loss of one-third of its income overnight. Its website now gives the good news that the regulations mean that it is reopening many of its charity shops—in line with the Government’s guidance about how to do so safely, of course.
Charity shops on the high street perform a service to the whole of our community. They provide goods at low prices, making them accessible to those on low incomes. They provide a place where customers can feel welcome and included, when they so often feel excluded from society. They support the recycling of goods and are therefore good for the environment. Indeed, the Salvation Army made the point that many people have been clearing out their homes during lockdown and the goods that they are donating could help raise funds for its work supporting rough sleepers and to stock its food banks. Charities also provide opportunities for people to work as volunteers in their shops.
I will end by quoting the Charity Commission’s recent report, which said that
“we are stronger and better as a country the more benefit charity delivers.”
If this was true before the national emergency, it is being brought home as never before during and after it. Society needs charities to thrive. The (Amendment) (No. 4) regulations will help them survive.
My Lords, here we are again, engaging in perhaps the most farcical exercise of parliamentary scrutiny imaginable, with more coronavirus regulations, published days— in one case, more than three weeks—after government announcements and taking immediate effect with no time at all for anyone even to understand them, let alone scrutinise them properly. This is not a democratic way of operating. The Minister called this “sequencing” in his opening remarks; I call it undemocratic tactics. It is time for this to end.
We are going to need these urgent regulations for some time to come; it is right that Ministers have the ability to change the rules as and when the circumstances change. However, the way in which the Government are operating is not fair. They are imposing things on the country without giving us any chance to debate them—and, of course, improve them. Ministers tell us that there is a plan behind the scenes and that they are just waiting for the right moments to make the right decisions. If that is the case, there is a better way of going about this. There is little justification for not publishing these regulations before they take effect, or perhaps—here is a good idea—publishing a compendium of draft regulations that will be drawn from as and when appropriate. I would very much appreciate it if the Minister could take this back and explain that this House is deeply anxious about the number of regulations that are coming in so quickly.
I turn to one important issue that is being mooted at the moment. Can the Minister confirm to your Lordships’ House that these urgent procedures will not be used to abolish or interfere at all with the right to trial by jury? Any curtailment of this fundamental right must face the highest levels of scrutiny. Can the Minister give a clear assurance on this?
My Lords, the Minister will recall that my major concern about these changing regulations is about the credibility of government advice and growing public reluctance to do what it says. Pictures of crowded beaches and incidents such as the large gathering in south London last night, which required police intervention, suggest that many people are not staying alert or staying safe, and such behaviour is putting many more people at risk. The Minister makes a valiant defence of the Government’s position, but why does he think people are increasingly using their own judgment? Has he continued listening in recent weeks to Radio 4’s “More or Less”, with its weekly demolition of government statistics, and does he still feel that he could prove the programme wrong? Does he accept that the Government have lost credibility? Why is this?
We know that the Chief Nursing Officer was excluded from a press conference when she would not toe the line about Dominic Cummings. Yesterday, the Guardian listed eight occasions on which Professor Chris Whitty’s advice has diverged from that of Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister said, for example, that judgments about what could have been done better are premature, but the Chief Medical Officer says that there is a long list of things that we should look at very seriously. He highlights the failure to speed up testing very early on. Should we not learn the lessons of what could have been done better before we face the risk of further spikes?
My Lords, I join this debate as a relatively novice member of the House’s Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and it has not been a very satisfactory experience, in terms of the accountability of the Executive to the legislature. Of the regulations before us today, the (No. 3) regulation came into force on 1 June, was not considered by our committee until 9 June and is being debated today, on 25 June. Similarly, the (No. 4) regulation was laid on 12 June and not considered by our committee until it came into force. This is not satisfactory. We need a better process and I hope that the inquiry or review that will inevitably be set up at the end of the crisis will look at better methods of parliamentary accountability in national emergencies.
My other point is on policy. Regulations are not ready at the point when Ministers make announcements about the policy in them. That is bad practice, because it means that Ministers are making policy announcements without having a grip on the detail of what they will imply. That has to change, and change now, if we are to have effective management of what we can already see will be a very difficult period.
My Lords, yet again we are dealing with statutory instruments in retrospect, and that could in many ways be considered undemocratic. We are, however, dealing with a very peculiar situation in peculiar times. People are understandably worried that an easing of these restrictions will increase their vulnerability and it is vital that the wider public are reassured. Only two days ago, the Prime Minister announced further relaxation and it seemed that the Chief Medical and Scientific Officers were quite cautious about the recent changes and the removal of the two-metre rule. Just how aligned are they with Ministers and their political advisers? What progress has been made with research and clinical trials and the provision of a vaccine? There was reference yesterday in the media to many people being involved in trials of a particular vaccine. Will those people eventually be categorised and selected according to their medical background, their age and their job groups? What further progress has been made on track, trace and isolation?
I realise that there are a lot of questions there, but people require reassurance. They have been through a lot and made significant sacrifices in a very difficult time. Will the Minister also tell us what further medications may be available, apart from the one already specified? What stage are those clinical trials at? In conclusion, what provisions have been made, and will continue to be put in place, to protect residents and staff in care homes, to ensure that they do not become further susceptible to catching this virus?
My Lords, I am sure we all welcome any easing of these lockdown restrictions, although it is rather extraordinary to be discussing these regulations weeks late and after we moved beyond them yesterday. My plea, which the Minister has heard before, is that we should stop suspending our critical faculties. The Government’s own figures, which are probably inaccurate, state that five children under the age of 18 have died from this ghastly virus. The death rate in the population is less than one in 1,500—that is 43,000 deaths in a population of 66 million. My maths makes that less than a 0.065% death rate.
Each death is a tragedy, but we know that the elderly, the infirm and those with underlying health conditions are the most affected and at risk. They should shield themselves and we should give them support. But the young—indeed, those under 40 or 50—are at little risk of death, so let people get on with their lives normally. Scientific advice has been uncertain and contradictory, together with the absurd modelling by Neil Ferguson, from the very beginning. We have mortgaged our children’s future and ruined our economy on the basis of a fear that many believe will prove not to have been justified. To my noble friend I say: please move faster to lift all restrictions. I do not care if we all have to wear face masks or, indeed, if I, aged 70 next year, feel that I have to stay at home, but I do care that we get the country back to work—to a situation where our children do not have to pay for actions and policies taken during this pandemic for the next 50 years.
My Lords, in view of the Covid-19 virus, the Government need the powers to allow businesses to open, with certain restrictions. At the same time, the Government need the powers to shut down business premises if there is a spike in the area in which they are operating. These are unusual times. The Government are defining legislation in guidance according to the science and the expertise of scientists. Hundreds of thousands of lives could be affected if the guidance is not strictly followed by businesses. The Secretary of State must have powers to shut down or close any premises, or part of a premises, in which food and drink are sold for consumption, or to cease the selling of food or drink for consumption on its premises. As for hotels, food or drinks sold by them as part of room service is not to be treated as being sold for consumption on the premises.
This is a time when individual businesses in the hospitality industry must observe the guidance issued by the Government. It is a time when profits and health considerations collide, particularly for businesses. Any misjudgment or errors could put our NHS under stress and many lives could be affected.
My Lords, as I have said in previous debates, this legislation is highly retrospective, and that is to be regretted. Regarding devolution, Greater Manchester has a long history of integrated partnership working across all services and sectors. Throughout this crisis, we have worked closely with government to support and develop responses to the pandemic. The Government’s response has in many ways been commendable. However, as we reach the end of this period of lockdown, it is an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned, particularly in relation to devolved powers and funding for local and city region authorities, along with the co-ordination between national and regional government.
My noble friend Lord Scriven’s comments were right on the nail, as usual. This is about emergency legislation and, in certain cases, the misuse of it. I have heard people such as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who I respect immensely, talking about how the British people know best and letting the forces of nature take their course. But did he see pictures from the beaches at Brighton or Bournemouth yesterday, or the pictures from Brixton last night? That is the real problem. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, quotes figures. Perhaps we should have T-shirts made, “I am the 0.65—one of the lucky ones”. Someone has to take control of the situation. If this is a long, hot summer and we ease the lockdown for lots of people up and down this country, it is not rocket science to understand what will happen.
The best people to deliver and control this would be local authorities, city regions and people who understand the make-up of their areas. The sooner the penny drops with devolution, that is where the real power will lie. We can control isolated outbreaks of the pandemic in isolated areas, but I do not know about the problems of Hartlepool, Southport or Plymouth. We know about Greater Manchester, and those powers should be devolved so that we can help even more to suppress this terrible virus.
My Lords, the mantra goes that “We are all in this together”. If Covid has shown us anything, it is that indeed we are all in this, but in no sense together. As one small example, at the beginning of the outbreak, after an extraordinary personal and affecting message from one of our front-line health workers, the supermarkets put on an hour of shopping for NHS front-line workers. For weeks now, these one-hour sessions have been abused by people who have nothing whatever to do with the NHS. Will my noble friend state firmly and clearly from the Dispatch Box that, where supermarkets have laid on an hour of shopping for our hard-working front-line NHS workers, everybody else should just wait until the end of that hour and leave it to them?
Will my noble friend also confirm that, after the review on 28 June, the 14-day quarantine will be dropped next week? Finally, echoing the words perfectly put by my excellent and noble friend Lord Blencathra, does he agree that “At a metre, wear a mask”? We need to get back to work. It is a tragedy that we have mortgaged our children’s future and are decimating so much of their education. Private schools have not missed one lesson; many in comprehensives and first or infant schools have had precious little education, despite the great work of our teachers. Does he agree that we need to get back to work, get our children back to school and do it all under the clear mantra, “At a metre, wear a mask”?
My Lords, we are now used to the idea of wearing a mask and I welcome the guidance on that. Will my noble friend and the Government consider adding to that the advisory use of wearing gloves? We are told that the danger is that the virus is lingering on surfaces. Should it not be mandatory, certainly for those preparing and serving food and refreshments, to wear gloves, and advised for everybody else, simply to keep us safer in that regard?
I share the concerns of those who have expressed the confusion surrounding what will happen in the event of either a second wave or, more likely in the immediate future, a localised flare-up. Can my noble friend point us this afternoon towards where and what the advice is on what local councils, other authorities and the emergency services should do in the event of a local flare-up? Does he share my concern about the recent outbreak of the virus in meat-processing factories? Is something causing that and how can the Government deal with it effectively? There has been an incident in Denmark where the virus has entered the animal population through mink farms. That is obviously very salutary, so are the Government keeping an eye on it?
I understand from the House of Lords committee which reviewed these two regulations—or certainly regulation 3, which is before us—that today is the date of the next review. I would be interested to learn what exactly that review is looking into, as of today.
My Lords, the sun is out and it is echoed in the school playground outside my windows. Traffic is on the road and families are meeting each other. I have witnessed notable discrepancies in understanding much of the guidance among the population. Regrettably, we are again debating these health protection measures retrospectively. I agree with the deep concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Hunt, and I have the following questions.
First, how are the Government supporting local authorities to implement guidance and monitor capacity, including access to PPE for care homes, the use of masks and social distances? Secondly, on day-care centres for adults living with learning disabilities, what assessment has been taken to mitigate their distress, including carers who may have experienced it during lockdown, in particular, to ensure that social work support and resources are available to staff to assess any abuse that they may have experienced? Thirdly, on track and trace among the most affected communities, do some of the tracers recruited have additional languages to ensure that language is no barrier to their engagement? Next, how are the Government ensuring that information on track and trace is reaching the most affected communities?
Next, on mental health, what steps have been taken to support front-line NHS care staff, as well as teachers and social workers, many of whom have experienced extreme distress as they continue their services? What access do these staff have to mental health resources and talking therapy? Similarly, in my locality women-led organisations such as Account 3 are currently providing a critical lifeline to women from difficult and disadvantaged family circumstances. They have experienced a high level of demand for services and not enough funding. Will the Government acknowledge their valiant role and efforts in mitigating some of the disproportionate impacts? Can the Minister let me know in writing what financial support may be available to them?
Undeniably, some minority communities have been profoundly affected by Covid-19. This has been substantiated by Public Health England’s reports, which have evidenced structural inequalities as a significant factor. Have the Government—
Can I remind the noble Baroness of the time limit on Back-Bench contributions?
Will the Government respond with policy measures to mitigate the impact, should there be a second wave? Thank you.
My Lords, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, I start by paying our respects to the families and friends of the bereaved. I give our thanks to all those who continue to fight coronavirus on the front line and behind the scenes. The publicity may be reducing, but we know that the battle goes on.
The two regulations in front of us set the scene for the continuing slow lifting of the lockdown. I echo the points made by my noble friends Lord Scriven and Lord Purvis: having sight of regulations in advance and debating them—with clearer, smarter guidance that does not confuse—should be possible now. I want to ask the Minister two questions as we prepare for recess at the end of July. First, some regulations will expire after 28 days. What plans are there to cover such renewals, should they be necessary after we rise on 29 July?
Secondly, these regulations were designed for the short term. What arrangements will be made should there need to be a major change to regulations—for example, a second national lockdown? I hope that in those circumstances, Parliament would be recalled to debate such a serious matter. I see that Israel is already in the middle of a second wave after lifting lockdown too early. The most effective way to manage and stop any second wave, whether local or national, is to have in place a full and effective “test, trace and isolate” programme to keep people safe, as well as transparent communications with the public. Their co-operation is vital to reducing transmission.
The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, have both said repeatedly that a full “test and trace” system will not be in place until autumn and that the app will possibly not be ready until winter. The weekly Test and Trace figures released this morning demonstrate that nationally, the Government failed to contact one in three of those who tested positive with Covid-19, down from 75% last week. For the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who is concerned about leaving names in restaurants, only 81% of contacts were actually reached, down from 90% last week.
The BBC’s dramatisation last week of the Salisbury poisonings made clear to everyone how important local tracing is. Experienced tracers long before the pandemic, our directors of public health and their teams are our unsung heroes. There are currently some outbreaks in England, in Kirklees and Leicester, that they are dealing with. However, local authorities are still reporting that they are not being given the full data from Public Health England to do their job on the ground. I have asked the Minister on three occasions when local authorities and directors of public health will get the full data they need at a local level. I ask again: when will they get that full data? If there is no answer today, can he please write to me and other Peers taking part to explain exactly what the data issue is?
There also remains the issue of the powers of a local authority to lock down. They are currently very limited—usually up to one building or one organisation only—and the Secretary of State’s answer a few days ago at a national press conference was that he would be the person to make every single decision. If we have hundreds of localised outbreaks, which would not be unusual, surely the local team, led by the director of public health and the local authority, should have the power to make that decision—after consulting Public Health England and Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care, obviously.
Effective lifting of lockdown remains important for our care sector. It is good that cases in care homes and among those cared for at home have now reduced but, unlike the NHS, care sector staff are still not entitled to routine weekly testing. Every time I ask the Minister this question, I am told that they can have a test if they are symptomatic—but this is not the rule for NHS staff. If the Government truly believe they have put a ring of protection around our care sector, they need to act now. When will regular testing for front-line care sector staff be made available to keep them and their patients as safe as those in hospitals?
Extra care staff, defined as those who work in patients’ homes and the non-elderly sector, are still not able to access testing through the testing portal. Can the Minister please have this error—I hope it is an error—remedied as soon as possible? Yesterday, care homes had still not received specific guidance on how they should manage the change in shielding guidance. When will that arrive?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer granted a VAT exemption on PPE to the care sector until the end of July. It is common knowledge that care homes and care companies are struggling with many extra costs. PPE is still around four times more expensive, and they have reduced income as a result of the pandemic. With many of their residents shielding, they must continue to take special care. Can the Minister ask the Chancellor for an urgent extension of this exemption for a further three months?
I recognise that I have asked a lot of questions. Will the Minister please write to me with answers to any questions he cannot answer today? I support the regulations.
My Lords, very conveniently, following on from the noble Baroness’s remarks, I will repeat the question that I did not get to put yesterday in the Chamber because other noble Lords and the Minister spoke at length and only six out of 10 questions were taken. I will take 30 seconds; this question is 75 words long. In April and May, a quarter of those who died of coronavirus had dementia, so access to PPE in care settings is vital. Is the Minister aware that the Alzheimer’s Society has learned that families are being charged up to £100 per week extra to cover the cost of PPE? Can he confirm that the newly announced Covid-19 social care task force will investigate the significant and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on people with dementia? I am happy if he writes to me with the answer to that question and puts it in the Library.
I have a point about a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, about polling, focus groups and the Government. I will check this, but she mentioned that a great deal of polling was going on. I am not surprised to hear that the Government are polling every single day, but she also said that the Government were polling Conservative voters. The Minister will be aware that this is absolutely against the rules, so I put a marker down. I suspect I am not the only person who may have noticed that. It will have to be followed up.
I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations we are discussing. As everyone has said, they address restrictions on businesses and public gatherings and are the third and fourth amendments to the coronavirus restrictions legislation. I particularly thank the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its rapid scrutiny of the fourth amendments to the legislation and noble Lords for their mostly disciplined contributions, which seemed to cover most points that the Minister will have to answer.
My noble friend Lord Hunt acknowledged that we are again having a theoretical debate and noted the unsatisfactory nature of this process. Indeed, several MPs from all parties said this in the Commons when discussing the third amendments last week. I think they get to discuss the fourth and possibly fifth amendments next week. We find ourselves in the absurd position of debating one set of regulations that have already been replaced alongside another set that are about to be replaced, given that further policy changes have been announced.
We understand why the affirmative procedure has been used when imposing lockdown measures to protect public health, but the justification is less strong when relaxations are being contemplated. If at all possible, such regulations should not be laid at the last minute, as highlighted by the scrutiny committee in its report published this morning. It notes that
“even a short gap between regulations being laid and their coming into effect would better enable those affected to prepare, having seen the law’s actual detailed requirements (rather than just the headline announcement).”
Given that the latest changes are due to come into effect on 4 July, will the Government commit to laying the fifth regulations within the next few days, to ensure that there is more appropriate lead-in time and to enable the JCSI to report and the House to debate the regulations promptly?
We know this is a fast-moving situation, and public awareness of when new changes come into effect is very important, given that failure to comply with the restriction regulations remains a criminal offence. While we welcome the longer lead-in time for the changes coming into effect on 4 July, as business needs time to prepare, I am concerned that many members of the public seem unaware that other relaxations are yet to take effect. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the public understand the current guidance, as opposed to forthcoming changes splashed across the news?
Does the Minister share my concern that ending the Government’s daily press conferences may have been premature, given that we are in a period of significant change? It has to be said, people less kind than me have said they are very relieved not to see the Hancock half-hour repeated day after day.
It is true that we face uncertain times and many families face unemployment, jeopardy and hardship. I wonder about the Government’s priorities. Could the Minister explain why opening betting shops, theme parks and suchlike seems more urgent than the future of a child from, say, a hard-pressed family who will have missed six months of school and possibly six months of learning and socialising? Those are millions of our children. Other noble Lords have mentioned this.
Why have the Government not put the same imagination and resources that went into, say, the rapid building of the Nightingale hospitals into how to get our children back to school? Why is the money for tutors not being made available for more teachers? Why are we not bringing back retired teachers, for example, like we did with doctors and nurses? We have a different kind of national emergency for our children, but it is none the less an emergency.
Parliament has a role to play in this, and these are not minor or consequential changes that can be nodded through without debate. They affect millions of people’s lives and debating them weeks after the event, as we said, is a bit demeaning to parliamentary democracy. I believe that such changes should always be accompanied by a Statement to Parliament, not showcased in a Downing Street press conference. We are not merely a rubber-stamping exercise to create the veneer of a democratic process. Can we be clear on the reviews? I appreciate why the Secretary of State will be doing things on an ongoing basis, but we need to see the reviews in some documented form so that we can understand the basis on which restrictions are eased and implemented. A progress to normalcy must include a progress to democratic accountability.
My Lords, I would like to say an enormous thanks for a valuable and important debate. Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to ease the restrictions put on individuals, society and businesses by these regulations as it becomes safe to do so. The amendments debated today play an important role in that gradual return to normal life, as outlined in the Prime Minister’s Statement on Tuesday. I remind noble Lords that the Leader of the House was here earlier holding a debate on that Statement, as she has done when there have been other announcement of a similar nature. I acknowledge the value of giving people warning of these changes, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I acknowledge the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about the sequencing of these amendments, which I think I addressed in my earlier comments.
I am pleased that, as of 4 July, we will relax additional restrictions in a safe way. This is an exciting step towards a more normal way of life. Nevertheless, this return to normal life requires constant and careful surveillance of the latest epidemiological evidence, making changes only when the facts suggest it is safe to do so. We understand the burden these restrictions have placed on not only individuals but society as a whole, so the Government will maintain only the restrictions that are necessary and proportionate.
To reassure my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, and in reply to the thought-provoking challenge made by my noble friend Lord Robathan, I say that, whatever the argument of those who are sceptical of the evidence-based approach to science-led policy-making, the Government are determined to be led by the science. We will sometimes be in conflict with public attitude and the headline writers, but that will remain our commitment. On that point, I cannot hide from the House that we remain ready to reimpose stricter measures if it becomes necessary. As the Prime Minister outlined in his Statement on Tuesday, we will not hesitate to apply the brakes if a national-level response is required.
The debate has provided an opportunity for Peers to raise points relating to the whole spectrum of our activity. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that on 23 March the French Government declared a widespread state of emergency that granted the executive branch enormous powers. This has not been our approach. I assure her that trial by jury remains a cardinal tenet of the British constitution.
I will take a moment to address some of the issues highlighted by noble Lords. I start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his remarkable and determined perseverance on masks and distancing. In part due to the kind of pressure that he has characterised, our advice will change from 4 July to one metre-plus, which is one metre’s distance plus mitigations when people cannot stay two metres apart. These mitigations will depend on the workplace or setting. For example, people must wear a face covering on public transport since it is not always possible to stay two metres apart. Put another way, this is one metre plus a face covering. In other spaces, mitigations could include installing screens, making people face away from each other, putting in handwashing facilities, minimising the amount of time people are together and so on. Having mitigations in place at one metre can be broadly equivalent in reducing transmission to staying two metres apart. We have set out Covid-secure guidance to help businesses take the measures that are right for them.
On face coverings, in reference to my noble friend Lord Blencathra, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who I mentioned, I say that passengers have been told they will be required to have face masks when travelling from 15 June. There are some exemptions for health, age or equality reasons. Transport usage has been slowly increasing as restrictions are lifted. Social distancing remains the most important way to keep safe, but on public transport it is not always possible to follow this guidance.
Will the Minister give way? I know that it is a strange thing to ask these days. I am using public transport all the time to get to and from your Lordships’ House. I can report that particularly men and young men are not wearing their masks.
The noble Baroness is entirely right. It is incredibly tough to persuade people to wear their masks. There is a huge cultural gap. That reason and the insights of our behavioural scientists have led us to move relatively slowly, despite the articulate and passionate exhortations we have had on this subject. We are looking at ways to encourage mask wearing, but it is a struggle and not one that we think that we can necessarily rely on.
On non-essential retail, in response to my noble friend Lady Anelay, I say that I have recently met the Association of Medical Research Charities and I acknowledge the pressures faced by good causes supported by charity shops. The Prime Minister announced a timeline for the reopening of non-essential retail businesses on 25 May. I hope very much that that can bring some relief to that important sector.
We completely understand the impact of the lockdown on the hospitality industry and, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, alluded to, garden parties. That is why I am pleased that, following the Prime Minister’s announcement, significant parts of the hospitality and tourism industry will reopen from 4 July. However, to make sure that this is done in as safe a way as possible, all hospitality indoors will be limited to table service. Our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact.
The regulations made on 12 June permitted the use of places of worship for individual prayer. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday, this will be relaxed further and places of worship will be permitted to be open more generally. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I say that this will be a welcome change for those who have been unable to use places of worship for their usual religious practice, and I thank those who have made sacrifices.
In response to my noble friend Lord Naseby, I say that here is no avoiding the fact that singing spreads an aerosol of virus-laden moisture into the air. On cricket, in the words of the Prime Minister, it is plain to everyone that the cricket ball is an infectious vector of disease spreading. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Clark, that we will not hesitate, in the face of a local spike, to bring back whatever lockdown measures are required to save lives and protect the NHS.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about progress on vaccine development. I am delighted that the UK is taking a leading role in this work. Our best chance of defeating the virus is by working together globally. We have put £84 million into accelerating the work of Oxford University and Imperial College. I pay testament to the work of the scientists there. The noble Baroness also asked about social care; we have set out a comprehensive action plan to support the adult social care sector in England throughout the coronavirus outbreak, including ramping up testing, overhauling the way PPE is delivered to care homes and helping minimise the spread of the virus to keep people safe.
In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, we cannot avoid the costs of PPE. The global price of PPE has risen dramatically. These costs will have to be borne somehow, somewhere. We are working with Treasury and DH colleagues to figure out ways in which they can be borne.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on shielding, from 6 July those shielding can spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people, including those outside their household. This can be in a public outdoor space or a private garden. Also from 6 July, those shielding will be able to create a support bubble.
I have answers to questions from a number of noble Lords, including on the devolved Administrations, parliamentary scrutiny and local powers. I will not be able to get through all of them in the time remaining. I thank noble Lords for all their contributions and valuable points during this debate. I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Liddle, that a lessons learned process will be undertaken when the time is right, but we are not through this yet.
These regulations have been hugely successful in tackling the spread of the virus. While recognising some local limitations, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, we are enormously grateful to the public for their sacrifices and to the NHS and social care workers for their hard work on the front line.
Before the Minister sits down, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, made a very good intervention—
To clarify the Procedure Committee guidance, as agreed by the House:
“All members participating need to be included on the published Speakers’ List and members are not able to intervene spontaneously during business”.
This is not designed to limit the participation of Members in proceedings. It is under the section headed “Parity of treatment” between those online and those in the Chamber, to ensure that there is no difference in the ability of those online to participate. I hope noble Lords appreciate and understand that.