House of Lords
Thursday 25 June 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. A limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted again after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points, and can Ministers’ answers also be brief?
Violence Against Women
My Lords, I welcome the important role that faith communities have played, and will continue to play, in tackling violence against women and girls in all its forms. Alongside our ongoing engagement with faith groups, Home Office officials are working on the next phase of the Government’s plan to end violence against women and girls. As part of our stakeholder engagement work, we will be reaching out to faith leaders and communities to seek their views.
My Lords, I lost part of the Minister’s response but I thank her for her mention of the Domestic Abuse Bill. Will she commit to publishing guidance alongside the Bill, specifically explaining how domestic abuse can be prevented and addressed in and by faith communities? Will the Minister commit to requiring local authorities to work proactively in partnership with faith communities?
Guidance will certainly be provided alongside the Domestic Abuse Bill as it will assist with the provisions in the Bill. I will have to check on specific guidance for faith communities. We will continue, as we always do, to engage with faith communities in this endeavour.
The reported rise in domestic violence and abuse during the lockdown is truly horrific. I accept that the initial lockdown could not have been predicted, but can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what concrete lessons have been learned and what specific changes will be introduced so that vulnerable women and children, in particular, are better protected in the event of a second, or indeed third, wave of the virus?
I join my noble friend in her horror at how much domestic violence has risen during lockdown. Of course, we may not know the true picture until we come completely out of lockdown. The government hashtag #youarenotalone has had a huge number of views—some 180 million, I think. The things that we have been doing in anticipation of what might happen have, I believe, been the right interventions. On the back of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about campaigns, we are currently working with the retail sector and with pharmacies to advertise some of the help that people can get, as well as working on the code word that people might use if they are in trouble.
My Lords, I appreciate how difficult this is to deal with during lockdown. But the two ways that abuse in children is detected—through social workers or by their teachers when they get to school—have both obviously been absent. Campaigners tell me that there has been an enormous rise in violence and abuse against children. What will the Government do as schools come back and lockdown eases to try to catch these extremely vulnerable youngsters in our society?
We have been very worried about children during this lockdown period, including children who are perhaps witnessing their parents in a domestic violence situation. The noble Baroness will probably know that we gave £1.6 million to the NSPCC so that adults could be aware of some of the things that children might be facing online. There is also the double issue of children witnessing things in the home. Multiagency work is clearly more important now than ever in ensuring that children who may be suffering are brought to the attention of the authorities.
Is the Minister aware that there is no reference to women in faith communities in the Domestic Abuse Bill? These women can experience multiple forms of violence and abuse, including FGM, forced marriages and so-called honour-based killings. The Minister will be aware that while some of these are already crimes, there is no specific crime of honour-based violence. Does the Minister have any plans to get domestic honour-based violence included in the Domestic Abuse Bill?
Honour-based violence is, in and of itself, a crime, as is FGM—so laws already exist to tackle that. She is right that there is not a specific mention in the Domestic Abuse Bill. I am not sure that it needs to be in the Bill, but that is not to say that it does not need tackling; we have measures in place to tackle it.
The noble Baroness will know that from September relationships and sex education will be compulsory in secondary schools, and I am sure she will welcome that. Part of it will be about teaching children what respect for other children looks like, not just some of the quite warped things that they might see on the internet.
School interventions are more difficult and more complex with those communities that are more self-reliant and where that reliance is underpinned by religious observation. Does the Minister agree that we therefore need to build up a bespoke national expertise to be able to intervene when necessary?
The noble Lord is right that there is a way to go on this with regard to some of those self-reliant communities that he talks about. We have more to learn about them and therefore some of the interventions that might be necessary to deal with some of the hidden harms that occur in them.
My noble friend is right that without a multiagency approach—in other words, government departments coming together—it will be very difficult to tackle this issue. She will know about the troubled families programme, which brings together a lot of different agencies; indeed, through that programme we have unearthed far higher levels of domestic abuse than we first thought. I can also tell her that the Home Office, the MoJ and the MHCLG have all announced funding to support victims. We must work together as a whole Government to tackle this issue.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. Will the guidance suggested set out that violence to women includes those in forced-marriage situations, some of whom are under 18 and may need rather different help?
The noble and learned Baroness is quite right: if they are under 18, they are still children, which makes the issue of forced marriage all the worse. I shall go back regarding the issue of guidance. I cannot say today what will be in it, but I will get some information from my colleagues and will certainly come back to the noble and learned Baroness on that.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of UN Women UK. Will my noble friend look at the work that we are doing for women and girls in safe spaces and the discussions around women in minority communities where it has been quite difficult to extrapolate the difficulties that they face, given that English is a barrier and they are very often not able to leave their homes at all?
My noble friend and I had a brief discussion about this just before Questions. I totally understand and agree with her point. If you are in lockdown, not able to speak a language and not able to leave the house, life must be very difficult for you. I am very happy to speak to her further about this issue.
My Lords, gambling advertising is subject to strict controls on content and placement wherever it appears. Ads must never seek to target children or vulnerable people, and the ASA and the Gambling Commission can take action in the case of a breach. The Government have committed to reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure that it is fit for the digital age, and we will announce further details on this in due course.
I say to my noble friend the Minister: enough is enough. We have been discussing gambling and its dangers, particularly to vulnerable people and particularly within the current lockdown, for a long time now, yet we still seem to have an enormous amount of advertising of gambling on both television and radio and, in particular—with no restraint whatever, voluntary or otherwise—on the online systems. I must ask my noble friend that action be taken. If nothing else, can we please return the whole control of gambling to the Home Office, where at least regulations exist that would allow us to take further action to protect our public?
My noble friend brings great experience to this, including from his time as a Minister at the Home Office. There are no plans currently to move responsibility for gambling to the Home Office, although my department works very closely with the Home Office and others in overseeing this. In relation to my noble friend’s comments about social media, work is going on specifically on that area to make sure that adverts are not targeted at people under 25 or at children. We are working actively with the platforms to ensure that gambling ads do not appear for those who have self-excluded from gambling.
My Lords, almost a year ago on 2 July, in a parliamentary Statement, the Government announced three measures agreed with gaming companies to
“deliver real and meaningful progress on support for problem gamblers”.—[Official Report, 2/7/19; col. 1345.]
The noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said the Government expected change and, if it did not manifest, would take other measures and did not rule out legislation. Is the Government’s judgment that the industry’s actions are delivering real, meaningful progress? What metrics are the Government using, and will they publish their calculations?
The main metric that the Government use to measure the extent of problem gambling is the British Gambling Prevalence Survey, which looks at population levels of problem gambling. That has remained unchanged over 20 years, at slightly below 1%. I appreciate the context of the noble Lord’s question: with the prevalence of gambling advertising and promotion, intuitively one would expect that figure to rise, but there is not evidence for that at the moment.
My Lords, although GAMSTOP has clearly been an effective tool that has enabled problem gamblers to control their activities online, repetitive advertising on social media, particularly on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, remains a problem. Does the Minister agree that there should be discussions with the leading social media companies to seek a solution which would prevent the reappearance of advertisements which a user has, on a previous occasion, decided to hide?
My Lords, I struggled slightly to hear the noble Lord’s question, so if my answer is not accurate I will happily write, but I think the question was around social media. A lot of work is going on in that area, with the platforms, to ensure that those who have excluded themselves already are not targeted by advertising and that children and vulnerable people are not targeted.
My Lords, I am a gambler, I confess, and I am very much opposed to the nanny state. However, Blair’s Gambling Act has made some people very rich—some disgustingly rich, frankly—at the expense of the vulnerable and of some of the poorest members of our society. Banning television and online advertisements and, indeed, those at football grounds as well, would not be government interference; it would be a necessary step to protect some people who are, frankly, unable to look after themselves. Will my noble friend please look at that very carefully?
I thank my noble friend for his honesty and his question. We will obviously be reviewing a range of options when we come to review the Gambling Act. The evidence around the impact of advertising on problem gambling, as opposed to all gambling, is really not clear, with much suggesting that, particularly for young people, it is parents and their peers who have the greatest influence on their behaviour.
My Lords, among problem gamblers, 55,000 are 11 to 16 year-old children, many of whom use legal music and film download websites that are often funded by gambling advertising. Will the Government immediately consider legislation to enable these sites to be blocked, and not wait for the long overdue review of gambling legislation?
Is my noble friend aware of the recent review of 23 April that claimed there is too much gambling advertising on TV? While I recognise that the gambling group has halted TV and radio ads during lockdown, is not the area where action needs to be taken the really worrying aspect of special offers for casino gambling, which we all know is addictive? Will my noble friend look very seriously at this problem?
On gambling advertising on television, again, this feels counterintuitive, but the data from the ASA shows that in 2013 children saw 4.4 gambling ads each week and that had fallen to 2.5 in 2019. Obviously, we introduced the whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising on matches on television. In relation to online casinos, the Gambling Commission recently recommended curbs on VIP schemes across various forms of gambling, which will be implemented in the coming months. It is committed to addressing any additional gaps that are identified.
Excessive gambling is a public health challenge, with thousands of people—as the noble Baroness just said, 1% of the population—incurring debt and a high proportion of those experiencing mental health problems. Yet we continue to be one of the top 10 countries for gambling advertising online based on knowledge-based marketing. Will the Minister inform the House whether the Government intend to further limit such advertising, particularly pop-up ads on social media platforms, to absolve the need to self-exclude? This would prevent the associated harm to health caused by gambling.
I regret I can only repeat what I have already said in terms of the close work that is going on with the social media companies and the commitment from the Gambling Commission to address any additional gaps that are identified. However, the noble Baroness makes an important point, which we recognise.
As a recent APPG report confirms, gambling companies have done extremely well out of the pandemic, mainly because of the growth in unregulated activity. There is a lot of talk about working with the social media companies, but no action seems ever to follow. Will the Minister confirm that one of the real and meaningful steps that the Government actually could take to safeguard children and vulnerable players would be by blocking certain online platforms? Will she do that? If not, why not?
Just to be clear again on the data, unsurprisingly, because there has been no sport during lockdown, 75% of people have not increased their expenditure either of time or money on gambling during lockdown. We should not be surprised about that because there has been no sport broadcast. We are looking at a range of measures and waiting for evidence being published by Public Health England and the National Institute for Health Research. We are preparing a national addiction strategy. The Government are absolutely committed to addressing the problems that arise from gambling and other addictive behaviours, but doing that in the round rather than in a piecemeal fashion.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and we will therefore move to the third Oral Question.
My Lords, our participation in the current Erasmus+ programme is already fully funded. The UK’s participation in the next Erasmus+ programme, including the cost of any participation, is a matter for negotiation with the European Union. The UK is considering participation in a number of EU programmes where it is in both parties’ interest to do so, and if the UK negotiates participation in the next Erasmus+ programme, the specific funding arrangements will be a matter for the upcoming spending review.
Compared to Erasmus, a replacement scheme such as the Swiss model could cost the same or even more to keep the full range of its benefits, from universities to schools, from the arts to apprenticeships, from the year abroad to the classroom language assistants coming into the UK. Which of these would the Government be prepared to give up, and why reinvent the wheel rather than become a non-EU programme country, like Norway, Iceland and others?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, is right to point out the wide range of activities covered by the Erasmus+ scheme. Of course, we are considering all those benefits in the round as we negotiate with the European Union, seeking to continue to take part in the programme if we can reach a deal that is fair and proportionate and represents good value for money for the British taxpayer.
My Lords, in answering a Cardiff MP, Anna McMorrin, on 11 June, Michael Gove acknowledged how important is the Erasmus+ scheme for the devolved Governments and that the UK Government will continue to seek access to this programme. If, for any reason, the UK Government fail to secure an agreement, will they be prepared to enable the devolved Administrations to seek their own arrangements with the EU to facilitate the continued availability of Erasmus+ for students and young people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
My Lords, international relations are of course a reserved matter for the UK Government, but the Government are committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations throughout the negotiations with the European Union, to ensure that we can reach a future relationship that works in the interests of the whole United Kingdom. The noble Lord is right to point out the benefits that Erasmus+ has brought to all the nations of the United Kingdom, and that is what we are seeking to achieve in the negotiations.
I ask my noble friend the Minister to be specific. Where have the negotiations got on this particular point? In March 2019, the then Minister, one Mr Johnson, said that the UK was drawing up alternative plans. What are those alternative plans and what stage have they reached? This continual delay does not augur well for global Britain, which will certainly need a workforce competent in languages.
My Lords, I may have to disappoint but probably not surprise my noble friend when I say that I am not able to give a running commentary on the state of the negotiations. I draw his attention, and that of other noble Lords, to the Written Ministerial Statement by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which made clear that participation in EU programmes has been a part of the negotiations and discussions that have taken place so far. My noble friend is right to point out that, as any responsible Government would, we are preparing for all eventualities, which includes looking at a domestic replacement, should that be necessary, but we are seeking to find a fair and proportionate deal that allows us to continue to participate.
My Lords, my question follows on well from the previous one. Erasmus is the world’s most effective programme. It allows student exchange for the valuable experience that they gain from outward mobility. What possible advantage do the Government think they would gain by walking away from Erasmus to set up a new global student exchange scheme, as they propose, that the Erasmus programme does not already offer?
My Lords, we are not seeking to walk away from Erasmus+; we are seeking to negotiate a fair and proportionate deal to remain in it. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out the size and scope of Erasmus and the benefits it has brought many people, but UK students participate in a number of other mobility schemes and have done for many years. As we leave the European Union and seek a global future, we want students to be able to benefit from mobility not just with 27 countries on the European continent but around the world.
My Lords, more than ever, post Brexit, we need to find ways to enhance our relationships with the rest of the EU. One of the most obvious low-hanging fruits is the remarkably successful Erasmus+ programme, which I know from my experience as an academic is of enormous value for our young people, who begin lifelong international relationships. Yet, instead of grasping this opportunity to invest in our future, the UK Government seem less than enthusiastic when they talk of considering elements of the programme in a standard third-country relationship.
I think the noble Lord was cut off slightly, but I got the gist of what he was asking. I do not fully accept the characterisation of the Government’s attitude towards Erasmus+. We are seeking to negotiate to continue in it, if we can reach a fair and proportionate deal. I point out to the noble Lord and others that a number of other non-EU countries—Norway, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey—all take part in Erasmus as full participants, not as partner countries, none of them being members of the European Union.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new post and say how delighted we are to see a full set of Ministers with us in the Chamber today; that is excellent news. Can the Government guarantee that they will publish details of any replacement or stop-gap Erasmus scheme well in advance, so that universities can prepare and students do not lose out on the opportunity to study or work abroad due to lack of information? They need to know the details in September. It is even more important than ever, post Brexit, that the next generation befriends and understands those in other countries.
I thank the noble Baroness for her words of welcome. She is absolutely right to point out that it is important for universities, students and others to have some certainty about the immediate future. One difficulty is that this is subject to our negotiations with the European Union, which are running throughout this year. It is also the case that the EU itself is looking at the new Erasmus programme in light of its own budget, the multiannual financial framework, which could also be delayed until December. I am very glad that, under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, our participation in the current programme is fully funded, including any projects that are launched under it and which go beyond the end of this year.
My noble and learned friend is absolutely right. As we have been unable to travel, the importance of exchange and being able to meet people from around the world is underlined. Indeed, the current pandemic shows the importance of education not stopping at any borders. We should be proud that another UK university has this week launched trials with humans of a vaccine which could benefit not just British subjects but people around the world.
My Lords, the Erasmus+ programme is one of the successes of the European Union. As the Minister has pointed out, non-EU countries such as Norway and Turkey are members. Can he assure us that the United Kingdom will endeavour to continue to be a member of the Erasmus programme, irrespective of the outcome of the present ongoing talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which will end on 31 December this year?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that the fact that a number of non-EU countries want to participate in the Erasmus programme is a testament to its strengths and successes. I cannot give him absolutely the assurance he seeks, because our participation is of course contingent on those negotiations. We hope to continue if we can reach a deal which is fair and proportionate and which continues to give value for money to the British taxpayer.
Universities UK International has estimated that leaving Erasmus could cost Britain up to £243 million a year. Does the Minister think that this is a price worth paying in lost income and influence? If a replacement scheme is pursued by the Government, will he commit to early consultation and to the covering of any loss of income to universities and colleges?
My Lords, I am not familiar with the figures that the noble Lord cites from Universities UK. I have seen that it points out that, of UK students who take part in mobility schemes, almost half of them take part in mobility schemes beyond Erasmus+. We hope to be able to continue in it if we can reach a fair and equitable deal, but of course we want British students and international students coming to the UK to take part in a variety of mobility schemes, as they currently do.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and we move to the fourth Oral Question.
Competition and Markets Authority
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that the interests of (1) consumers, and (2) businesses, in the United Kingdom, are independently and fairly looked after following the resignation of the Chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority.
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that markets work well for consumers and businesses and have already ensured that the Competition and Markets Authority has significant powers to investigate and act if it finds that companies are behaving anti-competitively in a market. The CMA will continue to carry out its important functions. We will announce next steps on recruitment for a new chair in due course.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that, for the CMA to do its job properly and enable business to plan in relation to Brexit, the Government must have a robust, updated and properly structured competition policy? I heard what he said, but how will this be achieved? On the latest information I have, the CMA responded with a comprehensive plan on 21 February 2019. Since then, there has been nothing until a letter to the chair of the EU Select Committee arrived at 11.02 this morning; I declare an interest as a member of its sub-committee. Will the Government urgently introduce legislation on competition policies to support consumers in the UK and UK business?
We committed in our manifesto to tackle consumer rip-offs and bad business practices. The issues that the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, set out in the CMA’s letter have helped shape public debate as well as informing government action. For instance, he said that consideration should be given to how to capture the benefits for competition and consumer welfare of the growth in the digital economy. We agree and have set up smart data proposals that we look forward to implementing.
My Lords, through the 100 days of Covid we have heard many complaints from consumers who have not been refunded for cancelled trips and cancelled products by the sellers; they have had no recourse. It is a serious situation that the Government ought to look into. If the Government are to make the UK globally competitive after Brexit, as they have promised, it is very important that they adopt a competition policy in line with the latest research in economics. I think they need an economist to head that authority, but the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, will be difficult to replace.
I agree that we need a robust competition regime in the UK. That is what we have; the CMA has already announced reviews into many of the practices that the noble Lord highlighted, taking action against profiteering from some pharmaceutical companies, for example. We will not hesitate to take further measures if required.
My Lords, on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards I saw the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, to protect ordinary people and businesses from abuses of power in the financial sector. Frankly, if he says that more powers are needed, then more powers are needed. We currently face the dominance of big tech, rip-offs related to Covid, and deregulation following Brexit. Will the Government, instead of being so complacent, urgently implement his proposed reforms to make sure that the consumer, at the very least, has a powerful champion with powerful teeth? If not, we will have a very angry and abused public.
We are taking action on these matters. We asked the CMA to lead two critical pieces of work: to report on the state of competition, and to set up the digital markets taskforce. The CMA remains one of the world-leading competition authorities. If necessary, we will build on that.
My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, does the Minister accept that on consumer welfare it is difficult for us to have confidence in his reassurances? When the Government announced this digital markets taskforce a few months ago, they said that
“any future interventions must strike the right balance between promoting competition and innovation on the one hand and avoiding disproportionate burdens on business on the other”.
There was no mention of consumer welfare interests. It is difficult to see how we will make progress on that front, which is what most people worry about when they think of digital market abuse.
My Lords, the Minister rightly says that consumers depend on fair competition. The outgoing chair has said that the powers of that competition body are not sufficient. He recommended increased powers, and the then Government were very responsive. The Minister has today refused to build on that and say that they will give it new powers. I ask him again: will the Government implement the call for new powers and commit themselves to the absolute independence of the new chair of the CMA?
On that final point, we will of course run a full and open competition process. We will appoint the best person for the job. We committed in our manifesto to tackle consumer rip-offs and bad business practice. Where we need to give the CMA new powers, we will look at that, but it already has extensive powers, as proven by the cases it is currently pursuing. It is one of the leading regulators in the world and, as I said, we will look at giving it additional powers if necessary.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, and Professor Furman have clearly spelled out the challenges of the digital age. I heard what the Minister said on this, but do the Government intend to address these issues or will they continue to allow big tech to rampage across our economy in digital markets such as social media, e-commerce, search and online advertising? Will the Government set out their proposals any time soon?
The regulation of digital e-commerce is extremely important. As I have said, the CMA has set up the digital markets taskforce to study these matters, but they are complicated. This country has one of the best competitive markets in the world and digital markets are an increasingly important part of that. We will look at what further measures need to be taken.
My Lords, given the unprecedented pressures on consumers from both Covid-19 and the prospect of leaving EU markets at the end of the transition period, will the Government prioritise the CMA’s reforms as set out under its very effective chair, the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie? When will a date be announced for a new competition and consumer protection Bill, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Berkeley?
I will correct the noble Baroness: we will not leave EU markets at the end of the transition period. We seek in the negotiations to ensure continued access to those markets and for EU companies to have access to UK markets. That is the whole point of the negotiation. We keep all these matters under constant review. We will build on the powers of the CMA if that is required for what consumers need.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that if the Government are to continue to prioritise consumer protection, they urgently need to address the necessity of strengthening the CMA and legislation to protect consumers, as stated across the Chamber today?
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, is not available, so we will go straight to the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
My Lords, surely the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, standing down is a devastating indictment of the unwillingness of Tory Ministers to permit him to do his job properly, as well as the Government’s subservience to vast vested interests and the immense power of digital platforms at the expense of customers and competition. The Covid pandemic means that there will be lots of business casualties, allowing national and especially local monopolies to trample over customers. I am sorry, but the Minister is not coming clean with us; the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, is both honourable and highly capable: will he tell us straight, please, why Ministers have been so shamefully subservient to tycoons, plutocrats and dodgy dealers that he, an eminent fellow Tory, has been forced to resign from a job he wanted to do properly?
Well, characteristically the noble Lord has a great grasp of hyperbole, but I do not think that he is fairly characterising the situation here. It is a complicated area of detailed policy. We have an excellent competition regime in this country, the CMA is a highly regarded regulator and, as I said, we will consider giving it additional powers to protect consumer and business interests if that is required.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating virtually, but all Members will be treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted shortly after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules on courtesy in debate apply.
Public Transport: Face Coverings
Private Notice Question
My Lords, we are working closely with transport operators and the British Transport Police to monitor compliance. As we expected, initial reports from operators suggest a high level of compliance, and there is strong public support for the measure. More data will be available in the coming weeks. We expect to see a gradual ramping up of enforcement, supported by a significant communications campaign, over the coming months.
My Lords, I hear what the Minister says. I am surprised that she points to that level of compliance. There is growing evidence, admittedly anecdotal, that not everybody is complying. This week, the BMA, among others, urged the wider use of face coverings as an important mitigation measure once social distancing rules are relaxed. The Government made face coverings on public transport mandatory from 15 June, with the potential of fines for non-compliance, yet, as I say, there is growing anecdotal evidence that many people are not complying. Can the Minister say a little more about what the Government will do to ensure that a strong, unambiguous message gets through to everyone? Can she say what support and training are being offered to front-line staff, such as bus drivers and ticket inspectors, to help them deal with non-compliance?
I thank the noble Baroness for her follow-up question. I assure her that compliance is at around 85% to 95% on rail, 90% on TfL and 70% on non-London buses. This soon after the mandating of face coverings, that is a pretty good return. We are looking at ways of explaining things, engaging with people and encouraging people to wear face masks. At this moment in time, heavy-handed enforcement would not be appropriate. Part of that explaining element is making sure that transport workers work hand in hand with the public and the police to explain to people exactly why they should wear a face covering and that they may not use public transport if they do not have one.
My Lords, I do not expect the travelling public to police this policy. It is important to be aware that there are exemptions to it. Gentle guidance from transport operators will be absolutely key, as will them working hand in hand with the police and, for example, TfL-authorised personnel.
I believe that the present public transport policy is killing public transport, particularly buses outside London. Some 40% to 70% of normal capacity will be available after next weekend. The Government need to stop sending the message that it is unsafe and dangerous to use public transport. It is important that people wear face masks and that people avoid the busiest journeys. Transport companies are striving to do the right thing but it is up to the Government to use their publicity machine to draw attention to the positive things that can be done.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. The Government support public transport. Indeed, we are funnelling vast amounts of taxpayers’ money into making sure that the services are there for the people who need them. He mentioned 40% to 70% capacity; I have no idea where those figures come from. Capacity is nothing like that on public transport. With 100% of services, we are looking at capacity of less than 30%. There is a balance to be achieved. We want people to use public transport in future but using it right now would be counterproductive and may risk our ability to control the virus.
My Lords, I support the use of face coverings in principle but are the Government fully aware of the challenges that this presents for people living with disabilities, including those who need to lip-read? I know that exemptions are in place but they are not clearly advertised; nor are staff adequately trained to deal with them. This has left people with disabilities being refused entry and being reported to police by fellow travellers; some have had to pay for GP letters that prove their exemption. Will the Minister commit to reviewing communications and mandating transport staff training so that people who cannot wear face coverings can travel safely without further questioning and harassment?
The issue that the noble Baroness brings up is extremely worrying. We do not want people having to get GP letters. That is not what is intended. When we put these regulations in place, we did an equalities impact assessment and took advice from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee to make sure that we understand fully the sorts of exemptions that are needed. We are working closely with operators to put in place exemption schemes, which may include badges, lanyards or cards that people can show to other individuals—and, just as importantly, to transport operators and police—to show that, for whatever reason, they are exempt from wearing a face covering.
Despite the impending reopening of museums, pubs, cinemas and hotels, there has been no clear updated guidance on whether people can use public transport to reach these destinations. Can the Minister clarify the guidance? Will individuals and families be encouraged to or discouraged from using public transport to travel to leisure and hospitality facilities? If they travel, will they be required to wear a face covering? If they do not do so, will they be stopped from using public transport?
As I mentioned previously, wearing a face covering on public transport is mandatory. If a person does not have a face covering on, they can be denied service or removed from the service. On the reopening of various facilities on 4 July, the Department for Transport and broader government are continually looking at the demand for transport and our transport capacity to see whether we are in danger of demand exceeding supply. If there is capacity on public transport, the Government’s messaging may well change, but in the short term, we cannot suddenly open up public transport to everybody because there simply is not the capacity.
My Lords, the case for wearing face coverings on public transport, particularly on commuter services, appears quite strong. However, to be effective, face coverings must be of sufficient quality in their design and manufacture to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Will the Government consider making the manufacture, import or sale of coverings that do not meet the defined British standard an offence, as they have for surgical face coverings being used in clinical settings?
My Lords, the Government are working to the advice of SAGE on face coverings, which is that face coverings worn in enclosed spaces are at least partially effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus to other people. That is why we have said that face coverings can be made of various materials. We do not have a specific British standard, which I feel would stop the supply to people across the country who need to use public transport.
Does the Minister agree that to minimise the risk to fellow passengers, it is imperative that face coverings are worn on public transport, but if a passenger with an urgent need to travel arrives without one, drivers or staff should be able to provide an inexpensive covering that can be recycled at the end of the journey?
I agree with the noble Lord that it is essential that people use a face covering when they travel. We have been working with the rail industry and other transport operators on the provision, on a one-off basis, of a supply of face coverings that can be given out in the circumstances he has described, particularly while people get used to wearing them. We are also looking with the Cabinet Office at longer-term supply options so that members of the public can purchase low-cost face coverings at various outlets. For example, Network Rail has installed vending machines supplying face coverings at many of its stations.
My Lords, what consultations took place with bus, coach and train operators and their representatives before the announcement about face coverings was made? Turning to enforcement, does the Minister expect front-line staff to turn away would-be passengers who for any reason are not wearing face masks? What other consultations have there been with the police, particularly the British Transport Police, about the enforcement of the wearing of face masks on railway services?
I think the noble Lord will understand that at present, all Ministers have a close ongoing relationship with transport operators and unions. We are continually having conversations about the sort of measures that may come in in the future. We spoke to the unions about face coverings; indeed, it was the unions that did not want the use of face coverings by transport workers made mandatory. We listened and worked with them to make that the case. Transport operators such as bus drivers often have to turn people away, for example, because of poor behaviour, in which case they might then go on to call the police. It is the same in the case of face coverings; if people create a fuss because they are denied boarding, transport operators will get the police involved. Of course, we speak frequently to the British Transport Police about this matter as well.
My noble friend will be aware that we are negotiating with other countries over air bridges for air transport to and from the United Kingdom. Given that the rules on the wearing of face coverings differ in the various parts of the United Kingdom, how is that matter being reconciled in the negotiations to create air bridges, which I fully support?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point. It is obviously a consequence of devolution that the devolved Administrations can make their own rules in this area. However, I am pleased to say that the wearing of face coverings is mandatory in Scotland as well, so there is less confusion there, and their use is advisory in Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, the wearing of face coverings on aircraft and the reciprocal arrangements with other countries will be an important consideration as discussions on international air bridges continue.
My Lords, I also support the use of face coverings, which I think is imperative, but I have heard a significant number of anecdotes of people who, using good common sense, have approached other travellers saying, “You should have your face covered,” are then threatened, rather as we found early on when the ban on smoking on public transport came in; not everyone will support this. What do the Government envisage happening if threatening behaviour greets the use of common sense by the public?
The issue raised by the noble Lord is extremely distressing. I would advise members of the general public perhaps not to approach individuals themselves, but to speak to transport operators, either the station staff or the driver if they are on a bus. If there is a continual refusal to wear a face covering without an appropriate exemption, in those circumstances the police could, and indeed should, be called. I do not want members of the public to put themselves at risk to encourage people to wear face coverings.
I would slightly challenge the noble Earl on that. A significant communications campaign is going on at the moment and that will continue over the weeks and months ahead. We are also working closely with the transport operators, which have put an enormous amount of signage in their vehicles and at stations. They are also sending emails to their customers, as well as messages via their apps and websites, so a lot of work is going on. I think that the message is getting out there, but I can reassure the noble Earl that we are pushing on with this, although there is always more that we can do.
My Lords, in the Far East, people have been wearing face masks on public transport since the outset of the pandemic. If Her Majesty’s Government think that wearing face coverings on public transport is a good idea now, why did they not think that months ago? I suggest to the Minister that this was always just a case of shortage of adequate PPE, including face masks?
I do not think that the noble Lord is correct in his assumption. As we have said consistently throughout the pandemic, we were following the science at the time. It is also worth noting that very few people were travelling on public transport in the early days of the pandemic. The reality is that handwashing and social distancing are more critical in reducing transmission of the virus than wearing a face mask. Having a face covering on is something that we can put in place now, given that social distancing may not be as possible as it was in the early phases of the outbreak. In the early phases, almost no one was travelling on public transport.
Pension Schemes Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule 1, Clauses 52 to 57, Schedule 4, Clauses 7 to 17, Clauses 58 to 68, Clauses 18 to 23, Clauses 69 to 74, Clauses 24 and 25, Clauses 75 and 76, Clauses 26 to 30, Clauses 77 to 81, Clauses 31 to 44, Schedule 2, Clause 45, Clauses 82 to 95, Schedule 5, Clause 96, Clause 46, Clause 97, Clause 47, Clause 98, Clause 48, Schedule 3, Clause 99, Schedule 6, Clauses 49 to 51, Clauses 100 to 116, Schedule 7, Clause 117, Schedule 8, Clauses 118 to 120, Schedule 9, Clauses 121 to 123, Schedule 10, Clauses 124 to 129, Schedule 11, Clauses 130 to 132, Title.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted shortly after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply. Please ensure that questions and answers are short.
We now come to questions on the Statement on Covid-19. It has been agreed in the usual channels to dispense with the reading of the Statement itself, and we will proceed immediately to questions from the Opposition Front Bench.
The following Statement was made on Tuesday 23 June in the House of Commons.
“Before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails, who were brutally killed in Reading on Saturday. To assault defenceless people in a park is an act not simply of wickedness but of abject cowardice. We will never yield to those who would seek to destroy our way of life.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the next steps in our plan to rebuild our economy and reopen our society, while waging our struggle against Covid-19. From the outset, we have trusted in the common sense and perseverance of the British people, and their response has more than justified our faith. Since I set out our plan on 11 May, we have been clear that our cautious relaxation of the guidance is entirely conditional on our continued defeat of the virus. In the first half of May, nearly 69,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 across the UK; by the first half of June, that total had fallen by nearly 70% to just under 22,000. The number of new infections is now declining by between 2% and 4% every day.
Four weeks ago, an average of one in 400 people in the community in England had Covid-19; in the first half of June, the figure was one in 1,700. We created a human shield around the NHS, and in turn our doctors and nurses have protected us. Together, we have saved our hospitals from being overwhelmed. On 11 May, 1,073 people were admitted to hospital in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with Covid-19; by 20 June, the figure had fallen by 74% to 283.
This pandemic has inflicted permanent scars, and we mourn everyone we have lost. Measured by a seven-day rolling average, the number of daily deaths peaked at 943 on 14 April. On 11 May, it was 476 and yesterday the rolling average stood at 130. We have ordered over 2.2 billion items of protective equipment from UK-based manufacturers, many of whose production lines have been called into being to serve this new demand. And yesterday we conducted or posted 139,659 tests, bringing the total to over 8 million.
While we remain vigilant, we do not believe that there is currently—currently—a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS. Taking everything together, we continue to meet our five tests, and the chief medical officers of all four home nations have downgraded the UK’s Covid alert level from 4 to 3, meaning that we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, although it remains in general circulation.
The Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hold responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions, and they will respond to the united view of the chief medical officers at their own pace, based on their own judgment. But all parts of the UK are now travelling in the same direction, and we will continue to work together to ensure that everyone in our country gets the support they need.
Thanks to our progress, we can now go further and safely ease the lockdown in England. At every stage, caution will remain our watchword, and each step will be conditional and reversible. Given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus, we can change the 2-metre social distancing rule from 4 July. I know that this rule effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy, even without other restrictions—for example, it prevents all but a fraction of our hospitality industry from operating. That is why almost two weeks ago I asked our experts to conduct a review; I will place a summary of their conclusions in the Libraries of both Houses this week.
Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre-plus, meaning that they should remain one metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission. We are today publishing guidance on how business can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers. Those include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings, closing non-essential social spaces, providing hand sanitiser, or changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams. We already mandate face coverings on public transport.
While the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced, they judge that those mitigations would make one metre-plus broadly equivalent to the risk at two metres, if those mitigations are fully implemented. Either would be acceptable, and our guidance will change accordingly. That vital change enables the next stage of our plan to ease the lockdown.
I am acutely conscious that people will ask legitimate questions about why certain activities are allowed when others are not, but I must ask the House to understand that the virus has no interest in such debates. Its only ambition is to exploit any opportunities to recapture ground that we might carelessly vacate, and to reinfect our communities. There is only one certainty, which is that the fewer social contacts someone has, the safer they will be, and our duty as a Government is to guide the British people, balancing our overriding aim of controlling the virus against our natural desire to bring back normal life.
We cannot lift all the restrictions at once, so we have to make difficult judgments. Every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence. Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense in the full knowledge of the risks, remembering that the more we open up, the more vigilant we will need to be. From now on, we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact, instead of legislation, and in that spirit we advise that from 4 July, two households of any size should be able to meet in any setting, inside or out. That does not mean that they must always be the same two households; it will, for instance, be possible to meet one set of grandparents one weekend, and the other set the following weekend. We are not recommending meetings of multiple households indoors, because of the risk of creating greater chains of transmission. Outside, the guidance remains that people from several households can meet in groups of up to six, and it follows that two households can also meet, regardless of size.
I can tell the House that we will also reopen restaurants and pubs. All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service, and our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact. We will ask businesses to help NHS Test and Trace respond to any local outbreaks by collecting contact details from customers, as happens in other countries, and we will work with the sector to make that manageable. Almost as eagerly awaited as a pint will be a haircut—particularly by me, Mr Speaker—and we will reopen hairdressers with appropriate precautions, including the use of visors. We also intend to allow some other close-contact services such as nail bars to reopen as soon as we can, once we are confident that they can operate in a Covid-secure way.
From 4 July, provided that no more than two households stay together, people will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfasts, as well as campsites, as long as shared facilities are kept clean. Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions will reopen if they can do so safely, including outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs and community centres.
Close-proximity venues such as nightclubs, soft-play areas, indoor gyms, swimming pools and spas will, I am afraid, need to remain closed for now, as will bowling alleys and waterparks, but my right honourable friends the Business Secretary and the Culture Secretary will establish task forces with public health experts and those sectors to help them to become Covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.
We will also work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. Recreation and sport will be allowed, but indoor facilities, including changing rooms and courts, will remain closed, and people should only play close-contact team sports with members of their household.
I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship, and this year Easter, Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown. I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings, with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.
Meanwhile, our courts, probation services, police stations and other public services will increasingly resume face-to-face proceedings. Wraparound care for school-age children and formal childcare will restart over the summer. Primary and secondary education will recommence in September with full attendance, and those children who can already go to school should do so, because it is safe.
We will publish Covid-secure guidelines for every sector that is reopening, and slowly but surely these measures will restore a sense of normality. After the toughest restrictions in peacetime history, we are now able to make life easier for people, so that they can see more of their friends and families, and to help businesses get back on their feet and get people back into work.
The virus has not gone away, however. We will continue to monitor the data with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and our ever more effective test and trace system. I must be clear to the House that, as we have seen in other countries, there will be flare-ups, for which local measures will be needed. We will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reintroduce restrictions, even at national level, if required. I urge everyone to stay alert, control the virus and save lives. Let us keep washing our hands; staying two metres apart wherever feasible; mitigating the risks at one metre where it is not; avoiding public transport where possible and wearing a mask when we have to use public transport; getting tested immediately if we have symptoms; and self-isolating if instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace.
Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end. Life is returning to our streets and to our shops, the bustle is starting to come back and a new but cautious optimism is palpable. But I must say to the House that it would be all too easy for that frost to return. That is why we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and to see us to victory over this virus. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Statement was targeted at a nation desperate to return to a more normal way of living as soon as it is safe to do so. We support that aim. The past few months have taken an enormous toll on individuals and communities. Some, long after most of us will be getting back to work, school and socialising, will still be coping with grief and loss, with mental and physical health issues and, of course, with financial hardship.
The Government have to balance and weigh up the risks of both action and inaction as they plot the path out of lockdown. It is not easy; these are judgment calls. The fundamental change in the Government’s response in the Statement is to move further towards individual decision-making and responsibility through guidance and away from legislation.
I appreciate the need for some flexibility in the system and the wisdom of basic common sense—perhaps such as not going out for a drive to test one’s eyesight—but alongside the benefits of flexibility, it inevitably creates some mixed messages and a lack of clarity. So, as we have come to expect with announcements from this Prime Minister, we need further details and I hope the Leader of the House will be able to help with that.
I want to say at the outset, though, that the tone of the debate is really important. When urging others to act responsibly, Mr Johnson has to understand that this also applies to him. When debating the Statement, my friend and south coast parliamentary colleague, the Hove MP Peter Kyle, sought advice from the Prime Minister. Bear in mind the scenes that we saw on beaches yesterday. My honourable friend asked how, in the absence of an app for tracking and tracing, we can keep places such as beachfront bars safe where it is impossible to get customers’ addresses. In response, Mr Johnson bellowed that elected representatives should “show some guts”. That is a pretty unhelpful and offensive response. I am sure that the noble Baroness will disassociate herself from comments such as that, but, more importantly, can she shed any light on the very sensible question asked by my honourable friend?
On the wider issue of that missing app, the leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, also sought clarity from the Prime Minister yesterday, but to little avail. So let us try again. Having been promised a “world-beating” app by 1 June, it is a bit strange now to be told by the Prime Minister, after spending £11.8 million, that we do not have an app—and, he says, neither does any other country. That was news to Australia, China, Germany, Singapore and South Korea. But the Prime Minister still says that we can do better.
Mr Johnson was asked, given that around 33,000 people are currently infected with the virus and around 10,000 people have been tracked and their contacts traced, what has happened to the other 23,000 who are infected? Yesterday, the Prime Minister did not have an answer, but now, 24 hours later, the Government will have had time to find out. So can the noble Baroness update the House on how many of the other 23,000 have now been tracked and had their contacts traced? It is not a trick question; it really is fundamental to understanding how we will navigate through the next few months. We need a system that is effective and has public trust, so that people will co-operate and isolate when told to do so. We need a system that allows local authorities and communities to respond quickly and efficiently to any localised outbreaks of Covid. Without that, we run a serious risk of a second wave.
The Prime Minister also said each step out of lockdown will be “conditional and reversible”. That is a sensible and proportionate response. On what criteria will decisions be based, and will the criteria be published? The reintroduction of restrictions could be local or national, and action will have to be swift, well planned and enforced.
The role of local authorities will be crucial, but council leaders have reported to me that they have had no guidance from the Government on how local lockdowns could work, what powers they will need to enforce them and, crucially, who would make the decisions to impose any restrictions. Would it be the council or does it have to be the Government? Therefore, can the noble Baroness either confirm that such discussions are already scheduled or reassure your Lordships’ House that Ministers will immediately initiate urgent discussions with the Local Government Association and local authorities to ensure that they have the powers and resources they need?
Yesterday, a group of the country’s leading health experts called for an urgent review to ensure that the UK is prepared for what they called the “real risk” of a second wave. In an open letter, the chair of the British Medical Association and the presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of GPs urged Ministers to examine
“areas of weakness where action is needed urgently to prevent further loss of life”.
We all know the consequences of failing to prepare, plan and learn the right lessons. The Prime Minister has said that caution is his watchword. Can the Leader confirm that the Government are undertaking a preparedness review? If she does not have the details on that, I am happy for her to write to me.
We all know how important it is to get the economy moving again, and that is reflected in the Statement. We want to do so safely. Can the noble Baroness say something more about how the one metre-plus measures to protect staff and customers will be monitored and enforced? What resources are being made available to assist employers in providing such measures? What recourse to immediate action will employees have if they feel that their safety is at risk?
Finally, on getting back to school, my good friend Sam Parker, now aged eight, is very keen that his year 3 class gets back to school next month. I think that his parents would like that as well. On behalf of Sam and other children who are itching to get back to that more formal learning environment, can the noble Baroness say whether new guidelines will be issued to head teachers in England and when further information will be available?
Also, yesterday the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said that she thought it was ridiculous that schools were opening after theme parks. She expressed concern that education had become a lower priority. Can the noble Baroness explain why theme parks have opened before schools?
Over the past few weeks and months we have become used to scientific and medical experts publicly talking about their advice to government and answering questions from the public and the press. That has been really important in maintaining public confidence. For the majority of us who are not experts but rely on them, it has been really helpful as we try to understand the judgments the Government are having to make. Any unlocking carries risks. We know that it has to be done in stages, with careful planning based on scientific evidence. Can the noble Baroness assure us that the package of measures announced is welcomed and supported by the Government’s own emergency advisers SAGE, as well as the CMO and the Chief Scientific Officer?
Finally, given that the daily press conferences for announcements and updates have been abandoned, I assume that we will return to the normal process of Statements to Parliament, such as this one, which I certainly welcome. Can the noble Baroness confirm that we will receive regular Statements on progress?
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for answering questions on this Statement.
I welcome the broad thrust of the Government’s proposals because as the risks of catching Covid-19 have diminished, the economic and mental health costs being incurred by many people are increasing. At some point, the costs of remaining in lockdown were bound to be greater than those of lifting it, and that moment appears to have arrived.
As far as the detailed proposals are concerned, the Prime Minister says that they are based on the principle of,
“trust the British public to use their common sense.”
“Trust the people” is of course an old Liberal slogan, so I cannot but applaud that, but the problem about using one’s common sense is that there is no universally agreed view of what common sense constitutes in any particular circumstance. Everybody will disagree with the Government on what it means in specific instances now, and I will mention just two of my own. I do not understand why local cricket clubs cannot re-open when so many other sports are operating, and I do not know why cathedrals and large churches are not allowed any choral music at all, even though individual choristers could stand apart from each other and many metres away from the congregation. These are relatively small issues, but they matter a lot to those affected. What is the process for keeping such inconveniences under review? Will the Government look at further small steps that would seem to many to be an application of the common sense which the Prime Minister claims is the hallmark of his policy?
Going forward, the two bigger challenges are support for the economy and dealing with any new outbreaks. Today’s Statement is not primarily about the economy but it has major economic implications, not only for those working in sectors where the lockdown is effectively being removed, but also for those where it is not. My only plea to the Government is to be nuanced in any stimulus they give to the economy, and to concentrate on giving continued support to sectors that at present cannot begin to return to normal, such as the performing arts, where a failure to be generous now could lead to a long-term hollowing out of the sector.
There is also the issue facing those who are currently shielding, who will not be able to return to work safely at the end of July, because their workplace will not have adequate anti-Covid-19 measures in place, due to the intrinsic nature of the work. Working as a chef is one example. Will the Government extend the provision of statutory sick pay for such people? If not, how are they supposed to make ends meet?
The second big challenge is how to deal with any resurgence of the disease, which is likely to begin with localised outbreaks. In this respect it is instructive to look at what has happened in Germany. The recent outbreak at the Gütersloh meat processing factory saw 1,500 cases out of a workforce of 7,000. This led almost immediately to the lockdown, for a week, of a district of some 360,000 people, and the rapid deployment of some 100 mobile testing teams to identify further infection among the population as a whole. My concern is that a similar outbreak here would not be met with a similarly decisive response.
If such an outbreak happened in England, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, who would make the decision to lock down the equivalent of a London borough or a district council area? How quickly could such a decision be made? What capacity exists for large-scale local testing in such an area, and what contingency planning has already been undertaken by the Government to ensure that there is a decisive response?
At present, the “track, trace and isolate” policy is based on a national system of telephone callers who have no knowledge of local areas, no local credibility and therefore limited powers of persuasion. It is backed up by an app which, at best, will not be ready for months, and in any event is now not the most important thing that is going to happen but
“the cherry on top of the cake”.
Will the Government now refocus their “track and trace” efforts towards a more locally led approach, and will they change tack and commit to being open with people when significant new outbreaks occur in specific local settings—for example, in meat processing plants, as has happened in two or three cases in the UK already?
While loosening the lockdown and opening up more of the economy is welcome, it will only remain welcome while we avoid a generalised second wave of infections. This is perfectly possible with a rigorous, locally based “track, trace and isolate” system. At present, however, neither I nor anybody else believes that such a system is in place. Until it is, the Government run the risk of making the same hash of coming out of the pandemic as they did of going into it.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. Both rightly asked about the “test and trace” system. It has been important to learn as we have developed this new technology, which is why it has undergone testing on the Isle of Wight and in a series of field tests. This has uncovered some issues with the app, particularly the Google-Apple framework. We are now bringing together the app and the Google-Apple solution so that we can carry out contact tracing and make it easier to order tests and access advice and guidance on self-isolation.
On 18 June, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that NHSX has begun the next phase of development in building this app, and we will conduct a national rollout only when we are confident of having got it right. The noble Baroness is right that other countries have started to roll out apps, but they too—Singapore, for instance—have found very similar issues with the compatibility of this data. Germany has had 12.2 million downloads, but as we have said, you need about 60% of the population for this to be a fully functioning rollout, and downloads are not the same as rollout. I am not saying that there are no issues, but a lot of countries are grappling with this. We are making progress and will continue to do so.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness rightly asked about local outbreaks, and the noble Lord referred to specific examples. I can confirm that there are ongoing discussions with local authorities. Each local area has its own local action committee and its own arrangements to choose how it wants to run its local outbreak plans. Decisions will be supported at a local level by the Joint Biosecurity Centre—which is also tracking data and will be involved—Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace. We have made £300 million available to local authorities to work with NHS Test and Trace in developing local outbreak control plans, which will identify and contain potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, ensure that testing capacities are effectively deployed and help the most vulnerable in isolation. We are in discussions with local authorities about what enforcement powers are available and what more can be granted. As has always been the case, if multiple cases appear in a specific setting, a specialist team from the local authority or Public Health England will help to manage the outbreak. A lot of work from central and local government is ongoing throughout this pandemic, and it will continue.
The noble Baroness asked about the one-metre rule, particularly in respect of businesses. It is for each business to carry out its own risk assessment, in consultation with workers, to inform their actions and the mitigation steps they may take if they move to the one-metre-plus rule. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness will have seen that a significant amount of detailed guidance has been published since the Prime Minister’s Statement. Obviously, employers have a duty under the law to protect the health and safety of their employees, and if there are concerns about employers’ steps, employees should get in touch with their employee representative, union, local authority or the Health and Safety Executive. We have announced an additional £14 million for the Health and Safety Executive for extra call-centre staff, inspectors and equipment.
I hope that the noble Baroness can assure her eight-year-old friend, whose name I am afraid I have forgotten—
I hope that she can assure Sam Parker that we are committed to doing everything possible to allow children to go back to school safely. In the next couple of weeks, we will be publishing the guidance to help schools plan successfully for a full return in September.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about choral singing. I am afraid I hear that the science shows that there is an additional risk of infection when you or others are singing or speaking loudly, and this applies even if others are at a distance from you. This is something—I am trying to speak softly—that we will continue to look into. I share the noble Lord’s wish for cricket to return and will continue to apply whatever pressure I can. Yes, it is the ball, I believe.
The noble Lord also asked about orchestras. Sector-wide guidance for the performing arts returning to rehearsal and performance is something we are working on with the sector. It is a priority because we entirely understand the difficulties that the sector is facing.
The noble Lord asked about statutory sick pay. People will be eligible for statutory sick pay on the basis of their shielding status until 31 July.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the preparedness plan. We are constantly working to make sure that we are prepared for whatever turn of events we face. Obviously, we have learned a lot from where we have got to now. We continue to hope that we will continue to beat this virus, but we all need to abide by the guidelines and to play our part. We are absolutely committed to continuing to move in the right direction, and we believe we can do that.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated to Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers are short so that I can call the maximum number of questioners.
I thank the Leader of the House for taking questions on this Statement. Although testing of symptomatic individuals and tracing their contacts represents an important approach to controlling the spread of Covid-19 disease in the community as lockdown restrictions are lifted, there may be an alternative approach: mass population testing to identify both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the community, with them being isolated if they test positive. Such a testing strategy would need to be delivered locally and to provide the results in real time to facilitate maximum workplace participation and consumer confidence. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the emergent technologies that could facilitate this population approach? What provision has been made for the necessary logistical arrangements that would need to be adopted to test the entire population on a repeated and regular basis?
The noble Lord obviously knows a lot about this area. He is right that a series of strategies will need to be used for us to continue to make progress in combating this virus. The Department of Health is looking at an array of issues with SAGE and the medical advisers, so work is ongoing in the area that he suggested, as well as in developing track and trace, because we are going to need all these different strands to come together to beat this virus and make sure that all areas are able to clamp down if we start to see a sudden resurgence in any area. I am sure we all want to avoid going into a national lockdown again if the virus were to start to reappear.
My Lords, I put it to the Leader of the House that public confidence is not of a high order as regards the Government’s handling. The Minister has said on a number of occasions that discussions are ongoing. What specific plans are available in the event of a second wave on a local level? What would the Government do, as opposed to having ongoing discussions with local authorities? It is all too vague. We need a clear statement of policy about what will trigger local action, which the Government have said they want to support.
I hoped that I had set out some of that detail in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Each local area will have a local action committee to manage its outbreaks, and discussions at a local level will be supported by the joint work of the joint biosecurity centre, Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace. We have already seen a successful lockdown in Weston-super-Mare, so we are starting to see these situations being taken under control and dealt with at a very local level.
My Lords, the Leader referred to guidance for theatres and orchestras pending a move back to live theatre. What practical assistance are the Government able to give to the performing arts pending reopening to ensure that the sector remains vibrant post lockdown?
Ministers in the department recently met leaders in this sector to discuss the impact and how guidance could be developed to ensure that the sector can reopen. It will be consulted on guidelines. There is another round table with the sector next week to discuss that. Obviously, this is an incredibly important sector and we are looking to continue support, but the sector has benefited from the job retention scheme and the self-employment support scheme, as well as from the £160 million Arts Council England emergency funding. We are in ongoing discussions. Of course, we want this sector to open up as quickly as possible, but in a way that ensures that audiences and performers are safe in the environment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for the easing of social distancing from two metres to one metre. This will save thousands of jobs and businesses. Can the Leader of the House assure us that businesses will have access to widespread testing to test their employees on a regular basis to get confidence? We can see from the Premier League how well regular testing is being proven to work. On that basis, surely cricket can also start with regular testing. Football is a contact sport, and it is working safely. Surely it can work for cricket. Although the Statement allows pubs and restaurants to commence, there are lots of caterers, such as events caterers and wedding caterers, who cannot operate. Their businesses have been destroyed. There are 1 million individuals not covered by the Chancellor’s excellent initiatives for business. What will the Government do to help all these individuals and businesses?
I am sure that, like me, the noble Lord has seen pictures of the England cricket team being tested this morning as they went into their bubble in advance of their series against the West Indies. That is happening and it is a small step in the right direction. The noble Lord will know that testing capacity has increased to over 200,000 tests a day and that around 8 million tests have been delivered through our testing programme, so nationwide testing is moving in the right direction. That will be critical as we start to unlock the economy further. The noble Lord is right that a series of schemes have been in place during the lockdown. The Chancellor will be making further Statements in this area in the next couple of weeks.
I, too, have some sympathy with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on cricket. There is no doubt that the return of first-class sport on TV is important for morale around the country. I noted that in the debate on the Statement in the other place, the honourable Member for Dartford called on the people of Britain
“to do their patriotic best … and go to the pub”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/20; col. 1176.]
There is indeed timely and welcome news for restaurants and pubs in this Statement, but does my noble friend agree that, while acknowledging that there has never been a textbook to follow, the Government should be commended for their efforts to protect people’s livelihoods via the job retention scheme and other measures?
I thank my noble friend. While I entirely agree with him about professional sport returning, as Norwich City fan the return of the Premier League has not been a happy experience so far, but let us hope a corner has been turned. My noble friend is right. It is great news. It is welcome that parts of the economy that we want to see unlocked are doing so. Of course, 1.1 million employers have used the job retention scheme, which has protected 9.2 million jobs. That has been an extremely important help. From the start of August workers will be able to return to work part-time, and as we slowly unlock the economy and open up key elements of hospitality and other sectors, we want to see that people can start to get to back to their working life and people can enjoy the services that they provide.
My Lords, I count about eight major changes in the Statement, all of which are worth while. However, they all take place on the same date, so how will the Government monitor the effect of each on the virus situation? As an aside, will the Leader of the House be kind enough to answer one of the questions from my honourable friend on the Front Bench in the Commons, Peter Kyle? What happens when people order drinks at beach bars, in terms of giving information? It was quite a legitimate question, bearing in mind the weather and what is going to happen.
I welcome the noble Lord back; it is good to see him on the screen. In relation to bars, one of the key things is that we urge everyone buying drinks to abide by the guidance and to stick to either two metres or one metre-plus. That is how we can start to make sure that, when hospitality opens, everyone remains safe. There are obviously other mitigating factors around sanitisation, hand washing and being sensible—there are all those issues. We will be asking businesses to provide details of customers if possible, but it probably will not be in all circumstances—for instance, in the example he cited.
My Lords, the Statement says that the Government will work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. That is helpful but it is urgent financially. Seventy per cent of the UK’s theatre venues, for example, could be bankrupt by the end of the year because the one-metre rule means that only a quarter of seats can be sold. What financial help are the Government planning, given that theatres receive £1.3 billion from ticket sales a year?
As I said, we are working extremely closely with the performing arts sector because we are well aware of the issues it faces. The noble Lord will know that we have set up the Cultural Renewal Taskforce, an entertainments and events working group, with extensive membership from across the artistic and creative sectors, to work with us to make sure that we can reopen these venues when it is safe to do so. As I mentioned, a further round table is being held next week to discuss guidance and innovative ideas on how we may permit live performances again. I mentioned in response to an earlier question that the sector has been helped financially in a number of ways, including the £160 million Arts Council England emergency funding. The Secretary of State is continuing discussions with the sector and I am sure they are discussing these very issues.
My Lords, I have two points. Incidents in Gütersloh, China and various other places have demonstrated that the virus can spread in meat markets and open markets. Have the Government initiated any scientific investigation of the need for extra measures around abattoirs?
My second question regards local lockdowns. I am still not clear who decides to impose a lockdown. Who is the responsible officer who can say, “Right, this is an outbreak, we need a lockdown”, and then call people together? Crucially, there has to be one person who can make the decision. Who is it?
As I have said, each local area has a local action committee, which will be working with a number of different organisations. That is where decisions will be made at a local level. If, for instance, in Weston-super-Mare, the issue was around a specific hospital, the hospital would close. To a degree, it will also depend on exactly where the outbreak has happened. Central and local information will be used so that we can act very quickly. The NHS Test and Trace system and the joint biosecurity centre will play an important role in helping feed through data on local outbreaks.
My Lords, as has been mentioned, classical musicians, orchestras, freelance players and venues have been particularly hard hit by the virus because they fall between the pillars of support that the Chancellor has erected. The Secretary of State, as the noble Baroness said, has made very welcome promises and has met leaders of these various institutions but what orchestras need this minute—before they go bust—is financial help. When might these good wishes be translated into a date and actual figures?
I am afraid I have provided all the information I can in terms of the fact that discussions are ongoing. There are further meetings next week. Support has been provided already. The department is very cognisant of the issues facing theatres, orchestras and others, and we will do everything we can to ensure that orchestras, for instance, can start rehearsing again and venues can open. It is an unfortunate fact that there are unique challenges, but we are doing everything we can. Orchestras and the theatre play a huge and important role in our culture and we want them back.
My noble friend will be aware that the Government and the regional Governments all say that they are taking decisions based on the science. How, therefore, is it that different decisions are being taken and at different times? Can the Minister also tell the House whether the science is being shared between HMG and the devolved regions and vice versa?
I assure the noble Lord that the Chief Medical Officers share data and work together. All four nations have downgraded the UK’s Covid alert level from four to three, which means that we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, although it remains in general circulation. It is right for the Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions. I am sure the noble Lord will see that the direction of travel is extremely similar and that we are all working closely together.
My Lords, the Minister is probably not aware that today is the International Day of the Seafarer, recognising the efforts of 1.8 million seafarers—of many nations, manning 96,000 ships that carry 80% of world trade, valued at $7 trillion—who ensure that the global economy continues to function. Yet that very trade is in crisis because of the impact of the Wuhan virus restrictions on Merchant Navy crews. Because of the virus, more than 400,000 sailors are stranded by travel restrictions that bar crew from disembarking to return to their home country or from travelling to a port where their ship is waiting for a crew change. Many seafarers have had to remain at sea for over 15 months and ships are beginning to refuse to sail. Will the United Kingdom take the lead in getting other nations to designate seafarers as key workers who can travel without restrictions when leaving or joining a vessel, creating safe areas in airports for their transit and accepting official maritime documents as proof of identity? The global economy and the financial recovery post pandemic are totally reliant on maritime trade, yet that trade is at present collapsing. A global economic disaster is looming unless nations take some certain action. The UK, as a great maritime nation with world shipping run from London, should take the lead.
It certainly feels like a bit of normality has returned with the noble Lord managing to discuss these issues in the Chamber. That is good to hear. I will certainly take back his comments to the relevant departments. I am sure a lot of work is ongoing, but he makes some very good points and I will make sure that they are raised with the relevant Ministers.
The Government’s figures, which may be as uncertain and unreliable as scientific opinion on this matter, say that five children under the age of 18 have died from this ghastly virus and that the death rate in the population is fewer than one in 1,500, which my maths makes less than 0.065 of the population. Yet we seem to have suspended our normal critical faculties. Of course there is risk—great risk to the elderly, the infirm and those with underlying health conditions, who should shield themselves. Otherwise, we should lift all restrictions and take sensible precautions. We should send the schools back now. Can my noble friend the Leader of the House go back to the Cabinet and say—it is not just my opinion—that many people believe that we should take such action. Thereby, we might salvage something of this country’s future and our children’s future.
As I said, we are committed to doing everything possible to allow children to go back to school safely and to support their well-being and education, and we are working with schools to make sure that that can happen. We are very well aware of the disadvantage that many schoolchildren have faced over the last few months. That is why we have announced £650 million—to be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020-21 academic year—for head teachers to spend on evidence-based interventions for those children who have missed out. In addition, we have put a further £350 million into a national tutoring programme to increase access to tuition for the most disadvantaged children. My noble friend is absolutely right: we need to make sure that children are not disadvantaged by the lockdown, and that is why we want to get them back into schools as quickly as possible.
My Lords, as a former chair of the National Housing Federation and as someone still working with that sector, I am acutely conscious that many planned improvement works on people’s homes—not least the fire safety efforts in high-rise buildings—are currently on hold because there is no clarity about contractors going into people’s homes to do the necessary work, although they can do so in emergencies. I am talking about electricians and plumbers, and this applies not just to affordable homes but across the country. There is no clarity for a huge number of people who work on improving people’s homes, often carrying out necessary interventions and, indeed, tackling sustainability. As I said, we are all very conscious of the fire safety issues. Can the Minister give some clarity about whether these contractors are now able to engage in that work in people’s homes, while of course exercising due caution, carrying out cleaning and maintaining a distance? After all, they are identifiable through track and trace if need be.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. As we take another step in moving from the two-metre to the one-metre-plus rule, that will help to ensure that some who have not been able to work are now able to do so. A huge amount of guidance is available, including for the construction industry. While travelling to the House, you can see that construction is picking up and that a lot more of this work is ongoing. I hope that, as we move towards unlocking and allow more people back to work, and as we move away from the two-metre rule, those things will help to ensure that more of that kind of work can begin again.
My Lords, do the Government accept that, to avoid public misunderstanding and mistrust of their key statements about Covid-19, be they made in Parliament, No. 10 or elsewhere, they need to take much greater care to clarify more frequently whether any of the rules and guidance given by the national Government apply to the whole of the United Kingdom or only to England?
I did not repeat the Statement but it makes it clear that the measures that have been announced relate to England. Obviously, the devolved Administrations are responsible for their own lockdown restrictions. Therefore, yes, these are measures for England.
Does the noble Baroness agree that a key factor in avoiding the risk of a second wave is the capacity to introduce effective local lockdowns with effective tracking and tracing? Does she also agree that local authorities have a key role to play in this? However, how can they possibly meet these responsibilities unless they have the financial resources to tackle them? When so many face the possibility of bankruptcy, how will the Government overcome this problem?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: local authorities have a key role to play. That is why we have made £3.2 billion of funding available to support them in delivering essential services. This funding was paid as an non-ring-fenced amount, so that they could decide how best to spend it. We have also helped to ease the immediate pressures that councils have faced by bringing forward payments of social care grants totalling £850 million and allowing councils to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments to central government. In total, we have committed over £27 billion to local areas to support councils and their communities and to help them in their vital work.
My Lords, in the light of the disgraceful scenes in south London last night, in which a number of police officers were injured, what additional planning have the Government put in place to support the police in view of the approach of a possibly long, hot summer and a greater consumption of alcohol from 4 July?
The noble Lord is absolutely right about the scenes that we saw. However, I stress that the vast majority of our citizens have abided by the guidelines and behaved respectfully. It is thanks to their sacrifice and everything that they have done that we are now in a position to gradually unlock the present situation. The Home Secretary is having ongoing discussions with the police about the pressures that they face, and those will continue. The police deserve our thanks for all their work.
My Lords, a number of noble Lords, including three of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, have raised the crisis facing performing arts organisations. It seems that the Government’s answer to this is simply that they are aware of the problem and that talks are going on. Does the noble Baroness not accept that the time for talking is probably now over? Furthermore, is she not aware of the letter in yesterday’s Times from over 60 leaders of arts organisations saying that, without “immediate and substantial” financial support, theatres and performing arts companies will close and tens of thousands of artistic careers will be cut short?
I do not accept that it has all just been talk. It is extremely important to bring performers in theatres, choirs and orchestras together with medical experts and advisers to discuss ways in which the sector can open safely. That is how we will get through this difficult situation, and we will develop guidelines that can be implemented to allow these settings to open. As I said, that work is ongoing. The group that has been brought together will focus on piloting innovative ways in which live performances might be permitted in the light of the scientific and medical advice that is being given.
My Lords, care home residents and people detained in secure settings were not mentioned in the Statement, but the mental health of all of them and their families benefits from regular social contact, both virtually and in person. That might be resource intensive but what attention is being given to the needs of these groups of people?
I assure the noble Baroness that they are at the forefront of our mind. Attention is being given to them and further work is ongoing. One thing that I have not mentioned so far is that from 1 August shielding will be paused. Therefore, people who have had the most intense experience during the lockdown will be able to start having social contact again, which we know is incredibly important, and I am sure that they are looking forward to that. From 6 July, those shielding will be able to spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people, including people from outside their household. Of course, support will also continue from the fantastic NHS volunteers, who have done so much to provide some contact for particularly vulnerable people who might not have relatives or family with whom they have been able to have contact.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as entered in the register. This is a health crisis and, for millions of people in this country, visiting a gym or going to a swimming pool is an essential part of their health regime. Can my noble friend now reiterate the Culture Secretary’s aspiration that gyms and leisure facilities will be reopened by mid-July?
My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, the noble Baroness referred to using local action committees as the way in which local lockdowns will be achieved. I refer to my interest in the register with the Local Government Association and to the words of Ian Hudspeth, who speaks for it on health matters. He and other local authorities have been begging for information on getting direct, real-time data about diagnoses of Covid-19, so that they can see and manage what is happening in their local areas. Can she say when or if that real-time information, down to the detail of at least street and postcode or small local areas, will be given to local authorities and those local action committees?
What I can say is that we have made £300 million available to local authorities to work with test and trace to develop the local outbreak control plans. Those plans will identify and contain potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, ensure that testing capacity is effectively deployed, and help the most vulnerable in self-isolation.
My Lords, I welcome the Prime Minister’s reference to live performance, but it is just one element of the UK’s cultural ecology. I have seen very little over recent weeks to give me confidence that the Government fully understand the interdependences between buildings and people, and the roles of freelancers, diverse and disabled artists, community organisations and SMEs. Every day, we are seeing examples of arts organisations brought to their knees, and we risk decimation of one of our nation’s most significant social, cultural and economic assets. When will we see action to make good on the Secretary of State’s commitment on 8 June that he will not see our world-leading arts and culture destroyed?
Well, I have already set out the significant financial help that has been provided for the sector and mentioned that we have a cultural renewal task force, with an entertainment and events working group, which includes extensive membership from across the artistic and creative industries sector and is working with the Government to ensure that we can provide Covid-secure guidelines, building, where relevant, on existing guidance, as well as providing intelligent and sector-specific expert input. The department is working closely with the sector to make sure that we can open it as safely and quickly as possible, and to provide it with the support that it needs.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply. We now have two Motions in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. The time limit is one and a half hours.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
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—
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 abo