Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 24 September be approved.
Relevant documents: 26th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument) and 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, it was necessary to make these regulations against an increase in transmission at local and national level. Although the new local alert regulations have since superseded many of the provisions of the regulations, I welcome the scrutiny from this House on the changes that they brought in and, in particular, on key aspects that remain in force. These include regulations that introduced the 10 pm curfew in these areas—a measure that has attracted considerable interest in the Chamber, and I welcome the opportunity to give this component of a broad suite of important measures the scrutiny that it deserves.
The regulations, SI 2020/1029, tightened the No. 2 regulations in key respects that have attracted considerable comment. The important modifications were necessary due to an increase in the prevalence of the virus. The ONS estimated that coronavirus had doubled in this area in the month up to 13 to 19 September to one in 500 people. From Thursday 24 September, the day that the SI was made, the following changes came into force: early closure of premises selling food and drink between 10 pm and 5 am, the restriction in relevant hospitality venues to table service, the removal of exemption to the rule of six for adult indoor sport, new penalties on individuals for breaking the rules to a maximum of £6,400, and some other measures. Changes from Monday 28 September included changing the exemption to the rule of six for weddings and wedding receptions to a limit of 15 people, limiting life-cycle events to six people, and raising penalties to a maximum of £10,000 for businesses that are not following Covid-secure guidelines.
SI 2020/1057 came into force on 30 September with two main aims. First, it introduced household mixing restrictions in all indoor settings. The regulations prevented people from mixing with other households in any indoor settings, including venues such as pubs and restaurants. The regulations also moved local authorities in Merseyside and Lancashire from the north-east and north-west regulations into the north of England regulations, so that those areas were not subject to the additional household mixing restrictions. Secondly, that SI amended two sets of national regulations by disapplying some gathering provisions and defining “indoors”, which was necessary to bring parity to the rules for indoor settings.
Most of the amendments in both SIs are no longer in force because the local alert-level regulations have replaced them. However, SI 2020/1029 is still required because it increases the level of fines that would apply to those flouting targeted action to close specific outdoor public places. This has been one of the top demands of councils in their fight against coronavirus. Similarly, a majority of the measures in SI 2020/1057 have been replaced by the local alert-level regulations. However, some amendments continue to apply, such as those that insert a definition for “indoors”. It has been necessary to maintain these regulations to ensure that the requirements on business, as provided under the obligations of undertakings regulation, continue to support the Covid-19 response.
I also want to take this opportunity to say a word about the 10 pm curfew. SAGE has highlighted that alcohol consumption may increase the risk of non-compliance with social distancing, and that hospitality settings are therefore associated with increased transmission. Given my 10 years’ experience at the front line of the late-night entertainment industry, to me this feels like a statement of common sense.
This epidemic is unprecedented. It is not possible to run randomised trials or controlled experiments, so we rely on our recent experience for the science. The views of our analysts are clear. In a Centers for Disease Control study of symptomatic patients from 11 US healthcare facilities in July 2020, adults with confirmed Covid-19 were approximately twice as likely as control participants to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming symptomatic. Public Health England data shows that, between 3 August and 27 September, at least 148 outbreaks occurred in restaurant and food outlets. The PHE surveillance from 21 September to 27 September showed that 13% of those testing positive had eaten out around the time of their likely infection. Police data on street anti-social behaviour suggests that 10 pm is an inflection period in the night. Of course, we have the example of the Belgian authorities in Antwerp.
The prevalence of the disease in the younger demographic is a further clue to how the virus operates. Our initial experience suggests that the 10 pm curfew has struck the right balance, allowing businesses to trade for the majority of the evening while reducing the risk of compliance with social distancing measures breaking down. It has sent a signal to people, particularly young people, that socialising in a way that breaks social distancing is a sure way to transmit the disease. Engagement with local authorities is, and will continue to be, a key part of this and other response mechanisms.
We are not alone in our decision to ask pubs, restaurants and cafés to close early. Denmark, which had taken a more relaxed approach up to this point, is now asking hospitality settings to close at 10 pm. Urban areas in Spain and Germany have a curfew at 11 pm. Across Italy, there is a midnight curfew for all hospitality settings and a 9 pm curfew for those that do not offer table service. Nine cities in France, including Paris, have a curfew of 9 pm. In other countries, a curfew has been placed on other commercial and retail businesses. In Belgium and the Netherlands, there is an 8 pm curfew on the sale of alcohol. We are also seeing countries or areas that are experiencing steep rises in coronavirus cases go a step further in closing hospitality businesses altogether, allowing only takeaway services and outdoor dining. This is true for Belgium, France, Catalonia in Spain, the Netherlands and, most recently, the Republic of Ireland.
I am grateful for noble Lords’ contributions to these debates and continued patience and scrutiny. I take this opportunity to thank in particular the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its reporting on both SIs, acknowledging that there were drafting errors in SI 2020/1029 and the Speaker’s letter being late for SI 2020/1059. We aim to meet our obligations to Parliament, the public and the statute book in making these regulations.
I have heard the numerous concerns from noble Lords. I commend the efforts of the usual channels to programme the business of the Chamber. I believe that these regulations are proportionate and necessary to protect the public from the spread of coronavirus. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
At end to insert “but that this House regrets that, given the significant impact on the hospitality industry, Her Majesty’s Government have not outlined the scientific evidence behind the 10.00pm curfew, and that they have not sufficiently consulted local authorities and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the provisions are effective and enforceable.”
My Lords, I am looking forward to this debate. A two-minute speaking limit really focuses the mind and the pearls of wisdom do not get lost among preambles and conclusions.
It seems a very long time since we had our first Covid SI debate. SAGE, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister have all wrestled with various aspects of handling this virus. We know more about it now, yet we have not yet managed to tame it. Despite optimism, it will probably take some time before we will be safe and feel safe wherever we go. I suspect that localised flare-ups will be with us for some time.
Questions have been asked as to why restaurants and pubs that serve food might be closed to control outbreaks of Covid-19 when many outbreaks are in private households and very few confirmed outbreaks have been linked to settings such as pubs and restaurants. However, a leading public health expert has said that while the question is understandable, it arises from a misinterpretation of the data. Professor Philip Nolan, who chairs the National Public Health Emergency Team’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, has said the idea that very few cases are connected to such social settings
“is misreading and misinterpreting the data on outbreaks and clusters.”
Professor Nolan explained that contact tracing resources are concentrated on where the virus is likely to spread to, rather than on where it has come from. He gave the example of someone who contracted the virus in a restaurant, saying it will then have “multiplied silently” inside them for three days before they
“started shedding virus, and potentially infecting others”
for two days, at which point they may then become symptomatic, self-isolate and, he hoped, get a test. If they test positive, contact tracers will usually ask them only about the previous 48 hours, when they were potentially infectious, and not the day five days earlier when they contracted the virus in the pub or restaurant. The individual’s contacts will then be tested. If their family members test positive, it becomes a household outbreak. The original case is classed as a community transmission, even though the individual
“got it in a restaurant and brought it home.”
We know that public health officials would like to go back and find out where people are getting the virus but we know they do not have the time or resources to pursue this exercise. International evidence shows that social settings, including bars and restaurants, drive community transmission. Unless we stop mixing in these settings, we know the disease could spiral out of control. All this is despite the hard work of those working in cafés, pubs and restaurants to minimise the risks, knowing that their livelihoods are at stake.
Indoor venues, including bars and restaurants, have long been considered particularly vulnerable to the spreading of the virus. Dr Julian Tang, a professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, says:
“Wherever you get people crowded together, for example concert halls, cruise ships, house parties, bars and pubs, you risk spreading a virus”.
UK coronavirus cases were up by 17,540 on Thursday. Dr Tang says:
“If people are sitting near each other talking without face masks or coverings, it can maximise the amount of spit droplets that are transferred between people”.
His research also highlights the potential risk if the virus is projected into the air while breathing and talking, where it stays suspended and may then be inhaled by others.
I have started to look at how other parts of world have been handling this epidemic. The case of Taiwan is particularly interesting. One of the main reasons for Taiwan’s success in containing the virus is speed. I suspect that another reason is lessons learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak, when Taiwan was hit very hard and started building up its capacity to deal with major pandemics. Late in 2019, when it heard there were some secret pneumonia cases in China where patients were treated in isolation, it knew it was something similar. The island’s leaders were quick to act as rumours spread online of an unidentified virus in Wuhan and unconfirmed reports of patients having to isolate. Taiwan began screening passengers arriving from Wuhan and early travel restrictions were put in place.
As much of the world waited for more information, Taiwan activated its Central Epidemic Command Center to co-ordinate different ministries in the emergency, and the military was brought in to boost mask and PPE production. The other major decision was to wear masks and promote handwashing from the outset, and to go into lockdown from 23 January. Those initial early responses to the outbreak in China were critical in preventing the spread of the virus in Taiwan, potentially saving thousands of lives.
Mask wearing is now normal in Taiwan, the washing of hands is second nature, and since April only seven Covid deaths have been recorded. Taiwan has no curfews and its residents eat in crowded restaurants. It seems that, from the outset, the population paid attention to public health advice and have reaped the dividend.
Taiwan looked at the evidence and asked its citizens to comply, and they did. Taiwan worked at messaging, as I am sure we have done, but it might be worth reviewing the messaging for the next time. I also commend Learning Disability England for the Covid materials that it has produced for people who find it difficult to read.
I look forward to the debate and I hope that the Minister will get some suggestions from noble Lords. Our major cities have been in the spotlight over the past few weeks: Leicester, Newcastle and now Manchester. I wonder how well the Prime Minister knows that city and, when he was the Mayor of London, what he would have felt if David Cameron had kept telling him what needed to be done.
My amendment states:
“this House regrets that, given the significant impact on the hospitality industry, Her Majesty’s Government have not outlined the scientific evidence behind the 10.00 pm curfew, and that they have not sufficiently consulted local authorities and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the provisions are effective and enforceable.”
As far as the data is concerned, I have found papers which suggest that close conversation is enough to transfer the virus, but the Government have chosen not to use it or quote it. Close quarters in a pub are part of the ambience, and for regulars it must seem galling to distance. However, I have also outlined what is possible if masks are worn, as in Taiwan. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, because she has put some pertinent questions to the Minister—not least about the evidence behind the 10 pm curfew. He made a few comments in his introductory remarks, but I am still at a loss to understand the scientific rationale behind it.
I would also say to the Minister that the implications on the hospitality sector are absolutely devastating. Now that Greater Manchester is to have the imposition of tier 3 on it, without agreement with the mayor, the devastation of the hospitality industry in Greater Manchester will be profound. Surely, at the end of the day, we deserve some form of explanation about the scientific evidence behind the decision that has been made.
I shall turn to the West Midlands, which is the subject of the second order before us. The noble Lord will know that the Conservative elected Mayor of the West Midlands and the leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward, are concerned about the implications of tier 2 because the big impact again will be on the hospitality trade, which is a massive employer in the region. From the figures, the number of infections caused from that quarter is very small when compared with family contacts. Given that the level of trust in government is—shall we say and to put it at its mildest—fragile, it is very important that we understand the rationale for these measures.
I will come back to the point that the Government turned down the SAGE advice for a sharp circuit-breaker. Yesterday, Mr Gove suggested that the Government have rejected circuit-breakers for all time. Can the Minister confirm whether that is now government policy?
My Lords, when introducing this measure in the Commons on 13 October, the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, made a very important statement:
“The powers in SI 1029 are therefore revoked. In practice, the effect of SI 1029 is to deliver enforcement against individual places that have been flouting the rules, which is the one of the top demands of councils in their fight against coronavirus.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/10/20; col. 199.]
Why has it taken six months for the Government to understand what it is that the people in charge of the local enforcement of these laws need both in local government and in public health?
I listened carefully to the way the Minister introduced this measure. The only data he has given us is about the increase in transmissions, and the only data we seem to have is about the Government’s failure. He talked about the fact that SAGE may regard this as being a way of controlling the virus and about the police saying that they think that 10 pm is an infection point. That is not a strong evidence base on which to curb the liberties of individuals and is not one in which the public can have faith that what is being done is the right thing.
Last week, the Minister talked about how we still do not know how infections are getting into households because the major route of transmission is within them. We will not know until our track and trace system is much better than it has been to date, for all the money that has been thrown at it, and until we are as vigorous in using the data and getting measurements that are much more granular and detailed, and then giving that information to the people who really know how to use it rather than sitting on it within the NHS Test and Trace, which clearly does not.
My Lords, I have sympathy with my noble friend on the Front Bench and I have great admiration for the work that he is doing in this area. But I also have sympathy with the statements which have already been made by other noble Lords. I have continually asked for a broad impact assessment of the damage being caused by these measures. How does the 10 pm curfew work? Why can cinemas stay open after 10 pm but not other hospitality venues?
We seem to have a hokey-cokey policy here. One minute, Durham is in while Gateshead is out, and Newcastle is in and Northumberland is out. On 22 September, Merseyside and the majority of Lancashire were in, and then on 26 September Blackpool went in as well. How are ordinary people who are living in these areas meant to keep up with all of this?
The ONS estimates that 85,400 people have died at home in England and Wales this year, some 25,000 more than the five-year average. That represents around 500 people a day. We seem to be trading off cancer deaths against Covid deaths, with bowel cancer endoscopies running at only 12% of their usual levels. Other checks, such as people not seeing their dentist, mean that head and neck cancers, breast and oesophageal cancers are not being spotted. This will lead to thousands of deaths.
I understand that the Government are facing difficulties in the current situation and that the desire to lock down is great, but just hiding people away is not necessarily the answer to solving the problems we are facing as a country not just from one illness but from all the other dangers that are around us.
My Lords, business and government must work in partnership to reduce transmission while keeping the economy moving. Business is keen to see maximum transparency on the evidence being used to make decisions. The Minister has attempted to justify the 10 pm curfew. Can he please explain why Public Health England data, starting from the week that pubs reopened in early July, showed that food outlets and restaurant settings had only 5.18% of cases, in which case the 10 pm curfew is unnecessary?
A major announcement was made yesterday, which I found tucked away on the seventh or eighth page of a major newspaper. The Government have secured up to 20 million 15-minute test kits to be fast-tracked to Covid hotspots. Will the Minister confirm the wonderful news that this new lateral-flow technology, which provides rapid results, can be used at airports, public venues, schools, factories and universities? Where are the Government planning to distribute these tests? Will they be made available to hospitals, care homes, schools and universities?
This is a game changer; it will help the economy to get back to normal and to fire on all cylinders. It is probably the most significant news we have heard, among all the doom and gloom of the past weeks and months. I believe it is called the SARS-CoV-2 Antigen test, manufactured by Innova, and tried and tested. This is excellent news. It is swab-based at the moment, but perhaps there will be a saliva version soon. I am told that it costs around £15 and that it is very accurate, with 100% specificity and 96% sensitivity. Could the Minister confirm this good news and when this can be ramped up around the country?
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the work that he and others are doing to make decisions at this very challenging time. The regulations we are debating relate to health protection restrictions and fines. However, I wonder whether our approach to public health protection and restrictions during the pandemic needs to pay more attention to a bottom-up approach of wisdom, rather than simply relying on top-down pragmatism and the push and pull of financial incentives. Last week, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester highlighted how policies, such as fines, are out of touch with many. It has led to frustration and resentment nationwide.
Our current crisis highlights the need for a whole-systems approach to public health. We need to reinvest in our public health practitioners on the ground, working in and with communities, such as public health nurses, who understand and work with their community to ensure that health and well-being are maintained. They can provide grass-roots insights, learning the needs of local people and business owners and, therefore, how to bring about change in behaviour. In this way, rules that come down from the top are informed by real experiences from those on the ground, from the bottom up—public health professionals, with their knowledge, skills and relationships, working with people and the population to promote well-being. This approach is often seen in those countries doing far better with Covid-19 than we are.
In times as fractured as these, we must extend trust and power to those most familiar with their situations and best equipped to bring about change and rely less on disengaged push-and-pull financial incentives to influence behavioural responses. What is being done to ensure that future restrictions are better informed by local wisdom as well as science?
My Lords, it is vital that schools are kept open, wherever possible, and that full online learning is provided where they cannot be. I will ask the Minister five specific questions about what is going on in the schools sector. The first is on the closure of schools. Under the tier 3 regulations, schools will be the last institutions to be closed. According to the Government’s guidance, schools will be the last sector to shut, if further restrictions are required. But the Welsh regulations, which were introduced today, have closed secondary schools beyond year 8 for the first week after half-term. Will the Minister assure the House that similar regulations will not be introduced as part of tier 3 in England?
Secondly, even when schools are open, a lot of pupils are being sent home because of Covid infections, but there is no uniformity in the definition of the rules by which they should be sent home, how bubbles are defined and how many students are sent home, depending on how many have been infected. The latest figures show that only 68% of schools do not have substantial closures and one in 10 students is not in school, with whole year groups often being sent home because of one or two infections. I am told by head teachers that there is no adequate guidance on this from the Department for Education. They would like pupils to be sent home only when infections are traced to groups that sit together. This would dramatically reduce the incidence of pupils being sent home and schools being closed and would bring the state system in line with the private sector, where very few pupils are being sent home.
Thirdly, this time, unlike the last closure, the temporary continuity direction provides that there should be online learning, but there are no standards of provision for what it should constitute. Ofsted is inspecting online learning, which is a big step forward from last time. Will the Minister undertake to provide the lessons of that to all schools?
I will ask the last two questions quickly. Where online learning is required, because pupils have been sent home, the provision for laptops to be given to poor students is not uniform. Many schools are finding that they can apply for free laptops only after the pupils have been sent home.
My Lords, I support these regulations, and I apologise to the Minister, because that is probably the most helpful thing I will say in the next two minutes. I am heartily sick of the media producing so-called experts who contradict everything Whitty and Vallance say within seconds of their briefings concluding. There is a never-ending stream of attention-seeking professors who are undermining public confidence in everything the Government do.
The others undermining government efforts are the police service of this country. I was a Police Minister and I defended the police every day of my life, but no more. They are a national disgrace, because they are deliberately refusing to enforce the laws passed by this Parliament. The Times revealed yesterday that, despite tens of thousands of breaches of the face-mask-wearing rules in shops, in the last three months, three-quarters of the police force have not given a single fine for breaking the law, and only 28 fines have been handed out by the rest of the police. They have just handed out 18 fines for mass lawbreaking. No wonder Covid is on the rampage in some of our major cities, when people see the police turning a blind eye to blatant law-breaking.
Can we also stop these idiotic euphemisms of circuit breakers and fire breaks, which are just code for total shutdown again? Shutdowns do not cure Covid; they just suppress it for a few weeks, then it takes off again. We have to learn to live and die with it, and survive by using social distancing, face mask wearing and handwashing.
We are told by the Government that we have to save the NHS, but why? I thought the NHS was supposed to save us, not the other way around. We are told the NHS must not get overwhelmed, but it already is. In its fetish to empty hospitals in case Covid kicks off, it has dumped tens of thousands of cancer patients and people with heart attacks, strokes and other serious illnesses. Some 90% of operations and treatments have been cancelled. These people will die prematurely and that is a disgrace. We can all clap the NHS medical staff, but the incompetent NHS bureaucracy is still stuck in Soviet-style government.
My Lords, the 10 pm curfew is a bit like the captain of the “Titanic” using a hairdryer to try to melt the iceberg he is hurtling towards: the impact is marginal and it will not work. Now that this measure has been set and the law has been passed, what is being used to measure the impact of the 10 pm curfew empirically?
As I said in a previous debate, I believe in looking at real people in real communities up and down the country, so this time I will use the community I live in. It has a population that is about 40% transient professionals, young professionals and students and 60% permanent residents. We have noticed—this is not just students and young professionals, but other people as well—that the 10 pm curfew has had consequences that might be unintended, but I will warn the Government about.
More people are pre-loading—buying and drinking more before they go out to the pub. They are then concertinaing their drinking when they are at the pub because they know that there is the 10 pm curfew. They are then asked to leave at 10 pm, full stop. We have gone from Eat Out to Help Out to “drink up and sod off” at 10 pm. People are going out, playing cricket, watching football penalty shoot-outs, and congregating in great numbers. They are then going home and having parties above the number of six. The hospitality industry is suffering and so is public health, because it is concentrating people in homes and in areas outside at 10 pm.
It is quite clear that this is not working. It is having a detrimental impact on public health. I believe it is also having a detrimental impact on the hospitality industry. That is why I support the amendment to the Motion.
My Lords, I have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Bethell, but I ask him to rethink the Government’s approach to the pandemic. China was the first country to be impacted by Covid-19 and its response has framed the context for the rest of the world. Its approach moved to withhold information about the virus, restrict the freedoms of a people and lock down its economic engine. Such actions are consistent with ranking 90th in the index for governance and 159th for personal freedom, but these are not the actions that build prosperity; they are the ones that weaken it.
As a democratic nation built on the principles of good governance and personal freedom, we should be finding ways through this crisis that speak to the power and strength of who we are and the values of our democracy. We need to have our eyes focused on what builds prosperity so that we emerge out of this crisis intact. Prosperity is built when Governments make decisions in such a way that engenders trust and with integrity, respecting the freedom of their citizens. Prosperous nations are ones where Governments govern with the agreement of the people and where citizens take responsibility. This should be borne in mind as discussions take place with Manchester and other cities.
Economic decisions must be taken responsibly to sustain an enabling environment for productive employment, sustained economic growth and personal development. Given that only 3% of reported cases come from the hospitality sector, we need to think again and at the very least make a distinction between restaurants and late-night activity, as the Minister referred to. The ease with which he listed the practice of curfews across different nations is chilling in the least. This should concern us.
The principles of personal responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. Citizens must be free and order their lives to take responsibility for their own families and communities. If we keep announcing rule after rule to our citizens, we will not allow the people of Britain to take responsibility and work with us.
Prosperous nations are built on trust and respect. Let us find a way to keep our restaurants open and businesses going. Let us create a way of working with the people of Manchester—
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House. I thank all the wonderful staff here, especially the security guards, who have taken me under their wing and ensured that I have found everywhere from the Salisbury Room to the smoking outpost, and of course to the doorkeepers, who have gone out of their way to find me a seat each day so that I can watch the Chamber close up and learn.
I am particularly honoured that my two supporters are both renowned public intellectuals whom I have admired for years: the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, whose invaluable educational research has ensured that those young people who do not go to university are not forgotten, focusing on the importance of training and the further education sector, where I lectured for many years; and the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, who has long been an inspiration, with his advocacy of communities and their values, and who never shies away from speaking truth to power.
And I thank you, my Lords, for being gracious enough to accept me. Let us be frank: my appointment is not uncontentious. I believe in speaking frankly, but mainly I stand before you as a democrat. While I am not formally accountable, I consider myself answerable to over half a million voters who elected me as a Brexit Party MEP for the north-west, and to the millions who recently declared forcefully, “We want more control over our laws, our lives, our liberties”.
These aspirations might have been temporarily suspended by emergency measures such as those being discussed today. However, the new normal should not mean riding roughshod over people’s freedom. Civil liberties, hard fought for by our forebears, should not be dismissed as a secondary inconvenience, some libertarian eccentricity. Regulations that pose a threat to the livelihoods, social bonds and public life of our fellow citizens need the fullest possible debate.
Debate is the bedrock of democracy and close to my heart. In 2000, inspired by the Enlightenment slogan “nullius in verba”—“on the word of no one”—I set up the Academy of Ideas. Since then, we have organised myriad conferences, salons, the annual Battle of Ideas festival and an international school debating competition, all to expand the boundaries of public debate.
However, debate is increasingly threatened by the mantra, “You can’t say that”. Friday’s barbaric beheading of a teacher in Paris is an extreme example of a growing censorious climate in which saying, “I find that offensive”, is used to silence people. I hope I will find allies in this House, with centuries of debate to its name, who will challenge this new cancel culture, which makes many fearful of speaking their minds.
Meanwhile, the assumption that there is only one correct view, whether on statues or lockdowns, makes a mockery of freedom of conscience. There is not only one way to deal with this pandemic, in fact, so let us not shy away from difficult conversations. Physical lockdown should not mean that free speech is locked down. I hope this House will lead robust national debates on Covid, but also on threats to freedom of expression itself. I am glad to be with you.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, who brings to the House her experience of the European Parliament, where she represented the north-west of England. Like many of her constituents there, she is and has been a doughty defender of Brexit and taking back control of our laws. She also has the unique distinction of being the longest-serving panellist on the BBC’s programme “Moral Maze”, dispensing ethical guidance to the nation. I am sure that if noble Lords felt they would like some ethical guidance, she would be willing to offer an open ear. She is a defender of free speech, as we have heard—a cause that must commend itself to your Lordships’ House, which manages to combine freedom from legal limitation on what it says with courteous and quintessentially rational debate.
On the subject of the Motion, the acid test is not infections but deaths. While these have been rising, they have been rising much more slowly than infections. For example, in the Evening Standard yesterday we learned that deaths in London over the past seven days have been running at a rate 1/50th of the height of the pandemic. This is good news, and we owe a great deal of that to the skill, experience and intuition of medical professionals, who have learned as time has gone on how better to treat and to care for those suffering from this dreadful disease. We owe them a great debt, as so often in this pandemic.
Mortality rates in ICU have come down from 40% to 15%. This points the way to the future, because while we would all like a silver bullet that will put an end to this pandemic, in practice we are much more likely to have to live with it for many years and rely on advances in care and treatment to make it ever less fatal. My question to the Minister is simply: can he assure the House that the Government’s attention is on improving treatment and care as much as on apps and vaccines?
My Lords, in the current difficult and stressful circumstances, mental health is a problem and it will become worse. To try to preserve their mental health, people will break the rules about socialising, especially as these rules seem to be confusing, as stated by so many other noble Lords. A few simple laws, as suggested by Liverpool leaders, may have had much more impact and it would have been possible to administer a brief, sharp circuit-breaker approach.
I have two concerns. Realistically, how are these restrictions going to be reinforced? Will it be by the police? They are overstretched already and should be tackling serious crime. Who will challenge behaviour? Which professionals will do that? My experience of travelling by train is that inspections are taking place in a limited way on trains and in stations.
My second concern is about students. The Minister said two weeks ago that student populations were not being monitored. Has this changed? It has been shown that among one student population, many tested positive who were asymptomatic. If this is a general aspect, then it is a real problem. But there is another problem for students. Research has shown that first year students in particular are vulnerable to mental health problems, some of which are severe—we had a recent suicide. What pastoral support is being given to students in these stressful times? Are discussions taking place between the Department for Education, local authorities, voluntary bodies working in mental health, universities and colleges, and also the students themselves, to develop an overall strategy on Covid for students? They are an important group and must not be ignored.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, on her maiden speech.
Clearly, we are at a critical point in the spread of the pandemic. The public will accept tighter restrictions on what they can do, but they need to have confidence that the decisions being made on such further restrictions for their area—in my case, the north-east of England—are grounded on clear evidence that they can understand. The experience of the past few days, with different interpretations of local evidence for Greater Manchester, has demonstrated that need.
Yesterday, one newspaper’s front page said:
“Hospitals in north running out of beds, leak reveals.”
Why do we have to depend on leaks? The NHS nationally and the NHS locally, and directors of public health locally, have a duty to publish as much information as they reliably can as soon as they can. That rule should apply to advice from SAGE as well. This way, conflict and misunderstanding can be reduced, and public support increased for actions that may impact directly on them.
We need all agencies to share publicly their trend analyses and the facts on which they are basing their recommendations to politicians. I said a few days ago that I thought the Government should publish minutes of all meetings between Ministers and civil servants with mayors and council leaders. In view of the experience of recent days, it would certainly help if these discussions were properly recorded and published to reduce spinning and attempts to manage news. Not only would that be in the public interest, it would focus much greater attention on the impact of decisions and the justification in terms of their economic impact on people.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, on her maiden speech.
We are back to debating SIs implemented three weeks or more ago, some measures of which have already been superseded. In two minutes, I could bemoan the huge democratic deficit behind government by decree, and note that in reducing the UK’s credit rating last week, Moody’s said that
“the quality of the UK’s legislative and executive institutions has diminished in recent years”.
I could point to the chaos and suffering, or to the report on the impact on Generation X of the lockdown measures—a further perspective on the health versus economy debate that we hear is raging in the Cabinet. I could debate the 10 pm closing time, which is of great, indeed existential, concern to many businesses. There is a lack information, clarity and data—as the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, sets out—and a lack of signs that the impacts will be measured, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said.
However, let us cut to the crucial issue. Expert advice tells us that this, and many measures in subsequent regulations, will not be enough. We will have to go further. The virus is outpacing the Government in Westminster again. So I want to take a minute on the big picture, looking around from northern England. Look east: Wales knows what is happening and it has a plan; further east, so too does the Republic of Ireland. Look north: Scotland is producing a strategic plan that will be discussed with party leaders next week and then in Holyrood. Yet we are now debating regulations covering the north-west. Like many noble Lords, I am sure, I have been glued to social media and have just heard by tweet that the extremely heated Greater Manchester talks have concluded with black smoke emerging from the chimney.
In the debate preceding this one, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, said in a different context that we need a steadying hand. That should clearly also apply to the approach to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in England. So my question to the Minister is simple: who is going to provide the steadying hand in England?
My Lords, there is much in both these SIs and replacement local level regulations about permitted indoor sports gatherings. There has been significant publicity about differences between regions in the north when it comes to keeping gyms open. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise how important it is to recognise that grass-roots sports and the safe use of gyms to sustain an active lifestyle are critical, not only for the financial security of these businesses but for the physical and mental well-being of everyone. The fitter we are, the stronger our resistance to Covid, the less exposed we become to the worst consequences of the disease, and the greater our chance of avoiding long Covid.
The positive influence of exercise is recognised alongside evidence that it is the fittest in society who are best placed to fight the disease. A recent publication in the Lancet concluded that the practice of any type of regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity appears to be associated with enhanced immunosurveillance and mucosal immune responses. This is likely to explain the significant risk reduction of community-acquired infectious diseases and infectious disease mortality, as well as an increase in the potency of vaccination.
I urge my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues across government in health, education and the DCMS to work closely together and back campaigns to reclassify gyms, pools and leisure centres as essential services. Some 400,000 signatories have been added to a petition today to stop the mandated closure of gyms in Merseyside, Wales and areas with tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions. I fully support the petition, for we must promote safe, healthy lifestyles among all sections of the population, and particularly the young, who have borne the brunt of the epidemic while, ironically, being the least exposed to its harmful effects.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, to your Lordships’ House. She will remember that we have known each other since before either of us got into the public eye—I will keep all her secrets if she keeps all mine.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said many important things in this debate. What are we trying to minimise? Are we trying to minimise infections or deaths? Again and again, the infection numbers are published. The Prime Minister long ago said he wanted to flatten the sombrero, which is all about the rate of infections, whereas the real number that we are, I hope, trying to minimise is the mortality rate. Because a lot of our strategy has been based on the rate of infection, there has been neglect of other morbidities. As many people have pointed out, hospitals cannot cope with the non-Covid morbidities and we are losing people on that score.
So it would be very good if the Government specified whether the objective is to reduce infections or reduce mortality. If it is to reduce infections, of course the whole thing about 10 pm is very important—but the 10 pm measure actually increases crowding at closing time, which is a very bad thing. Since the elderly are more subject to mortality than younger people, let us see that older people do not get infected in any of the activities that they undertake, indoors or outdoors.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who made some very telling points. I have some specific points on these regulations, as well as some more general points. The first point is, in a sense, a general one, and relates to the scrutiny function that we are expected to perform. We are always looking at these regulations in the rear-view mirror. These regulations were passed on 24 and 30 September respectively, which is a considerable time ago. The Minister has told us, in terms, that for the most part they are ancient history. This disturbs me and may mean that some of the specific questions that I have are no longer relevant; I do not know. But it would be good to know—and I appreciate that the Minister is going to say that it is a matter for the usual channels to decide, but presumably he has some input into this—when we are likely to be in close or hot pursuit of the date when regulations are made. That is something that I think we all have an interest in.
On the specific points of the regulations, I have a point about the exemptions from some of the curfew requirements at 10 pm. One relates to corner shops, which keep featuring as an exemption. I cannot find any backing for this, but I assume that a corner shop does not actually have to be on a corner; my own local corner shop is not. But it would be good to have that confirmed by the Minister and, if he is unable to do so, perhaps he could do so later in writing, copying in other noble Lords.
I also have a question about the figures for weddings and funerals, which I think has been asked before. Why are weddings set at 15 and funerals set at 30? Is there any evidential reason for this, or is it just a rather arbitrary decision? Also, there is an issue about various snack bars being subject to the closure requirement. Does this include snack bars and juice bars at gyms? I have some sympathy with the arguments put forward on the general point on gyms by my noble friend Lord Moynihan.
On the broader front, on the evidential basis, I find the anecdotal arguments of the Minister not compelling. We would do far better to follow countries such as Taiwan—a point made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. But I do support these regulations, with those caveats and provisos.
Well, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, puts this to the vote, so that I and, I hope, a large majority, can vote against her. The government proposals are sensible, measured and thought through. Where I live they will work, and where I stay in London they are working. I am hearing some nonsense in terms of the evidential base against it, and some statistical nonsense about how Covid spreads. Of course Covid spreads most within the house, as it might do in any other institution including, worst of all, a care home. But how it gets in is the question, and where it comes from. By definition there will be more inside the house, because people are living together within a household. The question for government and, therefore, for us, is how it gets in.
I have minor disagreements with government strategy, and I shall repeat them quickly again. It is a nonsense that a coachload of pensioners can jolly around this and every weekend as if there were no problem in doing so. That should be restricted. It is a nonsense that, successfully, league 7 and below football teams can have crowds—so in my area we can have crowds, because we have rather less successful football teams—but we are not doing what the Germans have done to allow in a safe way limited numbers of fans into the outdoors. It is also a nonsense that we are not using GP practices for the primary healthcare related to this; it needs to be the case when it comes to vaccinations that we use GP practices.
Other than that, I think that the Government are getting it generally right, and we should be backing government in this, because the people certainly do.
My Lords, I would like to add a bit of nonsense for the noble Lord, Lord Mann. My noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Moylan, if I understood them correctly, said that we would have to learn to live with the virus. That is now the bottom line. The increase in infections is quite different from the increase in deaths and serious infections. The fact that the average age of death is 82.4 and that people have underlying conditions has not been lost on the young, who widely regard themselves as being pretty well exempt—and, if they do get it, it is a bit like a cold; they will sniff it off. I am sorry to say that this may not be lost on the young, but it is also not lost on the old that the health service is in a state of virtual collapse when it comes to treatments for cancer, heart problems, colonoscopies and many other things. We cannot carry on, and I would like the Minister to go back to his department and say, “Look, we really have to rethink this.”
The press and the public, and in particular what I think of as the “thinking classes”, are turning against the Government. You have only to read today’s Times— and I am told that there are similar things in the Daily Mail—to work out that the Government are gradually losing the confidence of the commentariat, because these measures are seen as not working. I would ask for a coherent strategy, because local authorities are not enforcing; I do not think that the police in Cambridge have issued a single penalty notice, and they do not show any sign of wishing to do so. So it is time to reconsider, and maybe Professor Heneghan should be brought in to lead the Government’s analysis of the science.
My Lords, last week your Lordships’ House considered three coronavirus regulations, in the hope that they would codify and simplify the vast system of laws, regulations and advice that has developed over the past six months. We are now considering yet more regulations that add to the confusion. Of course, last Friday the Government released something late—which is their way of hiding things that they think will be unpopular—namely, that they will be sharing data with the police. Now this is not something that we should be debating afterwards and, luckily, we have had a short debate today in the House.
The real problem is that the Government have not accepted that this is a health issue and not an enforcement issue. Anything that deters people from signing up for test and trace is going to be counterproductive. Surely it would be better to give people financial support rather than giving them penalties all the time. Meanwhile, testing information is not even given to local directors of public health—and I cannot understand how the Government can justify giving it to the police and not to local directors. We need a locally led, health-centred approach to this health crisis, not the centralised, privatised, jobs-for-the-boys system that this Government are running.
Finally, can the Minister tell me that all the regulations and advice will be rationalised and refined so that we can actually understand where we all are?
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, on her maiden speech and her trenchant defence of free speech. In that spirit, I shall explain my increasing unhappiness. First, we are regulating punitively but often without evidence. I note the Minister’s helpful summary of experience here and overseas, but we still lack firm scientific evidence to show that the measures adopted here—for example, requiring seated consumption of food and drink, or further limiting the number at weddings or funerals—will reduce the risk of transmission to any significant extent. We are sure, however, that such measures will make those affected unhappy.
Secondly, it is now clear that restrictions and lockdowns do not solve the problem posed by the virus. They delay things, but only at enormous cost, running into tens of billions of pounds, and in terms of unhappiness brought on by loneliness and lives lost due to the consequent neglect of other medical conditions. Since my noble friend represents the whole of health and social care, I cannot understand why so little attention is paid to this aspect. Those in need of urgent treatment avoid seeking help, many GPs still only see people online, those who want a dental procedure or an operation often have to self-isolate, doctors have asked relatives to verify deaths via video calls, cancer patients and heart patients are dying for lack of early treatment, and partners are prevented from attending maternity scans or being with the mother of the baby throughout labour. When I raised this point with the Minister some weeks ago, he gave me a really promising answer, but bad stories abound, and I would like a progress report.
Thirdly, the rule of six is very inconvenient. Yet again, there is no evidence that it will work. Nevertheless, I am with the Government in believing that we need to avoid another national lockdown at all costs: all that will do is delay the virus wave in the slim hope that a vaccine will arrive in time. We need to learn to live with the virus and to continue to deal with it locally.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. In our younger days we shared many platforms in the antiracist movement. Of course, that was before she departed completely from my political principles, but I look forward to working with her on common grounds.
The Government must lead by consensus, with clarity of messages and adequate financial support for the millions of our citizens who are experiencing such draconian measures, financial collapse, and strain on their mental and physical well-being. The spat with Mayor Burnham has certainly taken attention away from the serious impact of these regulations, including the lack of an effective test, trace and track system.
From the outset, the Government have been utterly inconsistent in their dealings with leaders of local authorities, many of which are facing massive reductions in basic services for the elderly and people with disabilities, and the decimation of voluntary organisations that have been the backbone—the bedrock, actually—of vulnerable communities. Some local authorities are facing bankruptcy, as the noble Lord is well aware. The collapse of the hospitality sector and associated businesses has had a profound impact on local authorities, as has been mentioned, and will continue to have such an impact unless the Government provide sufficient financial measures for them in their critical role in underpinning and delivering these protection measures.
My Lords, this regulation enables the Health Minister to make regulations preventing dangers to public health from conveyances arriving anywhere and preventing the spread of infection or contamination. It also provides powerful regulations to give effect to international agreements or arrangements—for example, the World Health Organization’s recommendations.
These are necessary powers for the pandemic, restricting travellers arriving from outside. The virus has now spread virtually all over the world. People arriving from outside the UK must conform to the regulations that have been made to protect the population. We must expect that people arriving from countries with a high level of coronavirus should be subjected to isolation for two weeks if there is any sign of a fever or cough when they arrive. It is the responsibility of the Government to protect their citizens.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I welcome her to the House and wish her a very happy and successful time in this place. I also add my congratulations to my noble friend the Minister for his stamina and patience in once again coming to present these regulations to the House.
It is not that I do not support regulations—I do—but I make a plea to my noble friend that the guidance could be much clearer. In particular, for example, when reference is made to “linked households” and “bubbles”, my noble friend referred me to the app, so I took his advice and went on the app, but it is not immediately clear where to find this guidance. When you look up “linked households”, it comes up with general advice about coronavirus, about household antibacterial chemicals linked to weakened bones and something about house dust linked to obesity, which I do not think is what my noble friend intended to direct me to.
I make a plea that there should be a one-stop shop, where those who are the target and recipient of the restrictions in these regulations can go for very clear, specific guidance. A specific example that received great notoriety was when Dominic Cummings visited the north-east, a place in County Durham, right at the outset of the original lockdown. Giving him the benefit of the doubt—perhaps he did not understand the rules—where would he look to find these rules in a very simple way, so that he could understand, as we could all understand as the recipients of these regulations, what, for example, constitutes a bubble and what constitutes a linked household?
I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. It is, of course, the last possible day on which we can debate them, four weeks after the policy came into force, and some of them have already been overtaken by things that have happened since. Indeed, we have already had the opportunity to debate the policy thrust of these regulations, as they are largely replaced in SI 1103, which was debated and approved by the House last week as part of the new national tier system of regulations. It rather begs the question why this debate is necessary.
I understand that this needs to proceed, because it alone sets out the level of fines for offences relating to the ministerial power to close public places. Why were those provisions not included in the three tiers regulation? I can see no reason why they were omitted, given that they remain an important part of the regulations and that the tier regulations were supposed to condense and simplify things. If there is a legitimate reason, perhaps it should have been explicitly set out in the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum. That leads me to think that this might have been an oversight and a correction. Of course, we know that corrections have been happening at quite a rate in these statutory instruments. Some 8.5% of them have been corrected or replaced; it was 12.5% in September.
Turning to the substance of the regulation, we support the measures, difficult as they are, but we have questions about the scientific evidence underpinning them, as many noble Lords have said. The Minister will be aware of the cross-party calls for the publication of the scientific evidence that informs the Government’s decision to implement these measures—specifically, whether Sage provided the Government with evidence regarding how the new curfews would impact upon virus transmission. My noble friend Lord Desai asked a very legitimate question: are the Government trying to reduce transmission of infection with the virus or deaths? It is a legitimate question to ask.
The Sage minutes published last week show that experts dismissed the idea of a 10 pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants as being likely to have “a marginal impact” before it was implemented across England. Last month, Professor Graham Medley, a leading member of Sage, said that the group had never discussed the 10 pm curfew, fuelling the belief that the Government adopted the measure alone, presumably based on what the Minister said about the curfew being “common sense”. Sources suggest a kind of pick-and-mix approach to “following the science”.
Last week the Health Secretary said that evidence from accident and emergency departments showed a reduction in alcohol-related admissions late at night after the 10 pm curfew, which he believed was evidence that there is less mixing and less drinking late at night. We have seen the pictures of people leaving pubs and venues and massing on the streets after 10 pm. The Health Secretary also attempted to defend those photographs by saying that that was largely outside, which seemed to miss the point—presumably because he has a ministerial car—that actually most of those people will have been using buses, tubes and other methods of getting themselves home, where maybe no form of social distancing was possible. The Government need to look again at these issues, perhaps at what is happening in Wales, where there is a drinking-up time, licensing sales are banned after 10 pm and there is no hard stop at 10 pm so things are staggered.
I want to address the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, in her amendment. It is deeply concerning—although, frankly, not surprising—that the Government have failed to consult local authorities and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the provisions are effective and enforceable. The Government’s disregard for local authorities has become a theme in the handling of this pandemic, and I resent on their behalf the repeated assurances from Ministers that somehow the leaders of local authorities who speak to the media are not being truthful about how the discussions are actually going with the Government, and that behind closed doors everything is wonderful. I think that is probably not true.
I return to the issue that we have been raising since literally the beginning of this pandemic: the responsibility for contact tracing must be given to local public health teams, along with increased support and resources, particularly for those areas that are Covid-19 hotspots.
My Lords, I start by saying a massive hurrah to my noble friend Lady Fox of Buckley. I thank her for a rousing maiden speech, literally the best maiden speech that I have ever heard. She made a very clear case against cancel culture. She has identified herself as a free spirit, something that this Chamber values enormously, and has staked her claim as a champion for the transition from the EU. I know she joins many good friends in that cause here in the House.
I completely and utterly endorse the strong and heartfelt opinions expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady Neville-Rolfe on the hospitality industry. I have been part of the hospitality industry for a lot of my career. I care about it greatly and the sight of it ailing distresses me. I know those people who depend on casual labour from the hospitality industry to pay the bills; I have been one of them. I have no doubt about the profound impact at every level of society, from those who are poorly paid to those who own the businesses, of the restrictions that put those businesses under massive pressure—for some, maybe even terminal pressure. It would be completely inhuman of me not to address the economic and psychological distress of the result of that. I completely endorse their concerns on that matter.
However, I have to challenge some of the assumptions that seem to be in the ether. I have clear, positive evidence for the impact of Covid in late-night drinking. I wonder: what is the alternative, the counterfactual, that is being suggested in this debate? Is anyone really suggesting that late-night drinking is in some way conducive to social distancing? If so, they have very different memories from mine of times in the pub. Is anyone suggesting that late-night drinking somehow enhances the rule of six and brings discipline and a strict regime to people’s social lives in the pub after 10 pm? Is anyone suggesting that pubs somehow get cleaner after 10 pm, with the virus somehow evaporating like Cinderella at that time, instead of actually getting dirtier and more contagious? Is anyone really suggesting that post-pub socialising somehow reduces, the more you drink and the later it gets? None of those things was my experience; nor is it the experience of those who have put these regulations together.
My noble friend Lady Altmann is quite right to ask for an impact assessment. I guide her towards PHE, which has published a really clear assessment on the direct and indirect impacts of Covid-19, written by the ONS, the Department of Health and other government people, and approved by SAGE. It is important reading. It spells out in clear terms the impact on mortality, on the economy and on secondary health outcomes, and I highly recommend it.
I shall address some of the many worthy and valuable questions asked in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked, slightly off-topic but very importantly, about schools. He is right: it a source of concern that there is a balance to be struck between the discipline and requirements of keeping infection out of schools and the importance of keeping those schools going full-time. As a father, I can say that two of my children are out of school at the moment and there is a huge amount of pressure on the disciplines. I reassure the noble Lord that we are working intensively with teachers, schools, councils and the Chief Medical Officer’s office to put together guidelines that can accommodate these very difficult situations.
I applaud my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s commitment to consent but I remind him that we have hardened the legal framework; in fact, we were here discussing that a few hours ago. However, I utterly reject his characterisation of the NHS. Instead, I pay tribute to the doctors, the nurses and indeed the bureaucrats who keep the show on the road under extremely difficult circumstances. I warn everyone that any virus as vicious as Covid will be a huge challenge to any health system. I am extremely proud of the way that the NHS has stood tall in the face of this storm.
My noble friend Lady Stroud lifted the debate, characteristically, with extremely wise words on prosperity, trust and personal responsibility. These are very much the values that we seek to apply in our response to Covid. However, I remind her that we need to balance personal freedom with the public health imperatives, of which there are two in particular: first, my health affects your health; and, secondly, we can beat this virus only by acting together. It is by balancing those two imperatives—personal freedom and public health—that we go about our business.
I was extremely surprised by my noble friend Lord Balfe’s comments, coming from someone who is normally such a sensible source of grounded wisdom. He somehow made the case for the thinking classes and the commentariat as if they should be running government policy—God forbid. In fact, I remind him that, as the noble Lord put it, these restrictions are working, they have had an impact on the spread of the disease, they are massively supported by the public and, as he knows, the alternative is a meltdown of our health service, and potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths.
My noble friend Lord Bourne is right to raise the difference between weddings and funerals. I can explain it briefly but I am happy to write to him in more detail: weddings are considered to be relatively voluntary but funerals are completely involuntary. That is why we allow a larger number of people at a funeral than at a wedding.
I would like to end on a note of optimism. My noble friend Lord Moynihan asked whether we were still focused on the actual care of people. I reassure him and the Chamber that we have made massive strides in the development of therapeutics to help us treat those with Covid. We understand more and more about the impact of long Covid, which is a terrible threat, and we understand better and better the ways in which we can diagnose this awful disease.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, both mentioned Taiwan. I share their respect and admiration for the way in which that small democratic island has gone about its public health challenge. There is a lot to learn for all of us.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who has become an even greater evangelist for mass testing surveillance than me, that we are making massive strides. I pay tribute to the innovators around the world, but particularly the British innovators, who are bringing us incredible new testing technologies, and we are applying them at speed.
Finally, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, to weigh heavily the tremendous commitment that we have to working with councils. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I do not think that I ever said that the discussions were easy or wonderful; I said that they were energetic. She has a point—these relationships are difficult and, as we speak, just how difficult some of them are is being played out. However, that does not mean that we do not care or that we have not tried. In fact, I hope that we can build on this engagement to create not only a stronger response to Covid but, ultimately, a stronger democracy. In that spirit, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.