Motion to Approve
My Lords, we have come to a critical juncture. Incidence rates are growing, and the NHS is under increasing pressure. The ONS now estimates that approximately 568,100—one in 100 people—in England have Covid-19. That has risen from one in 2,000 in July, and one in 240 at the beginning of October.
The Prime Minister explained things very clearly in the other place. The R number is above one in every part of England, the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario, there are already more Covid patients in some hospitals than there were in the first wave, and, even in the south-west, current projections mean that we will start to run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks. The chief executive of NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts, said:
“Looking forward, there is a clear and present danger that the NHS will not be able to treat all the patients it needs to in the best and most timely way.”
The modelling presented by our scientists suggests that, without action, we could see up to twice as many deaths over the winter as we saw in the first wave.
I recognise that some noble Lords are sceptical about whether the full range of measures in these SIs is needed right now, or whether they are needed at all. I acknowledge the concern that perhaps the cure does more damage than the disease itself, but that is not the belief of the Government. Without action, the NHS will be overwhelmed, which could put life-saving procedures, cancer therapies, emergency services and diagnostic investigations at risk.
It is true that we are much better prepared than before, with large stockpiles of PPE and ventilators, the Nightingales on standby and 13,000 more nurses than last time. However, the virus is growing exponentially, far faster and heading far further than we could ever conceivably add capacity for. Even if, by some incredible national effort, we doubled capacity, that gain would be consumed in one gulp of the virus doubling once.
Meanwhile, the scientific evidence shows us that the measures have worked and lives have been saved. The analysis of my department, the Office for National Statistics and the Government Actuary’s Department has shown that the mitigations we have put in place have prevented more than 500,000 deaths, and our previous sacrifices and efforts have therefore saved us all from untold personal heartache, civic pressure and economic disruption.
However, we recognise that these interventions are difficult for many people, and that is why we have evolved our approach from the first wave and the previous lockdown. I will say a few words about this. For the first lockdown we paused non-urgent care to stop the NHS being overwhelmed. This time, we are maintaining as many NHS services as possible. In response to arguments made forcefully by noble Lords in this Chamber, we are prioritising education—doing everything we can to keep open schools, colleges, universities, childcare and early years settings.
We have taken steps to mitigate the impact on the vulnerable: the new lockdown measures include allowing support and childcare bubbles, support groups and unlimited outdoor exercise, for instance, to continue. We have amended guidelines to suggest that the clinically vulnerable and the over-60s should minimise their contact with others, and the clinically extremely vulnerable should work only from home, rather than asking them and their households to shield themselves, as we did for the first lockdown. On funerals, we have changed the Covid-secure guidelines to allow up to 30 people to attend.
Lastly, we have improved how we work with local authorities to support them in responding to this crisis. My department has regional teams made up of PHE regional directors, Contain regional convenors and Joint Biosecurity Centre regional leads, who work continuously with local authority chief executives, the directors of public health and local resilience forums. I pay testimony to all those noble Lords who have brought this challenge to our attention. These groups attend local incident management meetings and outbreak boards as well as meeting more informally. They also organise meetings at a regional level to share good practice and help areas support each other through mutual aid.
In relation to those who are less privileged and in the area of financial support—another subject raised by noble Lords—we completely recognise that these measures are difficult for the general public and business, which is why we will provide support to protect jobs and get people through the crisis. This includes extending the furlough scheme until the end of November, helping with mortgages, helping the self-employed—as the Prime Minister outlined earlier this month, we are doubling our support from 40% to 80% of trading profits—extending the deadline for applications to the Covid loans schemes, cash grants of up to £3,000 per month for business premises closed as a result of the national lockdown, additional funding worth £20 per head to enable local authorities to support other business affected by the lockdown, and other measures.
My final points are on the steps out of this lockdown. I stress that these restrictions are time limited: after four weeks, on Wednesday 2 December, they will expire, and we will return to a tiered system on a local and regional basis according to the latest data and trends. As the Prime Minister set out in the other place, the best way to get R down now is to beat this autumn surge and use the breathing space to exploit the medical and technical advantages we are making to keep it low.
Our doctors and scientists have led the way in improving how we treat people with Covid, work continues to progress on developing a vaccine and we are working to continue to increase our testing capacity, most notably with cheap, reliable and rapid-turnaround tests with results in minutes. As the Prime Minister outlined, plans are already in place for the deployment of these quick-turnaround tests, which we will manufacture in this country and apply in an ever-growing number of situations to allow us to beat the disease.
By way of conclusion, I acknowledge that these measures are difficult for us all. There is not one of us who does not regard them with a heavy heart, but I know that the general public will continue to come together, as they always have done. Together, we can protect the NHS and the vulnerable, and save lives. We must place difficult but time-limited curbs on our freedom in the short term so that we ensure greater freedom and prosperity in the long term. If we act now to suppress the virus and support the economy, education and the NHS, we can restore those cherished freedoms more quickly and get closer to the lives that we all want to be living. We cannot do this with the virus growing exponentially so we must all make sacrifices now for the safety of all. It will not be easy, I know, but in a pandemic the effective steps are not always easy. We are called on to make fundamental changes to how we work, live and interact with each other, in pursuit of a common cause. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
Leave out from “That” to the end and insert “this House declines to approve the draft Regulations because no impact analysis of the social, economic and health costs of a national lockdown, compared to the benefits of addressing the transmission of COVID-19 of such a lockdown, has been laid before Parliament, and because Her Majesty’s Government have not published a comprehensive long-term strategy for the lifting of all the restrictions put in place to address the pandemic.”
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am 69 and am definitely entering the danger zone for coronavirus. Actually, I believe I had it in late March after lockdown. It was largely asymptomatic and possibly acquired here in this House. I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister and the Government are in an impossibly difficult position. Nobody doubts that this is an unpleasant, virulent and highly contagious virus that is killing people, especially the old and vulnerable. Beyond that, there is huge disagreement among the public, politicians and scientists.
This morning, I attended a meeting with Sir Jeremy Farrar of SAGE. He was very reasonable, plausible and balanced but not ultimately convincing because of differing and competing views. For instance, Professor Heneghan, of the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine—I emphasise “evidence-based”—said that the R rate in Liverpool is falling among the over-60s. Apparently, Covid cases in Liverpool hospitals are falling. King’s College London believes that the R rate in England and Wales now is approximately one and Tim Spector, a professor of epidemiology at King’s, thinks that the peak of the second wave has passed. Professor Gupta at Oxford and many other eminent scientists disagree with the SAGE analysis. We were told on Saturday by Sir Patrick Vallance of a trajectory of 4,000 deaths each day without a lockdown and yesterday, the Chief Medical Officer, under questioning, reduced that number to 1,000.
What I am saying is that nobody really knows, and scientists and doctors disagree. For instance, just over 1 million people have officially had Covid but I think that there are very many more. I suspect that all of us know people who believe that they have had it. We do not know how many cases are hospital-acquired infections; yesterday, Jeremy Hunt said that it is 18%. We do not know when and if a viable and effective vaccine will be produced. We still do not know why people have such totally different responses and symptoms. My son had the virus before the lockdown in mid-March. He recovered but said that he could not taste or smell anything. That was not declared a symptom until late May. This morning, Professor Farrar said that we still do not know much about the long-term effects—so-called long Covid. Of course, respiratory diseases such as pneumonia have a lingering effect that sometimes takes six months or more to recover from. The truth is that nobody knows much about this virus or the epidemic.
However, we now know that one has only a 50% chance of survival if put on a ventilator. We were not told that in April during the panic to get more ventilators, so advice changes. We know that only something like 320 deaths from coronavirus, every one of which is a tragedy, have occurred among those aged under 60 without comorbidities. Among the under-40s, there has been a total of about 250 deaths from the virus during the epidemic, overwhelmingly of people who were already vulnerable with comorbidities.
We know that our young people—our children and our grandchildren—will be saddled with debt for decades, as my parent’s generation spent decades paying off debt from the Second World War. Will our children ever forgive us? We know that unemployment will rocket next year. We know that businesses, large and small, will be closed in their droves. In hospitality, pubs and restaurants will close their doors tonight and many will never reopen. We know that cancer treatment has ground to a halt for hundreds and thousands of patients. We know that domestic abuse and mental health issues have increased dramatically—as, it appears, have suicides. We know that students are locked into halls of residence, ruining their time at university; they are turned into criminals if they leave. They will then face a desolate employment landscape in which to find a job. Therefore, is it not reasonable to ask for a cost-benefit or risk analysis? Yesterday, Robert Jenrick, a Cabinet Minister for whom I have a high regard, said that there had been no impact assessment. Surely we should expect such an assessment before embarking on a serious act of national self-harm, yet the Government do not appear to have done one.
The second part of my amendment calls for an explanation of the Government’s comprehensive long-term strategy. In the last century, when I was in the Army, it was a given that one explained to all one’s soldiers the rationale behind orders if one expected them to follow them. It is called leadership. I ask the Minister to tell the House what the strategy is behind government policy. The country is locked down so infections should fall, but when restrictions are lifted, it seems to me that infections may rise again, meaning a third wave. Then what? An effective and reliable vaccine may appear, or it may not. It may be only 50% reliable anyway, as I read from another expert. As I understand it, a vaccine makes the patient’s body produce antibodies, but now we are told that many recovered patients lose their antibodies within six months. Is that the case?
As a loyal Conservative, I want to believe that the Government have a strategy but my credulity has been strained somewhat. We were originally told, until late August, that face masks were essentially of no use. We have been told to go back to work. It is only two or three weeks since we were told that there would definitely not be a second national lockdown. I regret to say that an enormous amount of good will and trust has evaporated. We are told that the public support a second lockdown. I am not so sure, but the role of leadership is to lead. We need courageous leadership to explain the costs, benefits and risks surrounding this crisis and this measure. We need to a clear strategy to take us through this crisis.
I do not underestimate the extraordinarily difficult choices before the Government; nor do I envy Ministers having to make these decisions. I will listen to the 50 or more contributions and look forward to the Minister’s response, but I currently intend to divide the House on this amendment.
My Lords, on 13 October, I asked the Minister why the Government were so resistant to following the SAGE advice of 21 September. I said that I could see us back here in this Chamber debating a national lockdown within weeks, during which time more lives would have been lost. I have never been less gratified at having been right, like so many other people. If this Government reject hindsight, they have certainly failed at foresight.
Yesterday, in response to questions from my noble friends asking why the Government have chosen now to commit to a national lockdown, the Leader of the House said:
“We were presented with national data that we could not ignore.”—[Official Report, 3/11/20; col. 682.]
Can the Minister tell me why, having been presented with evidence that they could not ignore in September about exponential rates of infection, the Government chose to do just that? What evidence were they acting on? SAGE was clear that national measures were needed and was clear about the urgent need for more rapid, more stringent interventions that would more quickly reduce incidents, prevalence and Covid-19-related deaths.
Since the start of this epidemic, we have known that a second wave of infections this winter was probable. We in this House have asked constantly what evidence was being used to assess risk and what had been learned from the first wave about preventing the spread of infection. We asked what was being done to prevent spillover from areas of high to low infection. We asked time and again what was being done to support local authorities and correct for the diverse failures of the test and trace system. Over the months, we have had no answers; there were none because it was just drift and dither and now a bit of panic. It is no wonder that, even now, with a reluctant lockdown that is subtly different from the first, there is still a sea of confusion and deep anger across the country. No one underestimates the seriousness of what the Government are asking people to do or the impact that the next month will have on mental health, jobs, family and social life. I welcome the fact that schools are being kept open but it needs extra vigilance.
In a spirit of hope over experience, therefore, I shall ask the Minister some more questions. What is the current state of intensive-care hospital capacity in the south-east, where, like the south-west, the virus is rising faster? When will those beds be full? What range of criteria will be used to determine when the lockdown can be lifted on 2 December? People want certainty that it will end but if they are expected to comply, they want to know the plan and what it is based on. People also want to believe in the prospect of a vaccine, so can the Minister tell me what steps the Government are taking on all current vaccine candidates to license production in the UK to ensure that a supply is assured, regardless of which is approved? Who will get priority?
Finally, people want to be able to trust the scientific consensus and to know that the Government do too. But the Government have undermined that trust through their inconsistency, which has fuelled the scepticism that we see in this evening’s amendments expressing regret. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, in this respect: the management of the epidemic is an object lesson in the failure of leadership, governance, management and communication. However, I am sure that the House will support the regulations.
My Lords, in September 500 people were in hospital with Covid-related symptoms. Today, as we speak, the figure is nearly 11,000. If the Government had taken the advice of SAGE at the beginning of September, the number would clearly have been lower.
The effect on the NHS of having 11,000 Covid patients is not just a crisis in critical care for Covid patients; it is a crisis for anybody who has a life-threatening condition. Beds are filling up and, if this rate continues, people with life-threatening conditions will not be able to get the life-saving treatment they need in the NHS. That is why we need to act. I have some sympathy with some of the amendments that have been tabled but, because of that one fact, I cannot support them today. It is beholden on us to act, not just because of those with Covid but because of those who will have strokes, heart attacks and other life-threatening conditions now that we have got to this stage. I blame the Government for getting to this stage by not acting faster, but that one statistic alone makes me feel that we have to act.
We then have four weeks in which the Government have to put in place a national system for sorting out test, trace and isolate. On testing, it is not just a case of putting another two or three noughts on the number of tests carried out; it is about getting to the right people at the right time and getting the test back speedily. That is absolutely vital. The Government need to make sure that they stop talking just about quantity and start talking about quality as well.
Tracing is a national disgrace and is causing the virus to spread faster. We need to localise the tracing system, with local knowledge and shoe-leather epidemiology. We need people who know the streets, back doors and ginnels, and who know where to get to and how to speak to people. The Government need to localise by working with industry, academia and local government. It has to be about not just money but expertise, getting the data in a way that local areas require. That is absolutely vital.
Isolating is about giving people financial security so that they do not have to worry about feeding their children or paying their mortgage or rent. It should be seen as a national and civic duty which the Government support, without more sticks or penalties. Taiwan has shown how this can be done: with Covid teams which go in and support people, not just financially but with psychological help. There is help with childcare and food, and by checking on people’s health.
So, through gritted teeth, I will support these regulations. We, the public, will do our bit. We will stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, but over the next four weeks the Government have to do their bit—sorting out the test, trace and isolate system.
My Lords, I am grateful to Her Majesty’s Government for seeking to ensure that the appropriate measures are in place to protect the most vulnerable and restrict the spread of this virus. It is important that we do not prolong such stringent lockdown measures because of the way that they impact on the mental, physical and, indeed, spiritual well-being of the population. However, I will not be supporting the fatal Motion. I recognise the exceptional nature of these times, and welcome that the regulations will enable places of worship to remain open for private prayer and broadcasting acts of worship. Creating such broadcast acts of worship often requires a team of people, both amateurs and professionals. I would welcome more clarity from the Minister on the number of people allowed to do this.
Clergy across the country have worked hard to ensure that our church buildings are Covid-secure for public worship, education settings, food banks and other essential services. In most places, by distancing and limiting congregation sizes, communal worship can safely take place without the need for an outright ban. Religious worship is not a leisure activity: the freedom to worship and to assemble for this purpose is a right that we enjoy in this country and strongly advocate for in other countries. The law will be adhered to, but I hope that the Prime Minister and the Government have understood from the united response of faith leaders yesterday that legal and safe acts of public worship are not things to be switched on and off by government regulation. Many have already asked this, but I will reiterate: can the Minister commit to providing the scientific evidence to justify such a suspension? The impact of this suspension will be felt publicly.
On Remembrance Sunday, a day in the year that is hugely significant for so many veterans and their families and for the whole country, our commemoration services will now be severely limited. Furthermore, over the next few weeks, important religious festivals for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and the Jewish community will be disrupted by the lack of access to communal worship. I regret this. Faith groups serve the needs of their local communities, and clergy and healthcare chaplains provide significant support for the mental, social and spiritual well-being of the nation. Public worship is essential for spiritual and mental well-being, and a source of strength to many. It is not an optional extra for the Christian faith: our weekly worship services are part of a whole way of life. The importance of this must not go unrecognised. It is in drawing on their Christian faith and in the hope that Christmas brings that the Archbishops say in their letter to the nation today that it would help the whole nation if we adopted a “calm, courageous and compassionate” response to this trial.
My Lords, all the trade-offs that the Government have to make during this pandemic are unwelcome: trade-offs between our health, our prosperity, our freedom, our future and our happiness. We would all like to maintain them all, but the rise in numbers makes a lockdown unavoidable. Noble Lords should watch Fergus Walsh’s measured and harrowing report on Monday’s “BBC News at Ten”, from the Royal Liverpool Hospital in my home city, if they need human citation to bring the stats to life.
On the eve of our second lockdown in England, however, I ask the Minister what will come after. We all pray that new vaccines and improving treatments will gradually restore normality, but what if they do not? Is there active contingency planning in government on pessimistic, as well as optimistic, assumptions for the moment when this second lockdown is lifted? How can we avoid turning a new period of relative freedom into a third wave where—in the nightmare scenario—we tumble on in this way for years, always fearing the grim reaper at the door or in the supermarket queue, while becoming significantly poorer and ever more disunited in the process?
I hope that the Government are investigating in careful detail exactly what went wrong when the first lockdown was lifted. What were the primary drivers of rising infection? Who obeyed and who ignored the guidance, whether in workplaces, social or family settings? Did those reached by test and trace quarantine when asked to? Which sanctions worked and which failed to bite? Next time, how can we better persuade every section of society that the Government do not give you the virus but other people do; and that, absent a vaccine, we have no hope of achieving a modicum of normality until we stop transmitting this dread virus to one another? In conclusion, are the Government preparing now to ensure that this will be not just our second but our last lockdown?
My Lords, these regulations will bring misery to the lives of millions of our fellow citizens. We know now what lockdowns do from our experience in the spring and from that of other countries which took the same course.
Jobs are destroyed and perfectly good businesses are forced to close their doors for the last time. Anxiety, depression, mental illness, suicides and domestic abuse increase, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pointed out. Lives are lost as screening programmes are disrupted and people are fearful of going to hospital. Young people’s education is disrupted, their employment prospects blighted and their career paths distorted. The elderly are separated from their families and grandchildren as they ponder their own mortality. There is a cruelty here too, in cutting off folk in nursing homes from family visits, banning weddings and denying people the comfort of religious observance and the chance to join immediate families to mourn the passing of friends and relatives.
Tax revenues evaporate, and we add to the burden of our children a legacy of eye-watering debt. The deficit is now heading to £400 billion and probably on to half a trillion. Parliamentary democracy is a casualty too, as most of us in this debate get three minutes to speak, late at night, on the merits of nothing less than the shutting down of the entire economy and these extraordinary assaults on our liberty and prosperity. Who would have thought Ministers and officials would start telling people whom they can sleep with? The decisions are taken by folk in secure public sector employment, with inflation-proof pensions and good salaries. The highest price is paid by the poorest and those whose livelihoods depend on enterprise and the ability to make a profit. Lockdowns are the midwives of inequality.
Occasionally you see signs in shops saying, “If you break it, you pay for it”. I believe this applies to the Government today. It is irresponsible to present these regulations to Parliament without having done any analysis of the costs and means for mitigating all the consequences of their actions. I am grateful to Julia Hartley-Brewer of talkRADIO for succeeding where I failed through parliamentary questions in getting an answer from my right honourable friend Robert Jenrick MP, who told her it was unfair to ask whether the Government had done a cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of lockdown. After very robust interrogation, he admitted that he had not seen one, because it did not exist.
Again and again, Ministers rightly say they have to balance lives against livelihoods, but to achieve balance you need to weigh both sides of the scale. We are told that the models say we have no alternative, as the NHS will be overwhelmed. We of course have a duty to take this very seriously, but the Explanatory Memorandum for these regulations says the Government are assuming an R rate of 1.1 to 1.3. Professor Tim Spector from King’s College has suggested that R is now one in England and the UK as a whole, and Professor Heneghan from Oxford University says the infection rate in Liverpool is falling from a run rate of 490 a day over seven days to 269 and the R value is well below one, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Birt, may not have noticed. It seems the Government’s tiered approach is not only hurting but working.
The last financial crisis was caused by groupthink and people believing models which told them they could convert lead into gold at the expense of common sense. Then, the poorest paid the price, and those responsible became very rich. The fact that we were all scared by headlines over the weekend telling us that 4,000 people a day would die, and learned within hours that this came from a discredited model which predicted four times as many deaths as occurred in real life on 1 November, is worrying to say the least. With all models, the rule is very simple: garbage in, garbage out.
We also know that, once implemented, lockdowns are hard to exit. On Saturday the Prime Minister told us it would be for a strictly limited period, until 2 December. In less than 24 hours, Michael Gove was telling Andrew Marr it could be extended. When asked about this yesterday, Professor Whitty said:
“I think that the aim of this is to get the rates down far enough that it’s a realistic possibility to move into a different state of play at that point in time.”
What are people running businesses meant to do? Do they listen to the PM and take on more debt to survive another month if they can, or do they conclude, after listening to Mr Gove and Professor Whitty, that they should throw in the towel?
The Chancellor has done brilliantly, but he knows we are heading for Carey Street. What will this lockdown cost—perhaps £12.5 billion for furlough and the self-employed alone? He will need to extend the £20 a week standard allowance for universal credit from April. When folk who thought they were in secure jobs—say, on £25,000 a year—discover that they are not eligible for universal credit because they have savings or a working partner, his colleagues in the Commons with be inundated with constituents worried about how to pay their bills and feed their families. Where will he find the money for health, welfare and social care, and for the job creation initiatives that will be needed? To paraphrase Tacitus, we will have created a desert and called it protecting the health service.
My Lords, at Prime Minister’s Questions today, the Prime Minister refused on more than one occasion to say what the Government are going to do with the time the next four weeks gives them. Can the Minister, in winding up, tell us, please?
Will a system for visitors to care homes be implemented? It should be really simple to designate one family member as a key visitor who can be tested like care workers. Will the Serco test and trace be fixed and then handed on to local authorities? The clinical director of the NHS, in his Q&A this afternoon, made it crystal clear that it is not an NHS test and trace.
We have lost a lot of time since the SAGE advice on 21 September. The tier system was not working as planned, so we now have lockdown longer and harder as a result. How can this be avoided again in the future? This is the second lockdown, later than it should have been to be effective and save lives. Surely, we cannot contemplate a third time—so what is the strategy to avoid this?
There are some 11,000 people today in hospital with Covid. We need these regulations to keep within capacity and so keep elective services going, unlike in the spring. I understand that the capacity for Covid is about 20,000, and it reached 17,000 in the spring. That still allows us to do other work, which is absolutely crucial. But compared to many OECD countries, our health capacity is not that good, measured by population against doctors, nurses, beds and intensive care units—and that is before we get to equipment such as scanners. Is anybody in government thinking about increasing our overall capacity?
My final point is that almost exactly a year ago, without warning or planning, I occupied an intensive care unit bed for two weeks while the NHS worked to stop me going over to the dark side. This was followed by another three weeks in the hands of the NHS. I want anybody in the same position as I found myself in to have the same chances of the NHS helping and saving them. This will not happen if Covid gets completely out of control and all the beds are taken. For that reason—to keep within our capacity—I have no hesitation in supporting these regulations.
My Lords, it is pleasing to note that today’s regulations make no reference to avoiding the use of public transport, I hope at least in part as an acknowledgement of the huge effort made by operators and staff to keep people safe.
However, it is another public health issue of serious proportions that I wish to draw to the attention of the House this evening: the rapidly rising congestion of and pollution from our road system, which, of course, is again making operating a reliable bus service very difficult. A sensible Government would be alive to the issue. Yet we see oil prices falling, when a more prudent Chancellor might have raised fuel taxes to help repair the huge budget deficit, and the pouring on to our roads of many more large sports utility vehicles, which emit more pollution and take up more road space.
Time is not on our side if we are to make meaningful efforts to tackle this country’s pollution problems. While coronavirus is the immediate priority, I hope that someone in government—the Minister is a health spokesman—has plans to deal with the problems of congestion and pollution.
Climate change will not go away. Next year the eyes of the world will be fixed on us again when we host the climate change talks in Glasgow.
My Lords, my amendment is about the evidence for the lockdown in the order before us. The Government have no easy task in finding the optimal policy responses to the virus. They deserve the best advice they can get, but I am not sure they are getting it.
I hope that at least some noble Lords have read the book published earlier this year by the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, and John Kay, entitled Radical Uncertainty. It warns of excessive reliance on probabilistic reasoning and modelling. Its core insight is that we need to face not knowing the answers when confronted with massive uncertainty. Instead people should stand back and ask themselves, “What is going on here?”. If that had been the focus of policy discussions, I do not believe this destructive lockdown would have been the solution.
On Monday, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in the other place that the data now suggest that our health system will be overwhelmed. The so-called data on which he was relying were not facts but modelled numbers. Modelled outcomes are only as good as their base data and assumptions.
As we have heard, last weekend the Chief Scientific Adviser showed a slide that suggested a scenario of 4,000 deaths per day in December. According to that chart, there should have been 1,000 daily deaths last weekend. There were fewer than 300. Four thousand deaths per day is virtually impossible, even using SAGE’s inflated infection fatality rate of 0.7%, and implies that around 600,000 people will be infected every day next week. None of the data points that we have on infection levels come anywhere close to that.
The adviser then showed something called the SPIM—medium-term projections of hospital admissions, deaths and NHS bed usage. These indicated bed demand later this month apparently shooting way ahead of the March-April peak and ahead of the assumption that only about 20% of NHS beds can be used for coronavirus patients. However, the detailed modelling assumptions have not been made public. Instead, the small print says that this is a consensus forecast, based on several models, none of which assumptions has been made public. Does that sound like a good basis for a momentous decision to close the country down?
We learned yesterday from evidence given to the Science and Technology Committee in the other place that these models were based on earlier, not up-to-date, data. The assumptions took no account of the recently introduced tier system, despite those areas already showing reduced infection rates and hospital admissions. Leaked NHS data show that, despite a few local hotspots, intensive care bed capacity is around normal for this time of year.
Some have suggested that those scenarios and forecasts were deliberately calibrated to produce the maximum fear in the general public and thereby generate support for another national lockdown. The Daily Mail has also called out the way in which last Saturday’s presentation cherry-picked data and presented it in a way that would make even Liberal Democrats blush. Is this all a deliberate plot to provide cover for the curtailment of our liberties? I could not possibly comment. However, I know that the Government should be alert to dangers of groupthink and the self-reinforcing nature of scientific cliques. The history of science is littered with views, such as whether the earth is flat, that remained widely held beliefs long after clear evidence to the contrary emerged.
There is no independent challenge to the SAGE analysis. There ought to be a place for techniques such as red teaming that robustly challenge house views. There certainly are scientists out there, for example in the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, who could provide that challenge. Was anyone asking, “What is going on here?” I do not think so. Otherwise, they would have compared infection rates and R numbers in the models with the latest data points and would have noticed that the models use R numbers that are ahead of current numbers, even though the R numbers from the ONS data have been falling. As we heard, the Liverpool R number is already below 1. The Prime Minister said several times in the other place on Monday that an R number of 1 or less was the aim of the lockdown. As we have heard, the latest ZOE survey data show that infections are past their peak and the R rate is already at the magic number, 1.
If the Government had sought independent challenge, they might well have concluded that this heartless order was unnecessary and, as a minimum, dialled back their scary charts. The Prime Minister cares sincerely about civil liberties but I suspect that he has more of a way with words than numbers and is in thrall to a tightly knit group of scientists with a single world view. It is time for him to ask, “What is going on here?”, and take back control of the coronavirus agenda.
My Lords, let me say clearly at the outset that I am reluctantly in favour of the national lockdown. The pandemic is serious and we need to protect the lives of vulnerable people by following the advice to stay at home when we can, and otherwise to follow the advice on safe distancing, clean hands and face masks. However, that is at a huge cost. It will take years to recover economically, and many will bear the social and emotional scars for a similar period.
I cannot let this moment pass without joining those who are saying that government inaction has made those impacts a whole lot worse. For example, SAGE member and UCL professor of epidemiology Andrew Hayward said about SAGE’s recommendation of 40 days ago:
“We can’t turn back the clock, but I think if we had chosen a two-week circuit break at that time we would definitely have saved thousands of lives.”
He went on to say that an earlier short circuit break,
“would clearly have inflicted substantially less damage on our economy than the proposed four-week lockdown will do.”
The Government should be ashamed and apologise to Sir Keir Starmer MP, the leader of the Opposition, for the attacks that they made on him when he made the right call on a national lockdown after the SAGE advice, which would have saved lives and jobs.
I turn to my main point about children. I am pleased that schools remain open. Children need not only to learn but to socialise and play. We should collectively thank the nation’s teachers for putting themselves at risk by continuing to work in difficult circumstances and with limited testing and support services to assist them. Without teachers’ professionalism, the economic and social scarring of this pandemic would be much worse. However, I ask the Minister, please come back with a slight change to these regulations to allow children to continue to play together safely. Play is an essential part of childhood. Pupils can play together in their bubbles when at school but not with those same children after school, at weekends and in holidays. To parents, that makes no sense. Why cannot children play with others from their same school bubble out of school? That would help hugely their mental health and that of their parents, at negligible additional infection risk.
These regulations are too late but necessary. The Government need to do more, where they can, to allow us the freedom to safeguard our mental health in lockdown. Letting children play is one way in which they could help.
My Lords, coronavirus is proving to continue to disrupt and cause great anxiety throughout society. Regulation 4 is not very clear to follow—it must be me.
I declare an interest as I have a small rural riding centre, which will have to close tonight. People who come to have lessons or go for rides do so for much-needed exercise, confidence-building, education and freedom to enjoy the countryside. It is difficult to explain to children why they can go to school but cannot come riding, which is all outside. I have a work experience pupil from college, which is part of her education. I have yet to sort that out. I have some clients who have autism. They look forward to when they come. Good, healthy exercise is important for public health. I am concerned that closing outdoor sports and locking people in their home will damage a healthy lifestyle.
This coronavirus nightmare is proving to be particularly difficult for severely disabled people, who might have several severe, complex conditions and depend on specialist care, which is now mainly available only through a telephone call, which is not easy for early diagnosis. This must be difficult for GPs, who might not have experience of some of the complications. A growing difficulty for disabled people who live in their own home is getting carers, with the approach of winter, coronavirus and lockdown.
Many disabled people are confused and feel, in this difficult time, that they might be forgotten this time round. If communication is improved and people work together it will help to beat this treacherous virus.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendment to the Motion in my name. As far as I know, I have not had coronavirus. What I do know is that whether I live or die is neither here nor there. In the grand scheme of things, though, whether parliamentary democracy survives and thrives is an entirely different question. That does matter, not just to all of us privileged to serve in the mother of Parliaments. It also matters to a totalitarian regime whose evident aspirations for domination depend on democracy’s demise. The totalitarian regime to which I refer is, of course, that of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP. For that regime’s value system to succeed, ours must fail.
As Lord Sumption and others have made clear, coronavirus has caused democracy to be placed under threat. The threat stems not just from the CCP’s military expansion and its aggression in, for example, Nepal and the South China Sea, nor in the corrosive cynicism of the retrospective application of new laws of repression in Hong Kong, but also from the growing popular disenchantment with the ability of democratic Governments to strike the right balance, to which my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean referred in his excellent speech, between saving lives and saving livelihoods during a pandemic which originated in Wuhan.
I do not intend to rehearse the points made so eloquently by my noble friends Lord Robathan, Lady Noakes and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, with which I agree. Naturally, most people are focused on the impact on their families and friends, but we can be sure that Big Brother is watching us. I do not mean our own state, although it is increasingly intruding on and controlling every aspect of our lives. I refer of course to Xi Jinping, the head of the CCP and of the world’s most repressive, surveillance-obsessed and threatening totalitarian regime. He may not be watching today’s debate in your Lordships’ House, but we can be sure that he will be watching and analysing the signals that we and the other place send. It is therefore worth reflecting on whether the messages that we are conveying highlight the strength of parliamentary democracy in the face of crisis or show panic, disarray and weakness.
I wish this were simply about tackling a dreadful, devastating and deadly virus. Unfortunately, what is at stake is so much more significant than any of our lives: it is the future of western democracy itself. That is why we cannot afford to signal that we are panicking or weak. Consider this: if one wanted cynically to expose the fault lines of western democracy, there could scarcely be a better way to do so than to allow a vicious virus to engulf the globe and plunge it into poverty. That is what we are facing.
We cannot afford to be in this situation again. We cannot afford, as Theresa May said in the other place only a few hours ago, for it to look as if the figures are chosen to support the policy rather than the policy being based on figures. That is the path to mistrust and cynicism. If we really want to save Christmas, we need to save people’s livelihoods. If we want to save the NHS, we need to ensure that we safeguard the tax revenues that are so crucial to funding it.
I am not saying this is necessarily the case, but I am saying it is essential that we entertain the awful possibility that a totalitarian regime capable of incarcerating in concentration camps millions of its Muslim Uighur population and harvesting their organs, capable of turning disputed rocky outcrops in the South China Sea into fortified islands and capable of turning the bastion of freedom that was Hong Kong into a police state is surely capable of allowing perhaps the most potent threat that western democracies have faced in the last 30 years to spread until it was too late.
The Government do not know best and noble Lords should resist any suggestion that they do, especially at a time of crisis.
My Lords, I support the need for the lockdown and will not be supporting any of the amendments to the Motion that express regret. However, I regret the fact that the Government did not accept the advice of their scientific advisers and take the decision to do this sooner; if they had, the NHS might not have needed to move to the highest level of risk in its emergency preparedness framework this morning.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Scriven that the Government must use the lockdown to get test, trace and isolate right. There is no point in boasting about the capacity of 500,000 tests per day; people do not trust that figure because we know that it does not mean 500,000 people tested, so it undermines trust and affects compliance. Although the processing time of the tests has improved, it is still not good enough. Tests have been returned several days late or are sent back to the wrong care home, so they are of no use.
Isolating rates may be as low as 10% and the ability of police and local officials to enforce quarantine is low. We need to use the carrot rather than the stick and make more support available for those isolating. I heard an MP the other day say, “Just pay their wages”. After all, it is for only two weeks, but it would have a massive effect on people’s willingness to isolate, and that matters for getting the R rate right down. If we do not reduce the R rate well below one, it will cost the economy a lot more because the lockdown will have to be extended. Will the Government consider this?
The Government are now trialling the new mass testing system in Liverpool, and I wish it well. However, from residents’ comments I have heard, they do not seem to have the messaging right. People are questioning why they need to take a test if they feel well. That, of course, is the point—testing potentially asymptomatic people—but, clearly, the message has not got through. What does the Minister propose is done about that?
Now that the rapid test is available, could it please be given to relatives of care home residents so they can safely visit their loved ones whom they have not seen for many months? Finally, there are children with very rare diseases who need special treatments which schools cannot cope with and who therefore cannot go to school, and their parents are getting to the end of their tether. The prospect of another four weeks of lockdown fills them with dread. They also need more clarity about who should shield. Will the Minister look into this because these families have been left behind?
My Lords, I rise to speak to my amendment to the Motion on the increase in mental illnesses and other long-term psychological harms. Earlier this week, I was talking on the telephone to my younger son who is a physician at the clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Charité in Berlin, one of Germany’s very best hospitals. He was angry; he described the disastrous impact on people of the German Government’s lockdown. By isolating them from their friends, their families and their fellow human beings in conditions akin to house arrest, their essential humanity was being denied. Many could not take it. Depression and suicide were often the inevitable consequence. Still others will be mentally scarred for life. Many turned up in his clinic, seeking help.
So from Germany, a country rightly admired for its handling of the coronavirus, comes the warning that it is not just the damage to the economy that must be calculated, but the impact on the nation’s mental health. Who in our Government is taking responsibility for making these calculations? Where is the risk analysis? Who in government can give us evidence that the cure will not be worse than the disease—because that is the heart of the matter, is it not?
It is no longer enough for the Government to say that they are following the science. That begs the question: which science, which scientist? There is the science of the Chief Medical Officer, of the Chief Scientific Officer and of Sage, which the Government are following. Then there is the science of innumerable expert voices, each with impressive titles after their names, who advance dissenting views. Contrast and compare, for example, the most recent pronouncements from Imperial College and King’s College London. The latter has asserted that there is no Covid surge. Why do we follow Imperial and not King’s? Or, as the latest edition of the Spectator magazine has put it:
“Why have No. 10’s Covid forecasts changed so much?”
Back in March, we were all innocents wandering through Covid’s dark forest. Nearly eight months later we have all become amateur epidemiologists and virologists. I know that a little learning is a dangerous thing. However, with it has come the need for, and the right to, far greater transparency in explaining the Government’s modelling inputs and policy decisions. Instead, we are blinded by science and its myriad predictions, forecasts, scenarios, and indecipherable graphs.
I stand second to none in my admiration of the Prime Minister’s fortitude, confronted as he is by intolerable policy choices on an almost daily basis. Those who are too willing to criticise him and his team over Covid handling—the Labour Party keep saying that we should have done lockdown before—should show some humility. However, the harsh fact will not go away. The one thing we know beyond all doubt is that the collateral damage inflicted by lockdown is immense: to our economy, to our freedoms, and to our mental and physical health. The latest lockdown will tear still further the fabric of the nation.
It should be about risk management, rather than predictions, which may prove to be wrong. Will Her Majesty’s Government publish a full impact assessment, setting out the cost of the lockdown in terms of jobs, the businesses that will fail, the toll on people’s mental and physical health, and the lives that will be lost—and saved—as a result of lockdown? On the evidence so far, I have to say I find it difficult to accept that the benefits of lockdown outweigh its long-term risks.
My Lords, I have no doubt the latest lockdown will damage the economy, but you can have as many impact assessments as you like; the fact is that, unless we take action, the NHS will simply fall over.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, referred to capacity of the NHS to deal with non-Covid treatments. I would like to link that to criticism made by a number of Conservative MPs, who have argued that because hospital intensive care is currently no busier than normal for the majority of trusts, the national lockdown is not justified. I refer them to the statement made today by NHS providers, collating the views of NHS trust chief executives. They put forward three points. First, you cannot just measure the degree of pressure in a hospital just by looking at ICU capacity; you must look at pressures on acute and general beds, which is often greater, partly because many Covid patients are being treated with oxygen therapy on general wards.
Secondly, if NHS hospitals have too many Covid patients over the next two to three months, they will not be able to deal with winter pressures and carry on recovering elective surgery backlogs. Those cases are usually all treated in general and acute wards. Many hospitals are having to turn those wards into Covid beds. This in turn, is threatening elective surgery recovery rates and impacting on ability to cope with winter.
Thirdly, many hospitals are already seeing a frighteningly high level of general bed occupancy. If this pattern, now mainly in the north, is repeated elsewhere, it will coincide with winter, when the NHS is at its most stretched. None of this is reflected or effected by current national intensive care unit bed occupancy rates; in fact, they are irrelevant as far as risk is concerned. The argument for national lockdown therefore fully stands. That is the view of people at the front line of the health service; they need to be listened to.
The only question I have, which is one asked by my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lord Knight, is why the Government did not act in late September following the SAGE advice on 21 September? The more you read the two pages of advice, the more you see it was abundantly clear the circuit breaker was required. I did not hear the Minister refer to that in his introductory remarks. I hope he will respond to that. The point is this; government is not easy at the moment, but they could have taken action six weeks ago. They should have done it.
My Lords, I reluctantly support the thrust of these regulations but have a few strong concerns about the illogicality and unnecessary destructiveness of just some of them. I hope the Government may reconsider their position and find a way to introduce small but incredibly important changes, though I understand that once these regulations are passed, that may not be straightforward.
My first concern is that under Regulation 11, schools are exempt from restrictions on gathering. I agree with keeping schools open. However, the lockdown will be undermined by this, unless regular testing of secondary school children and compulsory wearing of masks in class are introduced. If we can test the whole of Liverpool, we can surely test children with these new rapid-result tests. Secondary school children are spreaders of Covid as much as adults are. Keeping schools open makes no sense at all in terms of the lockdown without the protections that I propose.
My second concern is about exercise. Regulation 6 rightly introduces exemptions from the restrictions on leaving home to enable people to take exercise—fabulous. Illogically, however, the Government have decided that this exercise cannot be done with a tennis racquet or golf club in your hand, even though these particular exercises are inherently socially distanced. In particular, children’s outdoor sports have all been prohibited. Yet children can sit in a classroom for hours without a mask, which is surely a far higher risk activity. When children’s social activities are restricted, outdoor sports should be a top priority for them for their mental and physical health. I earnestly ask the Government to reconsider this slightly crazy state of affairs.
On a totally different note, I have a third concern: these regulations should not exacerbate serious addictions. Why exclude vape shops—not normally places I visit, but still—from the list of businesses that can remain open for health purposes as listed in paragraph 47 of Schedule 1? Tobacco-related illnesses kill 70,000 people every year. The anti-smoking campaign has been hugely successful, and the 3.2 million vapers are ex-smokers or current smokers attempting to stop. Closing the vape shops could set back the anti-smoking campaign terribly badly. Will the Minister take away my request for vape shops to be slipped into that list of businesses that can remain open for health reasons?
My Lords, these measures involve grave restrictions on the economy and our liberties. They may be necessary, but we should take them only on the basis of sound law and solid data. Unfortunately, they are based on dubious law and dodgy data. So, I have tabled a Motion that
“this House regrets that the Regulations have been laid under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which does not give specific powers to Her Majesty’s Government to impose restrictions on uninfected persons, and not the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which does.”
I am not a lawyer, but I know a man who is: Lord Sumption. He has spelled out that the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 empowers Governments only to confine infected persons, not to confine the population as a whole, the vast majority of whom are not infected, and still less to close down large swathes of the economy. None the less, the Government could lawfully do all they seek to do in these and other regulations if they invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. In that case, however, they would be subject to much closer parliamentary scrutiny than has been the case. In my own ministerial experience, parliamentary scrutiny invariably led to better decision-making, if only because officials had to work to satisfy all conceivable criticisms, not just those that their Minister could envisage.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, contacted me to say that he, too, considers it regrettable from the point of view of parliamentary scrutiny and arguably unlawful that the Public Health Act 1984 was selected in preference to the Civil Contingencies Act, though he took the view that the courts might find a plausible legal argument for upholding regulations made on this basis. Will the Minister either provide a convincing rebuttal of Lord Sumption’s critique, or use the Civil Contingencies Act in future?
I may not be a lawyer, but I did take the Institute of Statisticians’ exams half a century ago and I have been allergic ever since to statistical jiggery-pokery. Noble Lords may recall the gang in Oxford Street which I used to watch fleecing gullible passers by using the three-card trick. They were eventually exposed when a covertly taken film, played back in slow motion, revealed how the trick was done. Ed Conway of Sky News has performed a similar public service by showing, slowly and methodically, how official sleight of hand has misused the figures to justify this lockdown by creating a scarier illusion than they warrant. I urge every noble Lord to google: “Ed Conway: Why doesn’t the Government give us all the information” to see how this trick has been performed.
In brief, we were told at the weekend that the Government’s case for the lockdown rests on the fact that the virus is now spreading even faster than the Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario. Most of us assumed that that referred to the scary projection by Sir Patrick Vallance in mid-September showing reported cases doubling every seven days, to reach 49,000 a day by the end of last month. Far from spreading faster, reported cases are growing less than half as fast—just 20,000 per day. Sir Jeremy Farrar, of SAGE, rushed to Patrick Vallance’s rescue, claiming that his projection has been met, citing the Office for National Statistics’ figures that new infections are running at about 50,000 a day. However, to compare new infections with reported cases is comparing oranges with pumpkins. New infections include non-symptomatic cases and are typically two and a half times as numerous as reported cases, which Patrick Vallance was using.
The Government then claimed that Vallance’s projection was not the realistic worst case. It was certainly never realistic, and it has proved far worse than reality, but the Government refused their actual realistic worst case. Fortunately, the Spectator got hold of an official realistic worst-case scenario for projected deaths. It assumed that the second wave would not begin until mid-November, apparently unaware that students return, the weather gets colder and evenings darker, well before then. Stark data apart, the curve of deaths that have actually happened during the real second wave has followed closely the curve of the projected one. It does not overshoot the scenario for which the NHS has been planning. In short, instead of evidence-based policy, we have seen policy-based evidence.
I am not claiming that a second wave is not serious; it is. I am not suggesting that no action is required; it may be. But using a weak legal base and playing fast and loose with the statistics can only undermine trust in what is proposed in these regulations.
My Lords, what a terrible toll this pandemic has taken on the creative industries, and the arts and cultural programmes that underpin them. Financial help has been forthcoming from the Government via the recovery fund and the extension of the furlough scheme, which the Minister mentioned earlier. However, there remains the serious problem of the plight of freelancers. Some 72% of those who work in the creative industries fall into this category; most of them have not been able to access the Government’s support schemes. They are the excluded, mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
We welcome the exemptions included in this SI that will allow film and TV production to continue, along with training for elite athletes and dancers, as well as the ability to rehearse. But that training and rehearsals are often for live performances which have no opening date and, at the moment, no hope of the opportunity of actually being able to perform. Live events are major contributors to the economy, providing thousands of jobs and playing a crucial role—I am sure the Minister will agree—in levelling up through supporting local communities and small businesses. They seemed to have been emerging from the woods. Many theatre and music businesses have been spending scarce resources on making their venues Covid-safe—and then along came the need for this second lockdown. That makes the Question I asked only last week all the more pertinent, which is that a major stumbling block for those who want to put on live events is the availability of affordable contingency insurance. In her response, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, said
“We continue to work with UK Theatre and colleagues in the Treasury and others so that we leave no stone unturned.”—[Official Report, 26/10/20; col. 7.]
Can the Government unturn the stone that is the precedent—the cover needed for acts of terrorism committed in the 1990s, when the Government did indeed intervene? More recently, it was key to keeping filming going. Please can the Government find a solution to this issue for live events so that venues can start planning properly to come back? Culture will be central, following this pandemic, to the recovery and renewal of our nation.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. These regulations place everyone in the country under a form of qualified house arrest. The freedom to travel, to go into a friend’s house, to play sport, to go to the pub—all taken away. Lord Sumption was obviously right when he described this in his recent lecture as
“the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country.”
Those who are the most affected are the young and active. The bill—billions and billions of pounds—is not an illusion. Who is going to pay that bill? Generally speaking, it will not be those who directly benefit from the lockdown. It will be paid by the economically active and the young, who for the most part are at no real risk, along with their children and perhaps their children’s children.
Is the Government’s decision a good one? I have no idea and I certainly do not envy the decision-takers. There are many unknowns. However, it seems that the country—in particular the young, who are being ordered to give up anything resembling a normal life when they themselves are not at risk—is entitled to expect certain things. The first is that decision is taken in a properly objective and rational way. There is an obvious danger in the so-called “sunk costs” fallacy which occurs when a decision to take a future course of action is justified by reference to costs already incurred rather than the merits and demerits of the possible alternatives. There is a particular danger of a sunk cost reasoning where the decision-taker is responsible for an earlier decision whose correctness may be called into question by a change of course. Is this fallacy operating here? It is troubling to hear one of the decision-takers say recently, “We have travelled too far to turn back now”. That is classic sunk costs reasoning.
Secondly, we are all entitled to expect that the adverse effects of the proposed course of action are evaluated as thoroughly as its beneficial effects. Where is that evaluation? We have heard a great deal about the deaths that will be avoided by the lockdown, but almost nothing from the Government about its effect on mental health, a subject on which the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, spoke so powerfully, on the diagnosis of other serious diseases and on our future ability to be able to afford to care for those who fall ill.
Thirdly, we are entitled to expect that the evidence presented to us as justification for these very extreme measures has been assembled and considered in a properly objective way. Graphs, forecasts, projections and so on are guesses. The guesswork may be informed, but the utility of this spuriously precise-looking material depends entirely on the underlying assumptions. You tweak the assumptions and the figures on the bottom line jerk around wildly. Anyone who has dealt with forecasting in the commercial world knows that.
The already rather notorious 4,000-deaths-a-day graph deployed in terrorem at the weekend reminded me of a different claim about a different supposed weapon of mass destruction: chemical and biological weapons ready for use within 45 minutes of an order from Saddam Hussein—we all remember that one. That war against supposed WMD did not go well. This is a very nasty and dangerous virus but, if it proves that the cure is more damaging than the disease, we will have betrayed generations.
My Lords we have been told with some force in the course of this debate that, without these regulations, the NHS will fall over. I am not in a position to challenge that and will support these regulations, albeit with a heavy heart. However, I cannot help but ask myself, as so many others have, why it took so many black, Asian and minority-ethnic lives to prop the NHS up during the last lockdown? What lessons have been learned from the disproportionate number of black and minority-ethnic NHS and care workers who died as a result of this virus during the last lockdown? If you look at the NHS website, you are told that
“A bespoke health and wellbeing offer … for BAME colleagues is being created”.
The question I have for the Government—and I hope the Minister will answer it directly—is: is that offer now in place and going to be given to black and minority-ethnic staff?
You are four times more likely to die of Covid-19 if you are black than if you are white. This virus does discriminate: it discriminates against ethnic minorities, the poor, the homeless or those who are disadvantaged in any way. It takes advantage of the systemic inequalities within our society. We must have data to back up strategy and its implementation to address those inequalities. As such, I also have the following question for the Minister: will he confirm that the data collection that contributes to the NHS workforce race equality standard, which was suspended during the last lockdown, has now been resumed? Will he continue to make sure that we have the data available to make judgments on?
The virus takes advantage of homelessness, particularly street homelessness, infecting those who are homeless and posing a risk generally to us all in relation to the nation’s public health. Therefore, will the Minister please confirm that the Home Office will not require failed asylum seekers to be evicted from accommodation supported by the Home Office during this lockdown? If not, why not? Will he also, on the question of inequality generally, publish an equality impact assessment on government support schemes? We know that these are not able to be accessed as easily, well or effectively as they should be by those from black and minority-ethnic backgrounds. I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity or his good intentions, or those of the Government, but we need some practical measures taken and genuine and effective responses to the threat and peril that Covid-19 presents to us all.
My Lords, at the beginning of October, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, and Vaughan Gething, the Health Minister, expressed their concerns to Boris Johnson over his failure to introduce travel restrictions from high-transmission areas in England to low-risk areas in Wales. Those of us living in Wales had, for many weeks, not been permitted to leave our immediate home area without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work, health or childcare.
On 12 October, one of the new and inexperienced Tory Members of Parliament for this area described these restrictions as “draconian travel bans”, which made things massively difficult for businesses. The Prime Minister agreed and refused to do anything. We have heard echoes of this sentiment in some of today’s speeches. The Prime Minister had previously ignored the written requests of Mr Drakeford, who raised the issue of supporting the Welsh effort to contain the virus in a COBRA meeting and a subsequent letter of 13 October. He received no response.
Since then, a firebreak lockdown has been imposed in Wales. It is due to end next Monday, when the rules will be relaxed. Pubs, restaurants and cafés will be opened, subject to strict protections, including a rule of four. Outdoor activities will be allowed for groups of up to 30—which, coincidentally, is two competing rugby teams.
The regulations before us allow English people to leave their homes for essential purposes, including exercise. I can find no travel limit, so north Wales recreational spaces will be open to an influx from some of the most heavily infected areas: Liverpool, Lancashire, Manchester and Birmingham. This also gives an excuse for people to pour across the border to drink in pubs and restaurants. In normal times they would be more than welcome, but at this time it will negate any improvement we may have made through enduring the sacrifices of our current lockdown. I declare an interest, living only five miles from the border. A lot of questions have been put to the Minister, but I would like him to give a specific answer to the concerns of all Welsh people, and to address this issue, which was first raised by the First Minister with Mr Boris Johnson.
My Lords, I formally offer the Green group’s support for these provisions, and strongly oppose the fatal Motion.
I speak on the day when a good friend lost her father to Covid. The horrific figures, to which that is one sad addition, are a measure of the failure of our provisions and our governance. My sympathy goes to everyone affected and everyone living in fear. In March we were facing a suddenly arising, little-understood threat. We should have been better prepared for a pandemic, but some of the mistakes made then were made because the detail of the threat was, unavoidably, not clearly understood. We do not have the same excuse now. We allowed the virus to run wild again through bad decisions, and through our failure to support the vulnerable and deal with the vulnerabilities in our society.
However, I want to look forward and ask the Government about their plans for the next month—or however long this lockdown needs to last—for to justify the economic, social and medical costs, we must use this time to genuinely control the virus. The disastrous failures of test and trace have been covered by other Peers, although on “trace” we seem finally to be heading somewhat in the right direction in local public provision. I want to focus on the final two elements of what is needed to bring down infection rates: isolate and support. Without the latter, the “isolate” part is not working and cannot work, not because of individual choice but because of system failure.
There must be real, effective, genuine support for everyone asked to self-isolate who needs it. If you are a young adult in a shared household, a parent in a multigenerational one with child and elderly care responsibilities, or a teenager who shares a bedroom with a sibling as a result of the disastrous bedroom tax, isolation is incredibly difficult. There are a lot of empty hotels in this country. Why are people not being offered a free, supported option to isolate when it would be very difficult, or impossible, at home?
The £500 payment must be extended to everyone who needs it. Currently, only one in eight workers is eligible. Everybody needs enough money each day, including the self-employed, the casually employed and those who have fallen through the gaping holes in the Government’s financial safety nets. If you have been penniless for months, have secured a job starting today and then start to show symptoms, what are you going to do?
Poverty, inequality and insecurity are gaping wounds through which the virus can readily enter. There must be support for people effectively returning to shielding—£14 per person for councils is clearly not enough—people in their 60s with chronic health conditions and workers left with desperately difficult decisions to make. We also must address transmission in workplaces and schools. “Covid-safe” is a nice phrase, but it is clearly not the reality for lots of workers. Universities and schools, particularly secondary schools, attended by pupils vulnerable to catching and spreading the virus are another systemic vulnerability. They cannot continue as now.
My Lords, I am in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Robathan. I seriously question why it is necessary to have a nationwide lockdown when the three-tier system was working well in many regions. Clearly, the Government were put into an impossible predicament by the dire warnings from SAGE and several scientific institutions that base their conclusions on worst-case scenarios. As the noble Lord rightly mentioned, there have been many disagreements among the scientific community. The fear and hysteria were hyped up by many in the media. Why, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has asked, was there not a cost-benefit and risk analysis?
As several noble Lords have mentioned, the King’s College Covid symptoms app, based on 4.3 million contributions, shows clearly that while cases are still rising across the UK, they have not spiralled out of control and the R value is just above one. There is clear evidence that the tier 3 restrictions in Liverpool and in the north-east have had a positive impact. Why did we not have tier 4 restrictions and regional lockdowns, which have been highly effective in other parts of the world such as Australia?
Businesses both large and small have acted responsibly in respecting social distancing, the wearing of face masks and strict hand-washing measures. This second lockdown will devastate many businesses and, inevitably, take us into a double-dip recession, destroying jobs and adding to the problems of anxiety, depression and domestic abuse.
I dread the long-term repercussions of the huge debt that will have to be repaid, predominantly by the younger generation. What will this lockdown cost? We seem to be reacting purely to bad news. In most cases, except long Covid, the recovery period is a matter of a week. I say this having had Covid. Apart from a dry cough for a few days, I recovered in no time at all. My 93-year-old mother-in-law has just recovered from Covid within two weeks. The treatment of Covid patients has hugely improved. We have over 250 vaccines under development globally.
While death rates are running at 10% above the seasonal average, death rates from Covid compared with earlier in the year have come down considerably. We all knew there would be a second wave. The NHS had seven months to prepare for it. What evidence does the Government have that the NHS cannot cope? The Government are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and allowing the tail to wag the dog.
My Lords, I support the regulations, although it gives me no pleasure to do so. I concede that the lockdown will damage our economy and people’s mental health and will restrict our freedoms —all the arguments that my noble friend Lord Forsyth so eloquently spelled out. I do so because the lesson from the first wave is very clear: that the consequences of not acting are worse. The countries that took quick and decisive action did not see more damage to their economies and more people out of work; they saw less damage. Countries that, like us, were late to act did not better protect their economies; they saw a sharper fall in GDP and more job losses.
My noble friend Lord Robathan said that there was uncertainty about the sums. He is quite right, but at every stage during this process, we have suffered from optimism bias. Back in February and March, we believed that we were several weeks ahead of Italy, before it became apparent that that was not the case. We came out of lockdown in May and June too quickly, failing to achieve suppression of the virus—particularly in the north of the country, which is why the pandemic has recurred there first.
We did not listen to SAGE back in September, when its advice was for a short circuit-breaker lockdown. The Prime Minister clearly did not want to adopt the policy that he is now pursuing. We were told that this was all going to be over by Christmas. Even now, some noble Lords seem to believe that what is happening in Belgium, the Czech Republic and France will somehow not happen here.
I fear that we live in an age of increasing unreason, where experts are maligned. I have a lot of sympathy with those noble Lords who have asked to see the assumptions that underpin the modelling, but others go further. My noble friend Lady Noakes said that, although she could not comment on this herself, some have said that there is a deliberate plot to curtail our civil liberties. Who would benefit from such a plot? How can what the Government are recommending to the House possibly be in their interest? It will make their job over the next few years immeasurably more difficult.
I believe that a vaccine and improvements in treatment and testing are on the way. However, lest noble Lords fear that I am suffering from the optimism bias that I have criticised in others, let me say that, if we look around the world, there are countries that, even before those developments, have achieved suppression and returned life to normal.
As I come to the end of my time, I say to the Minister that the Government need to use this period to achieve proper suppression of the virus—to get the tracing system working properly and ensure better compliance—so that, if I am wrong in my optimism about vaccine treatment and testing, we do not find ourselves in January or February back debating a potential third lockdown. This measure is the right thing to do now to protect our NHS. It is better than any alternative course of action.
My Lords, my first question is: what is the Government’s understanding of where in the community the virus is being transmitted most? Surely this is the evidence that should be shaping the measures being taken, including this lockdown.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s intention to mass test. However, if, as the ONS has said, Covid is rising rapidly among older schoolchildren, should not a priority during this period be to test all schoolchildren and staff, and indeed university students and staff too? Will there be an advertising campaign to accompany the Liverpool testing pilot, perhaps along the lines of getting tested being a social duty, particularly as so many people might be infectious but display no symptoms? Mandatory testing, as in Slovakia, would create an undesirable precedent in the UK but Slovakia’s project to test the whole population over two weekends is nevertheless admirable.
On Friday, I was privileged to attend one of the few live performances of Sarah Kane’s play “Crave” at the Chichester Festival Theatre before it was live-streamed. Everyone was masked and socially distanced in an airy auditorium. Lockdown is another blow to the arts when they are just starting to get back on their feet, particularly because of their considerable dependence for survival on a paying public.
However, those who continue to be most affected are the self-employed. The increase in support, at least for the lockdown period, is welcome, but a majority of the self-employed in the arts and entertainment are ineligible for support. They include the newly self-employed and those paid through dividends. Freelancers who work in the arts will not be covered by the Culture Recovery Fund. In its report Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, the Resolution Foundation identified a real issue with targeting the self-employed most in need. Have the Government looked at that report? Will they address these continuing concerns?
Lastly, I ask the Minister for clarification on what the lockdown means for private music teaching. The Minister says that the Government are prioritising education. It is vital that this teaching continues through the lockdown to nurture the next generation of musicians. I sent the Minister a note on this question this morning, so he might not have had time to see it, but there is a discrepancy between the guidance and the legislation, which clearly lists education as an exception without specifying what form that may take. Can music teachers continue to teach privately from home and visit other houses to teach? Can private music schools still operate face-to-face teaching? Can peripatetic music lessons in schools take place?
Concerns about the status of extracurricular activity within Covid-safe environments extend to art, drama and sport, as we have heard, with huge implications for mental and physical well-being, which we should not neglect, even for a month.
My Lords, I, like many noble Lords who have spoken this evening, find that it is with a very heavy heart that I support the regulations for a further period of lockdown. I very much regret that. I have a series of questions for the Minister because I have concerns about the Government’s approach to scrutiny, parliamentary democracy and the use of evidence. I am not a scientist and will not try to second-guess any of the scientific evidence, unlike some noble Lords who have put down amendments or moved a fatal Motion, as the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, has.
Back in September, the Government appeared to have evidence that a second lockdown or circuit-breaker would be necessary. Why did it become so urgent that it had to be announced only last Saturday, and the Prime Minister had to announce what he planned, not in front of the House of Commons but at an emergency press conference, allegedly because of a leak? Are this Government fit for purpose? Are they able to produce the necessary legislation in a timely manner? If the information that the Government had last week was dramatically different from that in September, it would be useful to know, but it is not clear that it was. There were calls from the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats for a circuit-breaker much earlier. Why do the Government use the evidence only when they choose to then claim that it is urgent, making sure that there is little time for parliamentary scrutiny?
Like several of the noble Lords who have tabled amendments, I have concerns about the economy and mental health. I declare an interest as a resident fellow of a Cambridge college; I will be locked down, as will the students. I live in a flat; they will live in small rooms for a month. Have the Government done an assessment of the impact on mental health? On 16 March, I asked the Minister what assessments had been done, before the lockdown proposed then. On that occasion, he told me that I was
“entirely right to be concerned about the holistic challenge we face”
and that the announcement on 16 March
“focused on the clinical response”,
but that the Minister would
“be glad to answer any questions on specific subjects as they arise.”—[Official Report, 16/3/20; col. 1362.]
Eight and a half months later, can he give us some answers?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, with whom I normally agree; I do on this occasion, in many ways. I do not underestimate the challenges faced by the Government and have enormous sympathy for my noble friend the Minister, but I believe that the measures in these regulations, which we are being asked to approve as a whole—with the dramatic consequences they will have on millions of people’s lives, physical and mental health, personal safety and livelihoods—are flawed. We still have not been presented with an impact assessment, a cost-benefit analysis or alternative scientific views—of which there are many suggesting that these measures are based on questionable data and invalid assumptions.
I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly—unfamiliarly, perhaps—with my noble friends Lord Robathan, Lord Forsyth, Lord Lilley and Lady Noakes. We need to prepare proper analysis and present it to Parliament, with full transparency on all the assumptions, and have an opportunity to amend these measures in the light of evidence.
I do not believe that these regulations had been sufficiently broadly considered. They are not based on rigorous analysis. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that banning communal worship will impact the spread of the virus, especially after churches, synagogues and other religious venues have spent so much to ensure that they are Covid safe, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester rightly said. Where is the evidence that outdoor sports such as golf and tennis, or swimming in a chlorinated pool, are dangerous?
These measures need to be amended, but we are not able to do that. Yet surely we have a duty to satisfy ourselves that they are based on robust data. As an economist, I have plenty of experience of flawed models that assume away the real world or depend on incorrect assumptions. Selected statistics, presentation out of context and failing to consider issues broadly are classic errors. I feel that we are in danger of being misled. Of course I am concerned about the economic impacts of the measures we are being asked to approve, but I am even more concerned about the effect on broader national health, particularly mental health, to which my noble friend Lady Meyer refers in her amendment to the Motion, and the impacts on family life, people in care homes and people missing cancer, heart, stroke or other diagnoses and treatments.
These measures have been hastily put together and I believe they are dangerous. Policy devised in panic is not good policy. Can we not take some extra time—even just a few days—to consider them more carefully, gather more evidence, and produce a proper cost-benefit analysis and impact assessments to allow a more cogent set of measures to be laid before us?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who is an economist and a friend from the LSE. In the 30 years I have been in your Lordships’ House, I have never had the luxury of six regret amendments from the Government Benches themselves—so we can have the luxury of supporting the Government for a while. Let them quarrel among themselves.
As an economist, I used to be very humble in the face of natural scientists. I used to think that their models were solidly based on theory, experiment and science, and that we economists were just doing things and quarrelling with each other. I have to admit that I was in the econometric modelling business—my God—60 years ago and did the first computer simulation of an econometric model for my PhD. But let us leave all that behind.
I am embarrassed that what we call science has made a complete fool of itself in front of all of us. Epidemiologists, virologists and people who claim to have done several computer simulation models have not come to a single agreement. They have not got a model of what causes the infection or how it spreads. They have not given us any solid clue as to the rate at which the infection spreads—the R number. Is that number valid for a whole nation or only for a locality? What is the technical basis of the R number? How can we have a national lockdown with the goal of reducing the R number to below 1 across the nation, with no errors? Is this serious science? Do the Government have any critical ability they can borrow from somewhere else to judge what they are hitching us to do for the next month, if nothing better turns up?
I will make two points I have raised before. Is our aim to reduce the rate of infection or the rate of mortality? There is a difference. Look at America, where everybody says that Trump made a mess and there are a lot of infections. The rate of mortality as a proportion of infection is the same in America as here. The economic outcome in America for the third quarter of this year is a plus 33% growth in GDP: a real bounce-back from the recession—a genuinely V-shaped recession—while we are floundering around. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who is very knowledgeable on this matter, pointed out—
My Lords, the Great Barrington declaration, signed by more than 40,000 doctors and scientists, called for care of the elderly rather than lockdown. Such a large number of medical professionals taking this view makes one wonder why this country is being pushed into a devastatingly damaging lockdown. It is questionable whether lockdowns work or whether they merely push the problem forward. The information on which the present lockdown has been decided is out of date—which makes the idea of a lockdown even more suspect.
Charts presented by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s advisers last Saturday had labels at the bottom saying, “These are scenarios, not predictions or forecasts”. How have we reached a state of affairs where scientists can push the Government into decisions which have disastrous side-effects by using scenarios that are effectively guesses? Aside from the devastating—and, some would say, improper—attack on personal liberty, people’s lives are being ruined on a large scale. A huge number of businesses have had to close, many of which will never reopen.
The impact on health is nothing short of a disaster, from diseases such as cancer not being treated to others arising from the stress caused by lockdown. We have absolutely no idea what the destruction of the sense of well-being in the bulk of the population will lead to—all on the back of dubious scenarios by scientists with a track record of making lurid forecasts which have not come to pass. The present scenarios have been ridiculed by many well-respected members of both the medical and academic professions; even Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Whitty are now rowing back from what they have been saying. After 2 December, it will be time to ignore scaremongering scientists and get back to normal, with special care for the vulnerable, and let the remainder of the population return to living their lives.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with those like the noble Lords, Lord Howard of Rising and Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lord St John of Bletso, who feel that the cost of lockdown is simply too great or even that the road to herd immunity would be a preferable route. As someone with a financial toe in the hospitality arena—as declared in the register of interests—I also have great sympathy with those who are struggling; indeed, I worry too about the artists and freelance musicians who will once again be hit and may fall between the Government’s safety nets, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Clancarty.
But—and it is a big “but”—despite this, and despite the utter incompetence over testing, with all the Prime Minister’s Trump-like boasting about us being world-beaters, I feel that we simply cannot risk people’s lives. The NHS is adamant—adamant—that without a circuit breaker, this is what we would be doing. In fact, if the figures that we are being asked to swallow are correct, we should have locked down sooner and also used the natural break of the school half-term to widen that circuit breaker still further.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made some well-argued points about Wales. In my area of mid-Wales, we had virtually no cases at all until the last two weeks, when, suddenly, two groups of people contracted Covid. How? Both groups went to either a bar or a pub. Alcohol leads to loss of inhibition and lack of safe distancing. Since people are not prepared to play by the rules, the Government need to impose them so that we do not see hospitals having to close their doors. I am not prepared to take responsibility for having on our conscience the deaths of patients who cannot be looked after, not to mention the terrible stress on doctors, nurses and NHS staff.
I believe what the Minister said in his opening comments. Therefore, despite my love of tennis, I must support the Government in these regulations, though with some reservations.
My Lords, this is not the first time I have said in this Chamber that the Government need to fundamentally rethink their position. We are asked to believe that the rate can be pushed down by closing churches, John Lewis, bookshops, gyms and swimming pools but leaving open Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op. I have very good news for the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. My wife was in the Cambridge branch of M&S yesterday to buy some tights before lockdown; they assured her that they would be packing as many clothes as possible into the grocery section so that it would still be possible to buy tights and so on. Are this Government sponsored by Amazon or by Deliveroo? Which is it, or is it both?
Some 40,000 people have died, and we are now told that another 80,000 are going to die. What have we been doing for the last six months? The Government need to go back to the drawing board and call in people such as Professor Heneghan and other scientists to look more carefully at the numbers.
I recently spent four days in Stockholm. They have the same problem as we do, but they have dealt with it very differently. Stockholm has not locked down its economy; the death rate is lower than ours and it is managing to carry on. A lot of sensible social distancing precautions are in place; most of the museums are closed, but not the economy. As you walk around, you do not get this feeling of dread, with everybody looking like frightened little mice. I ask the Government to look at resetting their strategy.
My final point is this. If there is a vaccine, the consequences will still have to be dealt with. The virus might well mutate. After all, the flu virus mutates—you need a flu jab every year. We seem to be talking about a vaccine as though it will come down from heaven like manna, we will consume it and we will be protected for ever. It will not work that way. The virus will manage to mutate, and we will have this problem with us for a very long time.
At the beginning of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, talked about causing national self-harm. I honestly believe that we are talking ourselves into a corner because we are refusing to consider the basis on which we are working. That basis is wrong and it needs to be looked at again.
My Lords, I do not envy my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for having to decide where the balance should lie between saving jobs and the economy or saving lives. When I watched his press conference on Saturday, however, I felt immediately sceptical about the data we were shown by his advisers. Part of the reason for the much higher incidence of infections in this second wave is that very many more people are being tested. Therefore, many more people with only mild symptoms, or no symptoms, are appearing in the statistics than was the case in March and April. The proportions of infected people who are dying, and of those who are hospitalised, are also very much lower than was the case in the first phase. In particular, the graph showing scenarios for expected winter deaths—not predictions or forecasts—produced by several modelling groups looked suspicious, as did the graph with an enormous shaded area projecting possible hospital admissions.
I find the arguments put forward by Professor Carl Heneghan and Ross Clark persuasive, and they have not been given enough weight, particularly when there is some evidence that the regional measures were actually working in the areas where they had been introduced and no likelihood whatever that hospital capacity may be threatened in the rest of the country.
It has been argued that immunity provided by antibodies may not last long, and statistics have been presented showing a declining proportion of people possessing antibodies. Having had the virus, without realising it at the time, in late March, I tested positive for antibodies both in early May and at the end of September. I am not aware of anyone who had tested positive for antibodies who has subsequently tested negative. Could the Minister tell the House if he knows what data exists in this area? Without specific data it is clearly misleading to argue definitively that the possession of antibodies offers little mitigation of the risk of being hospitalised or dying as a result of contracting Covid for a second time.
I am no epidemiologist but, based on the evidence I have seen, I do not believe that the state is justified in intervening to deprive citizens of their freedoms in the way that it is doing, particularly if it is using powers granted by an Act of Parliament which was never intended to restrict the activities of healthy people, as was so convincingly argued by Lord Sumption.
I have attended in two cases, and been prevented from attending in one case, the funerals of three close relatives during the period since the pandemic struck. It is welcome that the number who may attend funerals—which had been increased from nine to 30—remains 30 under this current lockdown. However, I think it is most regrettable that the Government have now banned marriages altogether. I have another close relative whose wedding has already been postponed for several months by Covid-induced travel restrictions. He had planned to marry this month, albeit with only 15 people in attendance, but that is not now possible.
My Lords, I want to focus on one aspect of the economic consequences of this lockdown: youth unemployment, or, to be more precise, the outlook for the young people who will be leaving full-time education next summer. There will be about 200,000 of them; it would be a terrible tragedy if a significant number of them can find no job to go to. I believe that HMG have as great an obligation to mitigate their lot as that of any other group, for many of whom the Chancellor has already made most imaginative and generous provision.
My proposal involves our Armed Forces, who have performed magnificently in organising the construction of the Nightingale hospitals. Next month will see the 60th anniversary of the ending of national service in the UK. Those of us who were privileged to serve for 18 months or two years in uniform know what a huge benefit it was to us as individuals, whether or not we ever heard a shot fired in anger.
My proposal is that the Government should task the Ministry of Defence to prepare a scheme for school leavers next summer to be able, if they wish to, to join one of Her Majesty’s services for either one or two years. Many young people have already been in Cadet forces at school. I want to quote from the head teacher of a middle school in Suffolk who in the 1980s said:
“I used to be opposed to Cadet forces recruiting in school. After two years, I have become a convert. You take young people who frequently are not achieving, have low self-esteem and can be in trouble, and you give them a framework, self-discipline. They learn teamwork and start achieving. They go on to become active members of the school.”
My suggestion could give a magnificent start in life for some who might otherwise suffer long-term disadvantages from this wretched pandemic. It ought also to produce some valuable recruits for the Regular Forces. It would certainly improve job opportunities for others. As the Swiss have believed for many years, to have a trained militia can be very useful in times of peril. As we have seen increasingly in recent weeks, we face times of real peril to come. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will pass on my suggestion to his ministerial colleagues for action this day.
My Lords, I cannot support the regulations, because the damage which they are bound to cause cannot, I fear, be justified by the very limited and temporary benefit which might result from them. Until we have a cure or a vaccine, or the virus burns itself out, we will have to live with Covid. No one here or overseas has the certain answer to what should be done, and I certainly would not want to walk in the Prime Minister’s shoes or of those who advise him, all of whom I accept are honourable, decent and trying to do their best, but nor can I any longer respect their judgment.
The country has stoically supported three months of lockdown, lessons in handwashing, face masks, shutting down at 10 pm, confinement to groups of six, division of the country into tiers of restriction, all of which have had little effect, and then temporary, or we would not be here tonight. I would love to see the basis for the claim made by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, of half a million lives saved. I think I can guess who that figure comes from—perhaps he could tell us in reply.
Those measures have also inflicted enormous damage not just economically but socially and in terms of both the physical and mental health of our people. They have caused great human misery to many. These regulations will simply add to them. We are told they are needed because of a possible lack of hospital capacity or, in some places, an actual lack of capacity, but trying to stop demand cannot provide a lasting solution. Increased capacity is the only answer to lack of capacity, and that means more ICU beds and serious financial incentives to staff them—not shutting down the local hairdresser or pushing the local pub into bankruptcy.
A new and courageous approach is needed; we are not going to get it now but let us hope we do in a month’s time or when sense starts to prevail. How do we get the co-operation of the nation, which is increasingly fed up? How about giving them the facts without frightening them, and the facts rather than guesswork? Covid is a horrible illness and kills some people, but as many as eight out of 10 who catch it are symptomless and the death rate is just 0.2%. Then give us simple, readily available, reliable and speedy tests at home which sick people do not have to drive miles to get. Stop pretending that things which are not working, such as track and trace, are triumphs because if you do, people see that they are being taken for fools. Do not tell us that restrictions are only for a short period of weeks; we know that they are going to go on after the month is up.
Above all, do not deprive us of the right to make our own life choices and decisions for ourselves and our families. A sizeable part of the nation is at tipping point and the protests are daily growing. Preservation of life is of course important, but so is preservation of a life worth living. For an increasing number of people, those in charge appear to have forgotten that.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and agree with a great deal of what she said. The last time we debated a Covid SI, I said that I was unhappy with the direction in which policy was moving, but I agreed with the Government that, at all costs, another national lockdown had to be avoided. We have not avoided such a lockdown, and I am now even less happy.
First, I am not convinced by the explanations given for this change of tack. As we have heard, the charts purporting to show its necessity were, to put it politely, not based on the latest evidence. In particular, the apocalyptic claims about what was likely in December if nothing was done have been undermined. Secondly, and equally bad, Ministers’ presentations continue to ignore the other side of the ledger; for example, the extra cancer deaths and other miseries well described by my noble friend Lady Meyer and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. The lockdown’s enormous economic costs are of course also ignored. If we look only at the benefits of our policies and ignore the costs, it is easy to persuade ourselves that we are doing wonderfully when the reality is different. The House accepted a lack of cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment for the emergency measures in March. That was a failure of scrutiny by us but, deplorably, the Government have made it a habit.
Finally I turn to test, track and trace. But a short time ago, we were assured that the UK national system would be world beating. Not merely is it not yet world beating but struggles to reach the level of simple competence, especially in relation to trace. I begin to believe that it might be better to scrap the whole thing, save the money and rely on local endeavour. I also worry a lot about cleanliness and reinfection in hospitals.
I recognise all this is very difficult for the Prime Minister and my noble friend the Minister. Any Government would have a hard time, given the unknowns. There are a few positives. The Government have so far recognised the mistake they made last time and kept schools open. They also need to ensure that national exams are held next summer. Elite sport is provided for, unlike last time. However, overall, we are going in the wrong direction. We need to move towards a system where it is recognised that most people are not in real danger from Covid and are hampered as little as possible in everyday life, while those most at risk are helped to shelter if they feel it right. I agree on this matter with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, and my noble friends Lord Howard of Rising, Lord Forsyth and Lord Robathan, and I will not be voting for this measure.
My Lords, I am honoured to follow my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and agree with so much of what she said, and with other Members of your Lordships’ House. They have put forward such compelling arguments around the shortcomings of the Government’s approach in decreeing another national lockdown.
I do not want to repeat anything that others have said but, as a businesswoman, I would like to draw parallels with how decisions are required to be made in business, at least those that will affect many stakeholders. In business, the higher the stakes, the higher the burden of proof on the decision-makers. A FTSE 100 CEO announcing a major change in strategy needs to bring along those who are affected by setting out the basis for the decision, the pros and cons and the likely impacts—good and bad—across all parts of the business and groups that will be affected. If it is a particularly controversial decision, that CEO may also take the trouble to explain what other options were considered and why they were not chosen. He or she will share the numbers, the assumptions behind them and the projections into the future and take detailed questions. If noble Lords ever attend a company’s results day, they will find it a spreadsheet-heavy affair. Even if it is sobering news, if the case is well made and the analysis sound then shareholders and other stakeholders, such as employees, tend to go along with the decision. The CEO respects the need to bring them with him or her because if he or she does not and the news is unpalatable, they will vote with their feet.
Of course, I completely understand that running the country is not the same as running a business. No, the stakes are much higher and far more people are affected, which is why there needs to be scrutiny and sound evidence to back up such decisions, at least in a democracy.
Let us remember that we have had eight months to develop our understanding, modelling and preparedness for Covid-19. We should not be back to where we started. Yet we hear a reprise of the justification used in March that we willingly accepted at the time because we knew so little about the virus and its impact, and had not built capacity in the NHS or effective treatments for those hospitalised.
At present, although we have even more to lose and the economy is already fragile, the less we are told, the weaker the basis is for the decision. There is vagueness and confusion around the medical evidence used to justify the second lockdown decree. On Monday, when Conservative MP Huw Merriman asked why East Sussex was being locked down when it had,
“one of the lowest Covid rates of any county”,
the Prime Minister replied that
“the medical data is, alas, overwhelming.”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/20; col. 49.]
I use my analogy again. Imagine a FTSE CEO, when challenged by an analyst about a decision to close, say, a factory, saying, “Alas, we just have to”. Real data is needed, not just numbers around the virus, although that would be a very useful start, given that the Government’s scientific advisers seem unconvinced by the out-of-date graph shown alongside Saturday’s announcement.
In my draft of this speech, I was going to say that there is no evidence that the Government have undertaken a broader impact assessment before coming to the conclusion that a second lockdown was necessary.
We know, as others have said, that the collateral damage will be devastating. We and the public need to see how devastating that will be and why the other options, such as continuing with tiers 1 to 3 local restrictions or shielding only those who are vulnerable, would be worse. No one from the Government has shared any such analysis. Presumably, the Treasury has modelled the outcome on the economy, so why can we not see that? What are the expected excess deaths from untreated cancers, heart disease and suicides borne out of loneliness, despair and poverty?
I will do so. I apologise.
It is shocking that when the stakes are so high, when a draconian step is being dictated to us, so little information is shared. Saying “alas” is not good enough. Will the Minister explain why the Government have not carried out an impact assessment and whether they plan to do so now?
My Lords, I had wanted to spend my three minutes spelling out the potential alternative to lockdown, namely focused protection, because the Government have not taken it seriously enough. A staggering 45% of the UK’s Covid deaths have come among the 0.6% of people who live in care homes. That is where our efforts should be focused.
However, like others, I was so disturbed by what I have learned about the numbers used last Saturday to bounce us into lockdown that I must devote my few minutes to that issue. We were told that the virus is spreading faster than in the reasonable worst-case scenario. Like my noble friend Lord Lilley, I had to find out from Ed Conway of Sky News that the scenario was drawn up a long time ago in July and had absurd assumptions about the timing of the second wave. We were told that we could expect 4,000 deaths a day on a chart that did not even disclose where the projection came from. That is more deaths than have occurred on any day in any country, even those with vastly larger populations than ours.
The fatality rate of the virus is about 0.2%, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, and falling. Therefore, as my noble friend Lady Noakes said, 4,000 deaths a day implies 2 million infections per day, with the entire population infected within a month. That does not pass the common-sense test. What we were not told, and had to drag out of the secretive conclave of oracles known as SAGE, was that that was a nearly three-week-old projection that subsequently had been updated twice, producing much lower numbers which were ignored. The death toll was undershooting not just that model but all three projections shown on that graph. I echo the despair of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, at the performance of the models. They mostly still do not take into account matters such as the heterogeneity of infectiousness, whereby in each wave the superspreaders are depleted and the wave therefore crests, which is why Sweden now has almost no daily deaths, as my noble friend Lord Balfe said, after no lockdown.
It is not true, as my noble friend the Minister said twice in his speech, that the numbers are rising exponentially; they have not been for several weeks. Even by last weekend, and certainly today, it is clear that the second wave is peaking. Cases peaked in Liverpool, Nottingham, Newcastle and Manchester well over a week ago. As we have heard this evening, the King’s College data show that cases are now starting to nudge downwards nationally.
I have huge sympathy for the Government but, in the light of the failure to produce proper evidence for this measure, as my noble friend Lady Altmann said, the Government have every justification to pause this lockdown, with its inevitable products of further deaths from suicide, untreated cancer and heart disease and its miserable consequences of mental ill health, unemployment, bankruptcy and poverty, and go back and demand proper evidence-based graphs from SAGE.
My Lords, the one thing that Covid-19 has done and continues to do is to puncture egos at the highest levels and in all parts of society throughout the world.
I have considerable sympathy with many of the points made by the amendments. In particular I believe that there is an overwhelming requirement, as many others have argued, for the Government to use the lockdown period to provide a strategy, a way for them to show that they have learned lessons from the first two lockdowns, that they are finding a way to exit it and that we are setting out on a course that will avoid the possibility that we could have a third wave early in 2021 followed by another lockdown.
Yesterday I asked the noble Baroness the Leader of the House:
“If the Government intend, as they state, to adopt a pragmatic and local approach again in the months ahead, is one of the lessons learned that this might be more successful if the Government seek to bring all the political parties, at all levels, into the process? Would the noble Baroness consider a joint plan of action along the lines suggested by”
“her colleague and former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley?”
Listening to today’s many contributions makes the case even more strongly to me that we need wider involvement by people than we have had hitherto. The noble Baroness the Leader replied:
“The noble Lord is right that we need co-operation locally and nationally”—[Official Report, 3/11/20; col. 688.]
but she referred only to co-operation locally with the Liverpool experiment; she made no mention whatever of anything that might happen at national level.
I believe that the country is sick and tired at the lack of direction. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that people despair of politicians and the bickering among them. I would have thought that the assembly here today could all come together, work together and find a way through. My plea is that, as we look forward, we should try to work together against a common enemy as we always have done in the past when we have been faced with such an approach. That is the way in which we will get the confidence of the Government behind us and we will be more likely to find solutions to these problems. If our good friend, my noble friend Lord Desai, had been brought in, he could have been helping to find a better way forward than we have at the moment.
My Lords, while in February and March there was a paucity of data on which anyone could base an opinion or construct a strategy, there is now almost a tsunami of facts and figures, along with as much commentary as anyone could want. We therefore all know just about as much as the Prime Minister does. One result of that is that the case for this lockdown, as set out by the Prime Minister and his advisers on Saturday, and my noble friend the Minister today, has since been largely debunked by enough reputable scientists and commentators to the point where the Government’s case for this lockdown is simply no longer credible. In particular, Monday’s report by King’s College, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, set out that the R rate is significantly lower than the Government’s advisers reported on Saturday. As my noble friend Lord Lilley told us, the number of new cases in the north west has plateaued and is now falling.
No one doubts the seriousness of coronavirus, but the reality is that, while this is a very nasty, frightening illness, it is really only fatal to specific vulnerable people. More than 90% of the population get over the virus within a few days or weeks at worse. In these circumstances, it is difficult to understand the case for locking down the whole community. The chaos surrounding the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday and the delay in tabling this statutory instrument has simply added to the uncertainty surrounding this measure and the general lack of confidence in the Government’s handling of what is undoubtedly a difficult situation. There is a large and growing body of opinion, based on the enormous amount of data now available to all of us, that believes that the cure—in the form of a lockdown—may well be more damaging than the pandemic itself.
In order to address these concerns, will the Minister share with this House the work that the Government have presumably done which convinced them that there will be fewer job losses, less economic damage, fewer long-term physical and mental health problems in the population as a result of the lockdown than there would be without it? We all recognise the need to protect the NHS, and we have been told how many lives could be saved by lockdown, but this has been based only on projections. We now also need to be told how many lives will be ruined by the economic fallout of lockdown. The heavy price of lockdown will be paid by working people, and we need to know what that price is going to be. I shall, of course, listen carefully to everything that noble Lords say tonight, but as it stands, if my noble friends divide the House, I will support them.
My Lords, we have to remember that on Sunday—Remembrance Day—when we commemorate those who gave their lives and their health for our freedom, we will be one or two inches nearer to living in a benevolent police state or a benign autocracy. That is a matter of enormous grief to me and to many others. It has been the subtext of a number of speeches today, particularly the moving speech of my noble friend Lord Shinkwin.
I have two questions for the Minister. On the subject of churches, we had a perfectly benign but totally unsatisfactory Answer yesterday to my noble friend Lord Moylan’s Question from my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh. He was not able to produce a single shred of evidence to suggest that it was unsafe to go to a place of worship. Yesterday, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Westminster, other leading Anglicans, the Chief Rabbi and many other faith leaders wrote to the Prime Minister spelling out how important it was to keep open places of worship for public worship. We have had no answer. I say to my noble friend that the House has every right to demand a proper answer. Where is his evidence to justify this draconian step, for that is what it is? We should resist it if we possibly can.
I go from the sublime to the earthy: why are we preventing people from playing on golf courses? Nothing is safer than regulated exercise in the open air. I am not a golfer; I have never played golf in my life and I do not want to. A petition was launched on Saturday of last week and, by Monday, it had a quarter of a million signatures. If you are expecting people to obey orders, you should make orders that you can justify; you should not alienate normally law-abiding people such as those who play golf or go to churches and synagogues. You should not alienate them, because the price you will pay as a Government will be a very large price indeed. I rest my case.
My Lords, it is hard to follow that. We have heard important and shocking contributions, exposing the flaws in the reliability of the evidence and forecasts used, but I want to make a plea that we do not just get trapped in evidence wars. We have just heard a fine example of why values matter, along with principles such as freedom.
I have been nervous about how enthusiastically and gleefully so many government Ministers have taken to drafting draconian measures, selling them to the public as though their belief in freedom could just be dispensed with. I have been disappointed by the opposition Benches in the other place, whose only regret at the illiberal measures is that they were not brought in sooner, harder, longer and scarier. A tax on freedom appeared to be fine if it is funded. I say this because it is important that we do not let values get forgotten and find ourselves trapped in seeing the world only through Covid eyes and evidence eyes, discussing things only in relation to science.
The Government need to shake off the mindset of the technocrat. They completely overlook the real lives of ordinary people. That was brought home to me by that public health pundit on the TV recently who raged at the stupidity of those members of the public who wanted to breach regulations for the sake of a roast dinner. When we get people in charge who cannot tell the difference between a roast dinner and Christmas Day, we are in trouble. He did not understand that the priorities that scientists might have, in a narrow way, might be different from those of the rest of us. Individuals are not reducible to data points on a graph, whether it is a dodgy graph or an accurate one. Lived lives are more than statistical talking points.
I urge government Ministers to talk to people, and I want them to note that that is not the same as polling them. Noble Lords might notice that polling people does not get accurate evidence or results. Many who are scared that their loved ones might catch the virus want to balance risk themselves. They want to say that there is more to life than physical health and that saving lives is not the only end, but that quality of life matters. Often the elderly are being robbed of their agency and used as a stage army to justify this lockdown, when their quality of life is completely compromised as they are cruelly denied access to their families—they are lonely and neglected.
The Minister mentioned in his introduction that these measures are time-limited, but my problem is that the wrong-headed measures will have long-term impacts on the community. They will rip the heart out of civil society if the Government are not careful, and they will not be able to roll it back. What could the impact be if we coerce people to turn their backs on their neighbours, families and friends and leave people cruelly isolated? Saying to the young and the fit, “Don’t go near the elderly or you’ll be accused of killing Granny” will have a long-term demoralising impact. Talk to the public; do not blame them, but realise that this measure of lockdown is knocking the stuffing out of people.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many eloquent and committed speakers. I speak today with the heaviest heart. In spite of the unnecessary delays, I accept that the proposed lockdown may be necessary to prevent pressure on the NHS beyond its capacity. I extend my good wishes to all the families of those affected and pray for their speedy recovery.
I welcome some of the financial measures being extended until December. Many of the questions that I have asked the Minister on countless occasions over the past few months remain unanswered. One such question that other noble Lords and I have repeatedly asked is about a cost-benefit and risk analysis and an equality impact assessment of government policies.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, about the unequal and unimaginable duress on the poor and low-wage families. Inevitably, this intensive period of isolation will again affect women and children, who may face further abuse and violence to comply with government regulations. Many leading civil society organisations have continuously warned that vulnerable women and their families are not accessing financial measures to which they are entitled. Will the Minister assure me that he has listened to their call, and to the many suggestions that other noble Lords and I have made to improve the Government’s communication with vulnerable groups? Will he agree to meet community experts urgently to address and improve this crucial messaging?
The Government have had months; why are there no assessments or data available to the Government on the effect of Covid on victims who have experienced exponential levels of poverty and domestic abuse, or on children and young people experiencing mental health issues? Have Public Health England and Kevin Fenton’s recommendations been understood and, if so, what action has been taken to improve financial packages and services to vulnerable groups? Are the Government mindful of the systemic inequalities which cause disproportionate numbers of deaths among minority communities? Will the Minister assure the House that lessons have been learned and actions are being taken to monitor and avoid unnecessary deaths and infections among the specified vulnerable groups as we progress through lockdown?
Locally led test, trace and isolation is crucial, as has been said by many noble Lords. It has been reported that Hammersmith and Fulham Council successfully helped the NHS reach out to its communities; its efforts and the work of housing officer Hasnat Syed were commended. Can the Government make local government their delivery partners using this model? The Government’s chaotic and inconsistent responses and delay is clearly one reason why we have the current number of in-patients.
While I give the benefit of the doubt to keeping children safe in education, I know that, in my own close and extended family, a number of children have tested positive for Covid, and I witnessed their parents’ dread of hospitalisation. I hope the Government will keep reviewing their decision based on sound evidence, and we must continue to do everything to keep the Government and Ministers answerable.
My Lords, I shall be voting with the Government tonight, conscious of the many concerns expressed by noble Lords, not least those recently expressed by my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lady Altmann about the complete absence of evidence that the Government can produce for the ban on collective worship. We are at a point where something must be done and this is the only option in front of us, but I will make two points.
First, this has now ceased to be a matter fit for legislation. If you want a law to close pubs or restaurants, that is fine; it is nice and simple. However, when you come to micromanaging the lives of individuals and families, as Part 2 seeks to do, with 10 principal exemptions and numerous sub-paragraphs, it is simply absurd. It will be incomprehensible to families, police and enforcement authorities alike.
Many of these exemptions are common sense, but you cannot legislate for common sense; you can only ask people to exercise it. If any of these measures are to be continued after 2 December, they cannot be in this form; they need to be based on trusting people. That sounds like Sweden—I have never been a vocal advocate, or any advocate at all, for Sweden or its approach, but that is clearly where these regulations are pointing.
My second point is that Covid is a medical problem, requiring medical solutions. However, we have made it the prisoner of statisticians and geeks with models. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, pointed out, they are geeks who cannot agree on anything significant, except that a line pointing upwards will continue to do so if nothing prevents it. We have no choice, in practice, but to rely on improvements in treatment and care to reduce mortality, as is already happening, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, pointed out.
We cannot rely on a silver bullet: a vaccine that may be only partially effective—who knows?—or a test, trace and isolate system, which, even if it tested and traced effectively, cannot persuade people to isolate. Today is the day, and November is a write-off, but we cannot find ourselves in this position again. I urge the Government to use this month to consider a reset in their approach and lead us forward on the basis of trusting people and improving treatment and care.
My Lords, it has been very interesting listening to noble Lords talking about the way we have blundered into this lockdown, thoughtlessly and without a great deal of evidence.
As many noble Lords will know, my concern is how people are going to eat or, rather, not going to eat. During the first lockdown, Feeding Britain—I declare an interest as its chair—worked with Northumbria University and found that one in four adults across the UK were struggling to access food they could afford. Half of all adults tried to cope by purchasing much less expensive—that is, really unhealthy—food which they would not ordinarily choose to buy. Nearly one in four adults looking after children ate less than they would normally do in order to feed their kids. Some people were going without food for up to three days. Since then, the economic consequences of the pandemic have led to many people, whose earnings from regular or self-employment previously afforded them a decent quality of life, using food banks for the first time. This was widely reported earlier this week.
There is a sense of outrage and injustice attached to each of these developments, and I propose the following four measures to the Minister to prevent these alarming trends worsening during this second lockdown, which is happening in the winter with a huge number of lay-offs. First, benefit sanctions must be suspended for at least the duration of this lockdown, given the lack of jobs which people can apply for. Secondly, the gaps in support schemes for low earners and the self-employed must be plugged so that nobody losing work is forced, in these cold months, to choose between eating or keeping warm. Thirdly, we need a Defra-led taskforce to maintain and improve the supply of affordable food to vulnerable people and those on low incomes. I suggest that money could be diverted to local cafés to feed such people. That also secures employment, rather than trying voucher schemes, which did not work last time. Fourthly, the national food strategy’s recommendations need to be implemented immediately, with a national programme of meals and activities for children over the Christmas and February holidays. We all know what that one is about.
Finally, while we all welcome the £20 increase in the universal credit, can that please be extended to those on legacy benefits such as JSA and ESA to ensure that they can meet any additional costs that crop up in this pandemic? My fear is that, in the absence of any of these reforms, the poorest in our society will be clobbered yet again by the latest social and economic consequences of Covid-19 and this pretty unnecessary shutdown.
My Lords, I should point out at the outset that there is no significance whatsoever in the positioning of my name on the Order Paper. Although it is set up that way, I have nothing to do with the wind-up of this debate.
I have a sad story to tell. Before the debate started, I was looking for somewhere to sit, which is difficult in this building at the moment. At that point, some of the helpers took pity on me and told me that I could sit in this seat. As they had arranged me for me to get that seat, the only decent thing I could do was sit on it during the debate. It has been a very interesting exercise, sitting here over the last couple of hours and seeing the Government’s case disintegrate. We now have to do the more difficult job of finding ways of steering them back to doing something sensible, which is not happening at the moment. There are a couple of things on my mind, but I will try to keep to three minutes. I appreciate the cheerful wave that came from the other side.
Going back to the first situation we had; there was one reference during the debate to the Nightingale hospitals. We were very proud to see them created so quickly. I do not know the full number now—about half a dozen of them—but presumably, the designers had in mind that people would then work in them. I want to ask the Minister: what has happened to the Nightingale hospitals? They are sitting empty, I believe. Are they ever to be used? Are there any staff in line for them? If these hospitals were put into use, there would be a considerable increase in what is available and can be done. Think about that; we could do a lot more for people in care homes, and many other worthwhile things. However, it is really sad to think that those interesting buildings are just sitting there, not doing anything.
I noticed an article in a newspaper the other day by Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive officer of NHS England, where he did not mention Nightingale hospitals at all. I wonder: is this just another case of the health service imposing its view on the situation, irrespective of what might be valuable or otherwise? The position in Liverpool also caught my eye; it is very encouraging that the situation in Liverpool is okay. We should bear that in mind.
I did say I would keep to three minutes and it has been signalled to me from the Front Bench that I should stop at his point. I was going to make another point but you never know, I may find an opportunity to do that later.
My Lords, I believe this is the first time we have debated one of these statutory instruments before they come into force—there will be more, and I hope this sets a trend. This is the umpteenth of these regulations since Covid began in the UK, and it is worth remembering this SI applies only to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own legislation, outlining their restrictions.
The SI is in five parts: Part 1 sets out the definitions for the rest of the regulations; Part 2 is a list of 12 reasons one can leave the home; Part 3 has “Restrictions on gatherings”; Part 4 the restrictions on businesses, and Part 5 gives details about enforcement. It will expire in 28 days and goes into the first week of December but, as Mr Gove pointed out, lockdown can be always be extended further. The fervent hope is that this lockdown will curb the virus, as it did in the spring.
As has been said many times before, public health and environmental health know their areas well and are best placed to support and work closely with their communities. Local authorities are best placed to test, track and isolate. My noble friend Lord Scriven put it well: he referred to “shoe-leather epidemiology”.
We have four weeks. Can the Minister explain how his department will work with local authorities in this time? Can he confirm that we are in a much better place regarding PPE, both in the NHS and in care homes? In the space between lockdowns, have we found a way for those in care homes to see their family? Could the testing system used in Liverpool be adapted for determining the Covid status of staff and visitors to care homes?
We have often debated the problem of mental health in people who will again be confined to home—particularly, but not exclusively, the elderly and those who are ill. Many who have never before had a mental health problem now do. What support is available to them and how might they find that support? Can the Minister signpost the way to talking therapies?
Once we have reached the end of these restrictions, how confident are the Government that the population will not head out to party and shop in the Christmas spirit, undoing much of the good that the lockdown achieved?
Our local church congregation has spent some considerable time ensuring that distanced worship is possible, and I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester about championing public worship and the need to keep open churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and gurdwaras.
Regulation 3 refers to elite sportspeople. I enjoy watching sport, like many of us, and I fit into the category of someone who watches key annual national matches and has a preference for some sports over others. But why are those well-paid members of the sports community not treated like anyone else who has a living to earn? Why does the help and support they get not apply to professional musicians playing for a national orchestra, or actors? Perhaps I am missing something obvious, and I wonder whether the Minister would enlighten me.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, made a really good point about play. Will the Minister outline why children cannot take part in organised outdoor sport outside school? It would be good for their well-being and fitness. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, underpinned the argument by speaking about the benefit of riding for the disabled.
In the past I have asked the Minister about the number of people who have been fined for breaking the regulations. I am sure we appreciate that the police have plenty to do without having to attend to those contravening these regulations. Is anyone in the Department of Health and Social Care or the Home Office keeping a record of these penalties and how much has been added to the Exchequer in fines? Is there a particular age or gender profile?
Moving to test and trace, the Government should invest heavily in localised test, trace and isolate to bring it up to speed before Christmas. I welcome the move to pay those on low incomes who test positive a £500 support payment. I understand that No. 10 might be concerned about quarantine compliance. Can the Minister confirm a press report that, soon, if tested positive there will be a need to self-isolate for a week only? It is one of the rumours going around, but I cannot find a definitive government source. Experience thus far suggests that between only one-fifth and one-quarter isolate fully, so that might be a pragmatic solution. It is difficult to predict what individuals will do. In my region, the south-west, the situation has been quite clear thus far, but now we note that Covid numbers are rising.
Over the last few days, we have seen the spotlight fall on Liverpool, where there will be the first all-population testing programme, involving half a million people. We await the results and following action with interest. Can the Minister explain the technology being used and the process of selecting that technology? How many candidates were looked at and what sort of prior testing took place, and where? Was single-source procurement used, and if so why?
Many noble Lords have asked about the quality and availability of evidence. We need to know who to believe, but those making decisions about our future surely need to know that as well.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I will actually be addressing the statutory instrument, the Minister will be pleased to hear. In a way, these Benches are probably the least of his problems tonight. I do not expect that he is thanking his clutch of colleagues who, for one reason or another, are trying to stop these important regulations or have regrets. Of course, most of the regrets are perfectly legitimate questions to be asked and concerns to be raised, which is actually the point of the debate. Putting down an amendment to the Motion to double your speaking time seems a bit iffy to me.
On behalf of these Benches, I will not be commenting further on the amendments to the Motion, which I think are based mostly on internal Conservative Party arguments. We will abstain if any of the five noble Lords move to a Division. As for the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, we know that he has form—possibly a quasi-herd immunity supporter, I wonder, who disregards the science which at present tells us that such abandonment of restrictions might mean many deaths until we have a cure or a vaccine. We know the noble Lord’s intemperate views are not those of his own Government. If he tests the opinion of the House tonight, we will vote against his amendment. Frankly, this is too important for the whole country to play games, like the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, and those who support him.
As my right honourable friend Sir Keir Starmer and my honourable friend Jon Ashworth have made clear in the past few days, these Benches have major concerns over the Government’s decision-making, communications and messaging, and it is of the greatest importance that we have far more clarity about what is to be done during lockdown II and its exit route, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said.
We have been offering to work with the Government for months. Indeed, yesterday in the House of Commons my honourable friend Rosena Allin-Khan MP asked the Minister Nadine Dorries five or six times about working together to deal with the mental health pandemic. She got a very rude brush-off from that Minister—not at all the kind of behaviour we would expect from our Minister.
This afternoon, the House is invited to endorse the Prime Minister’s decision to impose upon the whole country a deep, restrictive lockdown for which the exit strategy is still unclear. As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed on Sunday, it could stretch beyond four weeks. On these Benches, we have argued very strongly that the previous lockdown was the time when we could have got the vital systems, particularly test and trace, in place and rebuilt the vital local capacity that has been so foolishly run down by years of cuts and hostility to local government. This time we hope that the Government will not only recognise the crucial role of local knowledge and expertise but will fund local authorities as they have promised. We have at least to flag up that one day there will have to be a reckoning for the absurd way that contracts have been handed out to private organisations in a manner more reminiscent of a banana republic.
As Keir Starmer has made clear, Labour supports the introduction of national measures to slow down the spread of the virus. This is an approach that he made weeks ago on the emergence of evidence on 21 September, as my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Knight said, and for which he and the Labour Party received abuse from the Government and some of their supporters in the media. I think we are entitled to point out that the initial reaction of the Government was to do too little, too late; their shambolic press conference on Sunday was a graphic illustration of that. The cost of inaction is an inevitable harder lockdown now, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said.
Labour will support what the evidence required all along. Of course, here and in the other place, the details will be subject to scrutiny, which is our job. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, we are at least debating these regulations four or five hours before the lockdown into comes into place, which is definite progress. We will join the Government in delivering the message that everyone has to play their part, abide by the rules and bring the rate of infection down. The Government are rightly saying that lockdown II may not end on 2 December but, like other noble Lords, I ask the Minister: what is the strategy for exiting this lockdown? Are we really going to go back to the three tiers that did not appear to work in the first place?
Above all, we have to have ready a proper world-class find, test, trace, isolate and support system. There have been so many months of unfulfilled promises on this, but it will have disastrous implications if we do not get it right. It is that case that our hospitals are filling up. Almost 11,000 people are now in hospital. Does the Minister feel that that will end if we bring the nationwide R rate to less than one?
I make a final plea for those who have people in care homes. Mistakes were made in the first wave of the pandemic. Families will be anxious to know that their loved ones in care homes will be protected as infections rise, but keeping care home residents safe should not mean locking residents up and keeping them away from the people who care about them, so can the Minister guarantee that families will be able to visit care homes during this lockdown and that they will be treated as key workers with access to regular testing so that they can visit their loved ones safely?
My Lords, this has been a hard-hitting debate. I thank noble Lords for their clarity and candour. In honesty, I do not agree with everything that has been said, but I share the frustration expressed by noble Lords in the Chamber and I absolutely recognise the seriousness of the issues that have been raised.
Before going further, I reiterate noble Lords’ thanks to those NHS, social care and ancillary services for their ongoing work to tackle the virus, and to the public for the sacrifices that they have already made. I also thank the usual channels for allowing this debate to be scheduled before the regulations we are debating come into effect. I recognise that the delay in holding debates has been a concern for a number of Members, as has been raised many times in this Chamber, including by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. We have listened and will continue to value noble Lords’ scrutiny as we respond to the Covid crisis.
I completely hear the concerns of my noble friends Lord Robathan, Lord Forsyth and Lady Noakes and others that we have not published an impact statement. This is a temporary piece of legislation; there is no requirement to publish an impact statement. However, there has been a very large amount of published data, shared analysis and debate on these subjects. My noble friend Lord Mancroft put it very well with his characteristic colour. With NHS data, test and trace data, PHE data, SPI-M data and SAGE papers, a colossal amount of scientific data has been published into a vigorous debate. It is impossible to generate a scientific consensus; that is not what science is about. It is up to the politicians to make the decision. It has been the Government’s decision to go into these measures, and we stand by them, but in doing so we welcome the scrutiny of this Chamber and Parliament. I welcome the fact that we are debating these regulations today.
Noble Lords have raised a number of issues about the regulations. I would like to reference them, even if I do not have the time or capacity to offer answers to each and every one. A lot of them are about how we mitigate the lockdown measures. As I said in my opening words, we have already done a lot but there is more that we can do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made a very good point about vape shops; I am happy to take that back to the department.
A number of Peers, including the noble Baroness, mentioned tennis and golf; that has been discussed and is the subject of a high-profile petition. I will take that back to the department as well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, and others mentioned rehearsals and live events, a subject that I care about enormously.
In terms of the relatives of those in care homes, particularly those visitors who provide an enormous amount of service and support for their loved ones, we are working really hard to get the testing capacity and systems in place to change the situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised this.
The challenge faced by special needs children whose schools have been shut was well raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. There will be challenges around riding schools for the disabled, but I am happy to take that back to the department. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, mentioned children playing together, a situation that I am very aware of and one that I can definitely look into.
Private music teaching, raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, swimming in pools, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and affordable food, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, are all subjects that I am happy to take back to the department and write to noble Lords on.
Most powerful and emphatic was the point on freedom to worship, which my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Moylan, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, all raised. It is a very touching and important issue. I am happy to take it back to look into it further and, if possible, seek some sort of mitigation.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, put it well when he described the “luxury” of six Motions on this SI; it is not something that I have come across before. I will try to enjoy the privilege in addressing them.
The concern of my noble friend Lord Lilley that the regulations were laid under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 has been raised a number of times in the Chamber. I have answered it a few times before but will do so again. His point is that this Act does not give specific powers to Her Majesty’s Government to impose restrictions on uninfected persons. However, the Government’s view is that this legislation does provide those powers. I am happy to take up his points on the Civil Contingencies Act with him. It has been looked at by the Government, but our very strong advice is that it could not be used on this occasion.
In relation to the concerns of my noble friends Lord Shinkwin and Lord Cormack, I do not agree that we compare unfavourably with totalitarian regimes. This virus can infect everyone, and the only way to protect our loved ones is by taking the necessary steps to bring down the R number. Our measures have been applied largely through consent and enjoy enormous popular support.
I completely agree with the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, on the impact of the lockdown on mental illness and other long-term psychological harm. The Government share these concerns and we have taken a huge number of steps to reduce the risk, which include providing exemptions to stay-at-home guidance and supporting the charities concerned.
A number of noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, raised NHS Test and Trace and the challenge around tracing. I agree that the regulation provides breathing space for us to upgrade the tracing service and build the capacity of the testing service. Noble Lords mentioned the work we are doing on that in Liverpool; that will be an enormously impactful pilot and experiment which, if it proves successful, could have a transformative effect on the way in which we manage this pandemic.
The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, referred to the challenge faced by those from a BAME background. I reassure him that staff who are potentially at greater risk of serious illness from Covid have been protected. Over 95% of BAME staff in the NHS have received risk assessments and, where necessary, agreed to mitigating measures.
As I said before, no Government would want to take these measures. However, if we do not take them now, we will not make use of the hard work and sacrifices that we have all made. We do not seek to repeat the mistakes of the past, but to demonstrate that we have a plan and are serious about beating this virus. As the Prime Minister said in the other place, although scientists are bleak in their predictions in the short term, we are unanimously optimistic about the medium and long terms. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about the exit strategy. The ongoing work on vaccines and test and trace will, I believe, allow us to beat this virus.
I will quite happily come back to the House when these regulations are near their expiry, if not before, to update your Lordships on our next steps. I believe that the case is proven, and that the necessity and urgency of these measures have been put forward by the Government. For that reason, I respectfully ask that my noble friends Lord Robathan, Lord Forsyth, Lady Noakes, Lord Shinkwin, Lady Meyer and Lord Lilley withdraw their amendments to the Motion. I hope that I have addressed noble Lords’ questions, and beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister—and I hope he still is a friend—may have noted that there was not a lot of support for his position in the House. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was somewhat rude to me in this allegedly courteous House. I remind her of what Dr David Nabarro of the WHO said. I remember him doing excellent work when I was on the DfID Select Committee. He said that lockdowns make
“poor people an awful lot poorer”.
I have not heard any Member of the Labour side say that.
Wise counsel and friends who I respect told me to pull my punches, not to push this amendment and to wait for something more important. I am not sure that there is anything more important. Now is the time to stand up and be counted. I do not wish to defend my weakness to my locked-down children or to the locked-down young people of this country who are suffering, in my opinion, unnecessarily. Time will tell whether I am right or if the Government are. I may easily be wrong—I have been before—but I would like to divide the House on this amendment to the Motion.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but that this House regrets that no impact assessment has been published which sets out the (1) number of jobs lost, (2) businesses permanently destroyed, (3) costs to taxpayers, and (4) consequences for mental and physical health, of a national lockdown; and regrets that Her Majesty’s Government have not provided a strategy for the lifting of the restrictions put in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean’s amendment to the Motion not moved.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but that this House regrets that the modelling used to support the claims that (1) the National Health Service would be overwhelmed, and (2) daily deaths from COVID-19 would be 4,000 or more, has not been subjected to independent review and challenge.”
Baroness Noakes’s amendment to the Motion not moved.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but that this House regrets that a further national lockdown to address the COVID-19 pandemic signals to totalitarian regimes that Her Majesty’s Government have failed to address the pandemic effectively, and that the United Kingdom’s parliamentary democracy is weak.”
Lord Shinkwin’s amendment to the Motion not moved.
Amendment to the Motion
Baroness Meyer’s amendment to the Motion not moved.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but that this House regrets that the Regulations have been laid under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which does not give specific powers to Her Majesty’s Government to impose restrictions on uninfected persons, and not the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which does.”
Lord Lilley’s amendment to the Motion not moved.