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Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
21 September 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Philip Hollobone

† Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)

† Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

† Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)

† Churchill, Jo (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care)

† Coutinho, Claire (East Surrey) (Con)

† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

† Eastwood, Mark (Dewsbury) (Con)

† Huq, Dr Rupa (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)

† Marson, Julie (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)

† Mayhew, Jerome (Broadland) (Con)

† Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

† Simmonds, David (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)

† Slaughter, Andy (Hammersmith) (Lab)

† Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

† Whittome, Nadia (Nottingham East) (Lab)

Bradley Albrow, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 21 September 2020

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 828).

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With this it will be convenient to consider the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 846), the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 865), the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 897) and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 931).

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It is my pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The regulations came into force on 4 August to tackle the outbreak of coronavirus in parts of the north of England. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was made aware that the latest epidemiological data showed high transmission rates of covid-19 across Greater Manchester, areas of Lancashire and West Yorkshire. It was therefore necessary to impose restrictions to prevent further spread of the virus.

On 8 August, following concerns about the significant increase in local incidence rates of the virus, the regulations were amended to extend their remit to include Preston. On Wednesday 15 August, a further amendment to the regulations meant that the national restrictions that were lifted across England would not be applied to those areas covered by the regulations, due to the high incidence rates remaining across such areas. However, by Wednesday 26 August, on reviewing the up-to-date epidemiolocal data and information from local authorities, directors of public health, Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and contain teams, the Secretary of State was able to remove Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council and Rossendale Borough Council from the protected area. This meant that the restrictions remaining in those areas aligned with the those on the rest of England. On 2 September, we were able to remove certain wards in Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and Kirklees Metropolitan Council from the regulations following another review.

The concerns about the outbreak of coronavirus in the north of England have been significant, and the engagement with local leaders has been extensive and productive. I want to thank all local authorities and local resilience forums, Public Health England and the Joint Biosecurity Centre—as well as local directors of public health, all council leaders and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham—for their ongoing support. I also want to emphasise that the decision to take action on each occasion was not driven by numbers alone; it was a judgment about the overall situation, taking into account not only the epidemiological evidence, but local insights and views.

Action had already been taken to protect the people living in the affected areas in the weeks before the regulations came into force, such as increased testing and public health support. We also gave additional funding to all upper tier local authorities involved. That enabled them to enhance the various local interventions and to support measures that have been put in place. We hoped that those interventions and the work of local public health teams would get the infection rate down without our having to take more drastic action. When the regulations came into force, however, the incidence rates in almost all these geographic areas were significantly above the national average.

Pendle had the highest incidence rate in England between 31 July and 6 August, at 89.7 infections per 100,000 people. Oldham had the second highest rate, at 82.3, and nine other local authorities in the north had rates in excess of 30 per 100,000. The epidemiological data and local insights suggested that the most likely route for the increased transmission of covid-19 was as a result of people living in different households in the area meeting up with one another. Multigenerational households, households with several members and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have experienced a higher risk of transmission.

However, by the end of July, it was clear that rates of infection were continuing to increase to undesirable levels. The cross-Government covid-19 operations committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, decided on 30 July to take further measures to tackle the outbreak, and the Secretary of State set out the measures in his statement. In general, these regulations prohibited households in the relevant areas of the north of England mixing with each other in their homes or gardens, apart from those with support bubbles or in other limited circumstances, such as on compassionate grounds. Some exceptions include work purposes, education or training, emergency protection, to avoid injury or escape harm, to facilitate a house move, to provide care to vulnerable people or to visit family members who are dying.

These regulations also included a provision extending that restriction to the protected areas covered by the separate Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford) Regulations 2020. The regulations include provisions making it a criminal offence to breach any of the restrictions or requirements. As with the national regulations, those who breach these provisions can be issued with a fixed penalty notice, with increasingly larger fines for repeated breaches. Offenders can also be fined following conviction.

Due to the increasing incidence rate in Preston as the regulations came into force, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the decision to add Preston to the restricted area covered by the regulations, extending the ban on households mixing with each other to residents of the city. Despite the restriction on inter-household mixing introduced on 5 August, the incidence rates continued to rise or remain undesirably high. Consequently, on 15 August, further restrictions were imposed requiring certain businesses and venues to remain closed, despite their being able to reopen elsewhere in England. The venues in each local authority area that had to remain closed for the time being included casinos, indoor skating rinks, indoor swimming pools and water parks, indoor play areas, indoor fitness and dance studios, indoor gyms and sports courts, bowling alleys, conference centres and exhibition halls.

By 26 August, rates had fallen or remained acceptably low in Rossendale and Wigan and by 2 September rates had also fallen much safer levels across Stockport, Burnley and Hyndburn, as well as across certain wards within Calderdale and Kirklees. In the light of the improving situation in all those areas at those dates, the Secretary of State removed them from the regulations, so the only restrictions remaining in force in each area were those applicable to the rest of England. The regulations must be reviewed every 14 days to consider the need for the restrictions to continue. The next review is due on or before 25 September. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State committed to reviewing them weekly, which he continues to do.

Given the urgency of the situation in the north of England, we used the emergency procedure to make the present set of regulations as soon as we could. They give effect to the decisions set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in response to the up-to-date epidemiological data and situational awareness relevant to each local authority area. Alongside the regulations, we provided guidance on the www.gov.uk website explaining what people living in an affected area can and cannot do.

Since these regulations and their amendments were implemented, the Government have continued to review the ongoing situation. The incidence rates in most of these local authorities have increased and remain high. Although we are debating only these five statutory instruments, there have been regular reviews considering the positions in each local authority area, and we remain concerned about the continued high level of the virus in many of them, primarily driven by community transmission. People must follow the Government’s clear guidance to socially distance, wash hands frequently and wear face coverings in public indoor places.

We always knew that the path out of lockdown would not be entirely smooth. It was always likely that infections would rise in particular areas or workplaces, and that we would need to be able to respond quickly and flexibly to those outbreaks. The collective actions taken across the north of England have demonstrated a willingness and ability to take action where needed. We will, of course, use the experience of the restrictions in the north of England to help inform and develop our responses to any current local outbreaks.

As I said earlier, we will continue to make public the outcome of the reviews. I am very grateful to all Members for their continued engagement in this challenging process, and in the scrutiny of the regulations. I would particularly like to thank people in those parts of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire who have, in general, responded well to the measures put in place. It is thanks to their continued efforts that the changes to the boundaries were made, and we hope to ease measures further if improvements continue. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank the Minister for her remarks and explanations of what the Government are seeking to do, as well as for her efforts over the past six months. It has been an awful lot of work for Ministers, and we are grateful; when we disagree, I hope that we disagree firmly but well.

It is a funny time to be in opposition. The clue is in the name: we oppose very many, if not most, of the things in the Government’s legislative agenda. We have significant concerns about some or all of them, so we seek to amend, we scrutinise, and in that way we hope to improve our parliamentary democracy. On any issue, it is very easy to engage in the narcissism of small differences, but in a pandemic that will not do. If the Government say, “There is a rule of six,” we could very easily say, “It should be a rule of five, or a rule of seven.” We could play that game all day—indeed, I was on the radio on Thursday, and people were saying just that. “You are too co-operative. The Opposition are too supportive of the restrictions being put on our freedoms.”

Similarly—obviously, this gained much more coverage—on Sunday morning, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition reiterated that we support the Government on the restrictions being put in place. We think it is obvious that if the infection rate increases, restrictions have to increase as well, but there were some extraordinary comments on Twitter—this was just from our own side—about how easily we were rolling over. I should probably never look at the comments, but sometimes I cannot help it.

The point I am building up to, however, is that the well of good will is not unlimited, because there is a real problem. Hon. Members will have read their papers, and will know that what we are discussing now is long after the fact. I do not think we would be popping anybody’s bubble or revealing what is behind the curtain, if I can mix my metaphors, to say that today is a bit of a fool’s errand. We are meeting weeks and weeks after these regulations were not only put in place, but changed. The first one we are discussing has since been amended on essentially four different occasions. There has to be a sense of reality about what we are doing, but hopefully also a recognition that, fundamentally, as an operation, this will not do. Are these very significant changes to happen on a very regular basis, only to be scrutinised in Parliament seven weeks later? I do not think so. It is not good for us as an Opposition, and it is also not good for the Government or for Government Back Benchers.

Of course, these regulations came into effect on 5 August. At that point, people living in the 15 local authority areas specified, as well as Blackburn—which was already under alternative restrictions—could no longer meet in groups of two or more households in a private dwelling, or in groups of more than 30 people outdoors. A variety of other conditions and exceptions was also in place. I recall this well: I was up in Manchester myself when it was announced, visiting my sister and her newborn baby, and I needed to beat a hasty retreat lest I had to stay there. I do not think my constituents would have been too impressed by that.

Again, we broadly support these measures and the intention behind them, because we all want to halt the spread of the virus, and we know that keeping people safe must be the No. 1 priority. However, we as an Opposition have to put on the record our concerns that it has taken seven weeks for us to get here. I talked to the Minister before we started, and I am sure that her colleagues have had a series of different versions of these delegated legislation Committees over the past few weeks.

Normally, we would put up my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), but we are giving him a bit of a rest. I think that is why they have sent me out to bat: some fresh legs with half an hour to go, to run around and put a few tackles in, which has never been something I have worried about doing.

This point needs to be reiterated. We are rightly talking about having control of this virus, but there is concern across the House and definitely among the population that we do not now have control of the virus, and are certainly losing it. A big part of that control has to be our understanding and scrutiny of the regulations, their quality, and their effectiveness.

Of course, we need to act efficiently. We would never support a situation where important and effective regulation that was needed could not be introduced in a timely manner, because we had not yet got to Committee Room 10 to deal with it. We know the pattern on which the regulations will be popping up—a statement from the Health Secretary has just finished and there will be one from the Prime Minister tomorrow—and I do not think it is beyond the realms of possibility that new regulations are coming. However, while we are talking about regulations from seven weeks ago, when will we reach the new ones? Will it take seven weeks? I do not think that that will be in our interest or anyone else’s. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

I know that the subject has been raised many times by Members on both sides of the House, and in the other place. We cannot be here just to rubber stamp what the Government propose. That stretches things too far. I believe that we are taking responsible paths, although I say that with the caveat that I state whenever I do any media work. When I open my emails, half of them say that I have been too hard on the Government and am not supporting the national effort; the other half say that the Opposition are too acquiescent. Who knows? Nevertheless, I do not think that anyone would think arriving late and rubber stamping a measure is in our interest or is what our constituents need from us.

Mr Speaker gets upset, as do we, that often we hear of important policy changes on a Friday or Sunday night, long before Parliament has the opportunity to hear them. Sometimes I talk about that to my friends who are non-political and they say, “Well, you know, you can’t be that person who’s worried about being told first.” I remember Gareth from “The Office”, who would always insist on having the news whispered in his ear just before the big team meeting so that he knew it first. That is not the point or what we are saying. We are saying that we have a parliamentary democracy for a reason. It is a very effective one and has been this way for a long time. We all treasure and love it. We must be among its greatest enthusiasts because we choose to come here every day. We cannot lose that, even in the most important circumstances. That is when it becomes all the more important.

However, we have had regulations coming into force only a quarter of an hour after they are available to read. Including the five before the Committee, there are 17 measures being debated this week, all of which are already in force. Other regulations have come into force before being revoked and never seen. There seems to be no opportunity during this period of time to debate them, and that will not work. We are hoping for some clarity and commitment from the Minister, and an assurance that the Government are actively seeking to get upstream of this blizzard of regulations.

I would hate to take the job of Whip, held by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington—I really would not want it—but I am sure the Opposition would be constructive about shifting the backlog if it meant that we could deal with regulations in something closer to real time. That would be better for everyone. However, this is not just about Parliament; it is a question of the cue we send out to the public. If they feel that the process is rushed or bypassed, there is a danger of undermining Parliament’s credibility.

People in the north are reasonable and intelligent—I am one of them. They are not daft and they know when things are being cooked up on the fly. I have heard that from friends and family. If they feel that measures are arbitrary, and that they have been made on the hoof, that undermines their confidence in whether they should stick to them or whether to say, “Just pop round, and no one will ever really know.” We know that in fighting the virus that will not do.

It is hard, as I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, not to reflect that we have just had a statement from the Health Secretary and there will be one from the Prime Minister tomorrow, and there was a chief advisers’ press conference this morning. We would never say no to hearing more information and certainly not to having more opportunities to talk about it, but it is hard to explain to a lay person what process of swift, clear and effective decision-making those things reflect.

Compliance is key to our success in getting out from under the virus and making the measures work. That is why we need to scrutinise them and have our say on them. As I have said, we do not propose to divide the Committee, but that does not mean we do not want greater understanding of some of the Government’s ideas. Certainly, as we get into discussion of curfews or hospitality closing times, we want to understand precisely the science behind such things.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. My colleague is making an important point. I hope Members will forgive me for repeating something that has come up at many similar Committee sittings. We represent communities to whom we are answerable, who want to know what is going on—why such measures are being passed, and why the policies are being imposed on communities. It is very difficult to explain what is happening when we have not had scrutiny or access to Ministers. Explanations should be upstream of any regulations being made, as my hon. Friend said. Back Benchers across the House are crying out for that. There should be a strategy that explains why the measures might be required in future. Strategic thinking needs to take place in advance, in anticipation of the circumstances. Does my hon. Friend agree?

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Yes, I do. Again, that is necessary for public confidence. We have supported the Government throughout. As infection rates decrease, we can open up more things and do more things. As infection rates rise, there will be greater restrictions. It would be better to understand what greater restrictions mean earlier in the process. Instead, it feels as though we are always running to catch up.

I am in danger of being much more negative than I usually am, but I have the chance to extol some virtues and talk about the benefits that we have today. We at least have hindsight at our disposal. We do not often get reviews of legislation this quickly after it has come into force, but today we have that. On 5 August, the seven-day case average in the north-west region, which is a good cipher for the area we are talking about, was just under 250. On 2 September, with the most recent of the four amendments, the seven-day case average was 486, and last week the rolling day average peaked at 1,200 on Wednesday.

It is therefore clear that although the regulations might have been effective, they are not entirely sufficient. That makes the case for greater restrictions. People need to understand that, even though it is frustrating. Certainly in the communities where freedoms have been curtailed, no doubt willingly, to beat the virus and protect each other, they need to understand the picture, what has happened subsequently and why we need to go further. We have a duty as an Opposition to point out that that was undermined by slowness in the early stages regarding personal protective equipment; lockdown itself; social care and more; the lack of scrutiny, as I mentioned; and particularly now, as we reflect on this here in Parliament, the shambles that is test and trace.

Short of a wonder vaccine, which will be gladly received when it comes, test and trace is our most critical weapon to get out from underneath this, but at the moment it is not happening. It is not working in a timely manner to properly find those who have coronavirus and to isolate them. That is why we are seeing the virus spread. Will the Minister update us on the progress towards getting a system that meets what the Prime Minister said in June about a 24-hour turnaround in response, because that is what it will take?

Can we hear a little more about what was briefed over the weekend? I am a man of the world—I understand that things get briefed to the Sunday newspapers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been calling for a recognition that if those who are being asking to self-isolate are offered only statutory sick pay that pushes them into poverty, that will be an incentive not to comply with the regulations. That is not a good thing, but it is entirely human. The £500 figure was briefed over the weekend. Will the Minister tell us more about that?

I have three final points. We have not had much of a debate on the merits of these specific restrictions because the horse is three fields down by now, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s view on where we are currently and where she feels we will be next week, in a month’s time and in three months’ time. We want a sense of what the journey is, even if that journey means things are getting more challenging. Okay, that will mean greater restrictions, but what sorts of restrictions and when? It would be good for Parliament and for everybody to know that.

I am sure this is close to your heart, Mr Hollobone, as someone with a long history in local government, but will the Minister tell us a little more about local authority engagement? She said in her contribution that that has always been good. That is not always the picture that we get from local councils in respect of whether conversations have happened and whether the announcement reflects them. Can we hear what process is being used to engage with council leaders?

Finally, regulation 4 of the first set of regulations requires a review at least once every 14 days, so there must have been three since they came into effect. I wonder why the results of the reviews have not been made public, and whether they could be more routinely in future. That would give us something better to debate when evaluating their effectiveness.

I will draw to a conclusion there; I have made my point on timeliness and I hope the Minister can address it.

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I place on the record my thanks for the hon. Gentleman’s tone; I am grateful for the support. As we know from this morning’s announcement by Professor Whitty and Patrick Vallance, this is a difficult, fluid situation that is changing. It is important, as I answer some of the questions that the hon. Gentleman put to me, that we keep that level of dynamism in mind, because that is the problem: we cannot see into the future. One of the challenges is that if we pre-empt where we are going, we are much more likely to be over-restrictive than under-restrictive.

The one thing we have not heard in the offer of support is how that support would work within the parliamentary framework. Do we sit for seven days, because these things are arguably coming at us hourly? Do we do it on a smaller basis? Do we go through usual channels? This is considerably more complex. I understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes, because often members of the public are not sure how this place works, and there is a challenge in helping them to understand why we do things in certain ways.

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The Minister makes a valid point. As a constructive suggestion, we have Westminster Hall and we have spare capacity in this place. How about using Westminster Hall solely for the purpose of having these debates about everything related to the covid-19 pandemic and how we work our way through it, and we could do stuff in advance?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion; I am sure my Whip will take that away and feed it up through the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that there are other places on the estate but, as he will know, there are also restrictions on movement around the estate and what parts of if we can move to.

The restrictions we have debated today are necessary and important for three reasons. First, and most importantly, they are necessary to protect the people in the north of England and surrounding areas from this terrible virus. The restrictions imposed have been difficult, but I think the people of the north of England recognise that the measures have been paramount to try to stop the spread of the virus.

Secondly, the restrictions protect those of us outside the north of England. Containing was very much the strategy laid out on 10 May. These restrictions greatly reduce the risk of transmission within the protected area, which in turn reduces the risk of infection rates increasing elsewhere. We recognise and appreciate that in abiding by these restrictions, those in the north of England benefit the whole country, and I place on the record my thanks to them.

Thirdly, the restrictions show the absolute determination to respond to the outbreaks of the virus in a focused and effective way. We are learning from what happened in the north of England as we work with local authorities and others to respond to future localised outbreaks, such as those that one of my colleagues will be debating in the House in due course. Indeed, we were able to work down to a granular, ward-by-ward level, but we have found that it is probably not the best strategy to open up on that basis.

The next review of the regulations will take place on or before 25 September. I am grateful to hon. Members for their contributions to the date today. I would like to address the point that the hon. Member for Nottingham North made first about timeliness and speed. The Government are confident that the regulations were made lawfully under the emergency procedure of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. They are receiving parliamentary scrutiny in accordance with the emergency procedure, and are being debated within 28 days.

The challenge with these regulations is that we caught the tail end of recess, which obviously pushed them out a little further. The procedure allows us to respond quickly to the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by coronavirus, first by imposing restrictions to break the transmission chain and to protect people, and secondly by removing those restrictions when it is safe to do so. The regulations we are debating show how fluidly and quickly we can make those adjustments and changes.

The Secretary of State considers that the requirements imposed by the regulations are a proportionate public health response to the threat of incidence and spread in England of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2— SARS-CoV-2—or covid-19. The regulations set out that a review of those requirements must take place every 14 days to ensure that they continue to be necessary to

“prevent, protect against, control or provide a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection”.

It is also important that timely reviews are made so that restrictions are not overly imposed on any part of the population.

We have subsequently amended the regulations to ensure that we continue to take necessary steps to protect public health as national restrictions were lifted over the summer—amendments were accordingly made on 8, 15 and 26 August. The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked how decisions are made locally and what the system is. Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and NHS Test and Trace are constantly monitoring the levels of infection across the country, and work with local authorities to implement additional control measures as appropriate. Those decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis, which is why that local knowledge is so important, and advice may differ according to the specific circumstances of any given outbreak. Indeed, tomorrow we will be talking about an outbreak in and around a place of work, which is obviously quite different.

The watchlist is already publicly available in Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report, and the decision to place restrictions on local authorities in the north of England was based on a number of factors, including not just the positivity rate, but the incidence rate of the virus, the extent of high-risk behaviours and the rise in the increased risk of transmission between the population. The next review will take place on Friday 25th—this Friday—and we are debating the regulations before that review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider all those factors when making his decision.

As I have just mentioned, we have increased the capacity of the test and trace system by more than 10% in the last few weeks, with the aim of reaching 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. I pay tribute to all those involved in the test and trace system because, initially, we could process some 2,000 per day. We are now well over 240,000 per day, and some capacity, including antibody tests, is well over 370,000 tests per day. We are on track to hit 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. There are four new Lighthouse labs coming on stream, including Newport, Newcastle, Charnwood and Brants Bridge. There are hundreds of additional staff and capacity is being bought up abroad. Test and trace has led to more than 420,000 people isolating who may otherwise have spread the virus. As we heard this morning, breaking that transmission chain is so important.

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I thank the Minister for giving way—she is being very generous. I have an observation: I visited our testing centre at the Ricoh Arena in north Coventry, which serves the whole region of Warwickshire and Coventry. In the hour I spent there yesterday, only 16 cars went in. There was clearly a lot of capacity—a big facility has been established there—and very professional people on site, but there must be a disconnect between the capacity she describes, which I saw, and what is being fed through to those centres. The numbers that she describes are huge, but I am not seeing that on the ground.

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I think what we are all seeing on the ground is that demand has become exponential in the past few weeks. It is therefore a question of the system catching up, but it is important that the Government assess the risk factors and continue to protect healthcare workers and members of the social care workforce first to ensure that we are protecting the most vulnerable in society with the capacity that we have, and then begin to move through to other key workers. We need to have a risk stratification approach as the numbers increase.

This country’s population is in the region of 67 million. Even with a testing rate at 500,000 per day, it would take some weeks to get through that. There has to be a marrying of the testing capacity within the testing facilities and the ability of the labs to have the throughput that backs up behind it. We are doing an enormous number of tests, and it has been noted that we actually have a larger throughput than Germany, Italy, Spain and France.

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The Minister mentions Germany. I have just come back from Italy. Why is it that Germany and Italy have such lower numbers than the UK?

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With the greatest of respect, I will move on, because we are somewhat going away from the regulations we are discussing. I was asked specifically about the test and trace figures in and around the north of England, rather than those stretching across Europe.

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If the Minister will allow me—

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No, I am sorry, but I will not give way.

The north of England regulations were also amended on 2 and 8 September. The amendments made on 2 September removed certain local authorities or specified wards from the protected area under the regulations, following the decrease in incidence rates of the virus in those areas. On 8 September, the regulations were amended to enable certain businesses and venues to reopen, in line with elsewhere in England. The remaining restrictions continue to prohibit people from different households meeting in each other’s homes or private gardens, and to stop a small number of businesses reopening—for example, nightclubs remain closed in the relevant parts of the north of England, as is the case across the rest of England, for quite sensible precautionary reasons.

Let me conclude by recording on behalf of the Government our thanks to the people of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, particularly the health and social care workers—indeed, all key workers in those areas—for their ongoing hard work and dedication in keeping our vital services running and for saving lives throughout these unprecedented times.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 828).

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 846).—(Jo Churchill.)

HEALTH PROTECTION (CORONAVIRUS, RESTRICTIONS ON GATHERINGS) (NORTH OF ENGLAND) (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) REGULATIONS 2020

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 865).— (Jo Churchill.)

HEALTH PROTECTION (CORONAVIRUS, RESTRICTIONS) (NORTH OF ENGLAND) (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 2020

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 897).—(Jo Churchill.)

HEALTH PROTECTION (CORONAVIRUS, RESTRICTIONS) (NORTH OF ENGLAND) (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) REGULATIONS 2020

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 931).—(Jo Churchill.)

Committee rose.