I beg to move,
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England and North East and North West of England etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1074), dated 1 October 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2 October, be approved.
These regulations came into force on Saturday 3 October. They were introduced, based on the latest epidemiological data and local insights. The data showed rapidly rising rates of covid-19 infections in Merseyside, Halton, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, indicating an urgent need for further steps to control the outbreak. The regulations also introduced an easing of restrictions for Bolton, based on the stabilisation situation compared with the rapid growth in case numbers a few weeks previously.
These regulations represent targeted measures designed to reduce transmission in areas where incidence rates are high. We do not want to, and will not, impose regulations where they are clearly unnecessary, but where we do, while public health is our priority, we are balancing the need to impose measures to tackle the transmission of the virus with protecting our economy and education.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. In making these decisions, we look at multiple factors. We look at the incidence rate per 100,000, for instance. We look at the positivity rate—the percentage of tests that are positive—and we keep a close eye on hospital admissions. All those factors are important. The good thing about the data from our testing systems is that they give more leading indicators of things that may follow on. All of those are an important part of the information that goes into the decisions that are made.
Incidence rates across Merseyside, Halton and Warrington over the seven-day period 17 to 23 September 2020 range from 163.3 per 100,000 people in St Helens to 257.7 per 100,000 people in Liverpool. Test positivity was high too, ranging from 10.5% in the Wirral to 15.7% in Liverpool in the same period. With those levels of infection, including growing infection rates in people aged 60 and over, for whom we know the risks of complications are greater, action was clearly necessary. By contrast, in Bolton, which until the regulations were introduced was under greater restrictions and interventions than nearby areas, infection rates have stabilised, although they are still high, at 241.8 per 100,000 people, with a test positivity rate of 12.3%.
Many areas across the north of England have been subject to extra restrictions, in some cases, for weeks. I know that that is really hard for people, day in, day out, and for many businesses. The regulations do not introduce any new measures, but they amend existing legislation.
Briefly, the Minister touched on the point that the regulations amend previous regulations that have been in force for some time. Something which, I suspect, Opposition Members will raise is the incidence rate, based on testing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) said, there are other measures on hospitalisations and other things. Can the Minister set out some of the evidence that demonstrates that the measures that have been introduced in the Liverpool area are likely to have some prospect of working, because that will be important in reassuring our constituents that the Government have got a grip on the situation?
Does the Minister agree that as the virus is coming roaring back, particularly in areas such as my constituency, now is the wrong time to be getting rid of the furlough, and that if we are going to have extra restrictions, we also really need much greater extra support so that we can compensate and look after business owners and individuals that have to self-isolate or close?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the impact of restrictions on people’s livelihoods as well as their lives. However, she is asking me to stray beyond my brief as a Health Minister to talk about the financial support, although she will be aware that the furlough has supported huge numbers of people during the period of lockdown and since, and the Chancellor has introduced further measures to support people in the months ahead.
I will make a little more progress and then I will take further interventions.
I will now run through each of the regulations that were amended. The first was the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) Regulations 2020—SI 2020/1057—which changed the geographic areas covered by the north of England regulations. Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens, Warrington and the Wirral were removed. These local authority areas were then added to the north-east and north-west regulations—SI 2020/1010. Two new areas were also added to the same protected area, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough. For each of these, this was the first time that local restrictions had been implemented. People living in these areas are prohibited from mixing with people from different households in each other’s homes and gardens, and in any indoor public venue.
Next, these regulations added Bolton to the geographic area covered by the north of England regulations, rejoining the other local authorities that make up Greater Manchester. This amendment meant that the takeaway-only restriction affecting hospitality was removed, so businesses in Bolton have been once again able to serve food and alcohol with table service. Due to Bolton being added to the north of England regulations, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Bolton) Regulations 2020—SI 2020/974—were revoked.
The final regulations amended by these regulations is the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Obligations of Undertakings) (England) Regulations 2020—SI 2020/1008—which were incorrectly amended before. This amendment ensures that the right exemptions apply to the requirement on pub, café, restaurant or bar managers in the protected area of the north-east and north-west regs to take all reasonable measures to stop groups of six in areas where only national restrictions apply, or members of the same household in the north-east and north-west protected area from singing on the premises.
To come to the decisions behind these regulations in more detail, given the urgency of the situation and the rapidly increasing numbers of people testing positive for covid in Merseyside, Halton, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, we consulted local leaders last week on the potential next steps. Similarly, we consulted local leaders in Bolton.
I thank my hon. Friend for her Department’s approach to the Teesside restrictions—for not including Teesside as one whole, homogenous bloc, as some people wanted, but viewing the individual parts, such as Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, as separate entities.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. We are trying to get the balance right between wanting to target restrictions and not impose them on areas where they might not be needed, while being mindful that if every area has its own local variant specifically, it does get more and more confusing, so there is a clear balance to strike in being targeted but also trying to keep things simple.
Let me just come to Bolton. I was saying that we had consulted local leaders in Bolton and we used the emergency procedure to make the present set of regulations as soon as we could. Recognising the concern about the time that it can take for Parliament to debate these statutory instruments and given the pace of the pandemic, I hope that hon. Members acknowledge that we are debating today measures that came into force just this Saturday.
As I mentioned, for the implementation of these measures, existing legislation was amended rather than bringing in new Acts. We reviewed the impact of existing regulations and considered where they needed to be more robust or could be eased. We took into account the existing measures in place elsewhere and assessments of the impact that those measures were having. The complexity of local restrictions has been highlighted recently, so the decision was made to impose regulations already in place rather than to develop new ones.
There is extremely serious concern about the outbreak in the north of England, the north-east and the north-west, both at the point the decisions were made to introduce further restrictions and ongoing. Engagement with local public health teams and local leaders has been extensive. I would like to thank the local council leaders, local authorities more broadly and the local resilience forums, as well as Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, and the local and regional directors of public health for all their engagement and all the work they are doing. All the local councils involved have engaged sensibly at chief executive and other levels, and I know they have also been doing a huge amount locally—for instance, working to increase compliance, supporting increased access to testing, working with care homes and supporting the most vulnerable. We will only succeed in suppressing this virus by working together at every level.
I thank the Minister for setting this out so clearly and concisely because this is really difficult. The International Trade Secretary said on the radio this morning that we need to suppress this virus until the vaccine comes. The problem I have—today we are discussing these areas, but we could be discussing any area, including my area, next—is that, if the vaccine comes, when the vaccine comes, we then have all sorts of challenges around roll-out, efficacy and the long-term stay of that vaccine. Is the Government’s view that we need to suppress this virus until the vaccine comes and then science is going to ride to our rescue, or is there a bigger plan, a next plan, to think about how we live with this virus for the long term, which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor keep referring to?
My hon. Friend invites me to stray somewhat from the subject of this SI and the updates to the regulations, but clearly from what he said, he is well aware of all the work that is going on for us to have a vaccine. He is also well aware that the priority at the moment is that we absolutely have to suppress this virus because the alternative does not bear thinking about.
On the subject of this SI, what does the Minister think the impact was of the eat out to help out scheme in places such as Bolton? When it was introduced, the rate per 100,000 was more than 10 times that of central London. Does she believe it has had an impact, and if so, what?
Again, my hon. Friend is asking me to stray beyond the scope of the SI, but what I will say is that, in the decisions that are made about interventions and policies more generally, clearly we are always looking at what is going on and what the transmission rate is. Something we saw during the period when there was eat out to help out was that that was a period when, in general, we had lower rates of infection. It gave great support to the hospitality sector, which had been clearly having a really difficult time. We are now very much seeing a second wave, particularly in much of the north of England, and therefore it is absolutely appropriate that there are, in general, greater restrictions. We absolutely must suppresses this virus and one place where we know that infection goes on is through hospitality, where there is social contact.
I will return to the job in hand, Madam Deputy Speaker. Guidance has been updated for people living in protected areas to make it clear what they can and cannot do under the restrictions. Again, I know local authorities are working hard on communications as these measures only work if people know about them, understand them and comply. These regulations, as with the other local regulations we have debated already, demonstrate that we will take action where we need to. In mirroring the restrictions that have been used in other parts of the country, we are drawing on and learning from experience. We will, of course, use continued experience of these measures to inform and help us develop our responses to ongoing local outbreaks.
I reiterate to the House that, for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide, we will consult Parliament and, wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force, though of course responding to the virus means that the Government must act with speed when required, and we cannot hold up urgent regulations that are needed to control the virus and save lives. I am sure that no Member of this House would want to limit the Government’s ability to take emergency action in the national interest, as we did in March, but we will continue to involve the House in scrutinising our decisions in the way my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week. This will be through regular statements and debates, and providing opportunities for Members to question the Government’s scientific advisers more regularly. I am grateful to all Members for their continued engagement in this challenging process.
I am just wrapping up, and I have taken many interventions. I am very sorry, but I am not going to take a further intervention at this point, as there are people waiting to speak.
I particularly thank people in the protected area in the north of England, who are restricting social contact and forgoing many of the things that make life worth living. In so doing, they are playing their part in supressing the virus and protecting those whose lives are at risk.
Colleagues will be aware that this is an extremely short debate. To have any chance of getting everyone in—the Minister can come back at the end to respond to points that have been made—I will impose a three-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.
In recent weeks, Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers have met upstairs in Committee to discuss such covid-related statutory instruments. It is welcome that we are debating this in the main Chamber because it means that local Members of Parliament can scrutinise them also. With that in mind, I do not intend to speak for long and I will probably limit the interventions I take—one thing I know is not to disappoint a roomful of colleagues who want to talk about their community.
I will start with the good news. I have been critical throughout the pandemic about the time that it has taken between a statutory instrument being brought into effect, and it being debated. In one case there was a lag of nine and a half weeks. It makes a nonsense of parliamentary scrutiny if we rubber stamp measures months after they have come into effect. We must have a timely say, so that the British public can have confidence, and as the Minister said, this statutory instrument is just four days old—that is the good news.
The bad news is that SI 2020/1074 amends SI 2020/1010, which came into force on 18 September, although it is not to be debated until Monday. We are discussing amendments to secondary legislation, even though we are yet to discuss that secondary legislation. I am keen to hear from the Minister why things have happened in that order. Is it possible that the other SI is more controversial and is to be hidden upstairs and discussed after the fact? We have followed events over the past hour or so on the controversial SI on the curfew. That seems to have been pulled from upstairs entirely because it is coming downstairs. What on earth is going on? I hope the Minister can tell us so that we do not have to find out through anonymous briefings yet again. This is a reflection of rather chaotic, rather than competent, leadership.
I suspect that the Government are doing this to head off division in their own ranks, once again putting the interests of the Conservative party ahead of the interests of the country. I say gently to would-be rebels—I say this at every opportunity—that if they do not like the delegated powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020, they should wait to see the ones in the Brexit-related legislation. For example, as drafted, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill will hand to the same Secretary of State virtually unfettered powers over our entire medicines regime in this country. I hope that when the time comes, Members will be as keen and proactive to ensure that those powers are used in an appropriate way as they have been with these secondary powers.
The Opposition do not oppose the substance of SI 2020/1074. We know that as infection rates increase, so will restrictions. In this case, Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough are being added to those areas where mixing indoors is barred, which is an inevitable part of rising infection rates. We in Nottingham are awaiting that same call this week.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Nottingham and as a fellow Nottinghamshire MP I am interested in his views. A few minutes ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) mentioned the granular and localised nature of those lockdown areas and being able to pick the areas where this is most effective. My constituents in Mansfield, with one seventh of the rate of transmission in Nottinghamshire, are faced with lockdown measures linked to that outbreak. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important in those areas to consider local data, and not to impose additional restrictions on people where that might not be appropriate?
I am grateful for that intervention and I share that view. I have seen the hon. Gentleman’s tweet this afternoon in which he is very clear about that. Like me, he will have followed local Nottinghamshire data closely, and there should be close consultation with hon. Members, and with leaders such as the Mayor of Mansfield, and the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council. A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best route scientifically, and it will also breed local discontent and mean that people might be less inclined to follow it. So I support the hon. Gentleman in that venture.
Although rising restrictions are an inevitable part of rising infection rates, there is nothing inevitable about the loss of control of this virus. The Government promised us a world-class test and trace system, but rather than building on tried and tested local options in local government, they pursued a big national private contract. It was a triumph for dogma at a time when we need evidence-based leadership, and of course it has been a debacle.
The Government had a chance to fix this at a time when infection rates were relatively low, but they failed to do so. They have now lost control of the virus entirely, and our people will lose freedoms as a result. Yesterday, I saw a Minister blame the British people for rising infection rates. I thought that was extraordinary. Our constituents have made incredible sacrifices over the last several months; they do not deserve to have the Government thumb their nose at them for it.
Frankly, the Government can deflect as much as they want, but it will not wash. I would like to hear from the Minister today what they are doing to get this right and when it is going to happen. No more being sent hundreds of miles for tests, no more delayed results, no more lost spreadsheets. Drop the ludicrous defence of the indefensible. Let us stop pretending it is all okay when it is obviously not.
I have debated a number of these statutory instruments, and it is striking that every one of them has related to the north or the midlands. Rather than levelling up, we risk entrenching the north-south divide in this country. It is no longer reasonable to say, either, that these are going to be short, sharp interventions.
My hon. Friend mentions that many of these lockdowns have been in the north of England and the midlands. Does he agree that the figures for Chorley, Wyre, Lancaster, Oadby and Wigston, Wolverhampton, and West Lancashire, where there is lockdown, hardly vary from those in areas where there is no lockdown that have Conservative MPs, such as Barrow, Darlington, Craven and Newark? It reeks of political bias rather than objective decision making.
I am grateful for that intervention, and I am about to make a related point. There seems to be no direction for when an area might exit restrictions or, indeed, what it might need to do in order to do so. The Minister started by saying that the Government are following the best epidemiological guidance, but it is unclear, as my hon. Friend mentions, why some areas are in lockdown despite having lower infection rates than others that are not. Again, that breeds cynicism and frustration.
It is also true that these restrictions ought to be accompanied by greater economic support, as well as much clearer communication. Perhaps the Minister could be a trailblazer and do what the Prime Minister was unable to do by saying what a local community needs to do to exit lockdown and, in the meantime, what precisely is likely to be done to support it.
In conclusion, we do not oppose these restrictions, but we strongly oppose the incompetence that has led us here. British people have missed births, weddings and funerals to fight this virus. Now, more people will not even be able to go and see their parents or their grandchildren, because the Government have not got a grip. No wonder their patience is running so thin.
On 23 March, it was absolutely correct that our nation entered lockdown as one nation, but I believe the fact that we are discussing these local restrictions today shows that we should have left lockdown in a sequential way, guided by regional data.
In Blackburn with Darwen, one of the boroughs I represent, when the pubs opened in July our local infection rate was 81 per 100,000, while London’s was 3.2. I think the Government have fallen into the fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data. I hope that the Minister will go away and reflect on that, and take the opportunity to take a new approach.
The people I speak to across Rossendale and Darwen are confused. There are variable restrictions that come in and come out. They want a simple system. That is why I believe that, rather than the regulations we are discussing, we should have a national system covering England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the consent of the devolved Administrations—one that is clear and proportionate but, most of all, simple and easy for people to follow. That national system should come in and out on the basis of local data and local decision making, not on the basis of national decisions or national data. For businesses in east Lancashire and the wider north-west, it is vital that, whatever system we have, it is backed by strong Treasury support to ensure that areas in the north of England that are subject to enhanced restrictions can survive economically at the end of this lockdown.
The final point I will make is in relation to liberties and freedoms. As a nation, the liberties and freedoms we take for granted have not been given to us by a benevolent Government. They have been hard fought for and hard won. In fact, on many occasions they have had to be torn from the hands of the powerful. Day by day, we see those liberties and freedoms being given back to the Government in the name of covid. I am afraid that that has to stop, because once we give these up, they will not come back to us; the Government will not return them.
Businesses such as Perspex and Bark Engineering in my constituency, which worked through lockdown, showed us the best of society. The worst of society is the Government enjoying these new powers a little bit too much, with police officers fining people for being in their front gardens and a bizarre ban on people sunbathing on their own in public open spaces; I cannot see what harm that was doing. When the Minister responds to the debate, can she tell us what the plan is for returning to the people of the north of England the liberties that these restrictions take away? We want to remove the manacles of state control from our hands and our feet, but we can do that only when we have beaten this virus. The Minister must say what measure will see that happen.
I could use my time to discuss specific local issues, the need for better support for local businesses and jobs and how the Government have failed to produce the necessary data and evidence to support the measures they have imposed, such as the 10 pm curfew, closing pubs and restaurants, and banning families from meeting one another. But I want to focus on the biggest hurdle to this country and the northern region being able to address the covid-19 crisis more effectively, and that is the Prime Minister and the lack of a coherent strategy to help us get back to any semblance of normality any time soon, whether or not we find a vaccine that works—something that the Government seem to pin a lot of their hopes on.
This Prime Minister has overpromised and underdelivered consistently. In July, he was talking about a more significant return to normality in November. We are just a matter of weeks away from November, and we are already hearing rumours of a full lockdown. My constituents have been clear that they hear confused messages. They are bewildered, and they are not listening to what the Government say any more. They have heard, “Eat out. Don’t eat out. Meet your family. Don’t meet your family. Travel. Don’t travel. Work from home. Don’t work from home,” and there have also been the debacles over primary schools reopening and the process for awarding exam results. The Prime Minister and his Government have demonstrated an incredible amount of incompetence. He could not even explain the rules in the north-east when asked. I do not need to spend long on the utter shambles of test and trace, because that has been well covered.
The Prime Minister has lost control. The Conservative party could make a big difference in the fight against coronavirus by ridding us of this Prime Minister and putting someone in place who is competent, up to the challenge of leading our country at a time of national crisis and will appoint people to the Cabinet who can do a proper job. The Prime Minister is fond of using wartime analogies. I believe we need a covid war Cabinet that is cross-party, at the very least with my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition in it. Constituents are telling me that they want politicians to work together to find a way forward and do the right thing, with proper parliamentary scrutiny. They are growing tired of the constant change and confusion. More of my constituents are telling me that they want to get on with their lives using their own common sense.
I have little time to list the other things that need to be done. We need the Government to articulate and communicate effectively what they see as the big trade-offs we face as a nation in terms of health, welfare, the economy and jobs, as well as how they will address the consequences of delays in treatment for non-covid patients for the early detection of conditions such as cancer and the impact on mental health of the lockdown restrictions. They need to show evidence to back up measures they put in place, to begin to regain people’s trust. They particularly need to demonstrate that what is happening in our hospitals is not a normal consequence of winter pressures. Test and trace must be put right quickly. We need much more local control and the resources to go with it.
We know that only some people spread the virus. What is being done to better target those who have a high viral load? The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday was high on rhetoric but contained little to give confidence to this Parliament and the country that he has a strategy for a way out of this crisis without wrecking the economy and curtailing some of our civil liberties.
The extension to the regulations in the north-east that this statutory instrument brings in will come some three weeks after the regulations were introduced in Sunderland, the city I represent. The objective is clearly to bring down the number of cases and stop the spread of the virus. The reality is that cases in Sunderland have increased by 321% since the regulations were brought in three weeks ago. They have not stopped, gone down or levelled off; they have gone up massively. The seven local authorities—the LA7—had two asks of the Government when they asked for regulations to be introduced. One was to allow informal child care, which I am grateful that the Secretary of State conceded several days later. The other was that people should be allowed to go into family members’ or friends’ gardens to see people, but that was rejected.
The reality is that people in the area I represent in Sunderland are seeing their family members; they are breaking the rules and they are going into others’ houses. Everyone knows that the virus spreads when people are in small rooms together. These regulations, and the regulations in Sunderland, are actually making the virus spread worse, not improving it, because the Government have not listened to local people or to the requests of cross-party leaders on the needs of the north-east. The Government’s regulations only work if they take people with them, and they are not taking people with them. The police are not an army. They cannot possibly stop what is going on. I have huge sympathy for people going in to see their relatives, for all sorts of reasons. I do not condone them breaking the law, but I understand it.
The other thing the local authorities asked for was financial support, to allow them to support businesses, jobs and other things in the community. They asked for some £20.5 million of support for businesses, but that has not been addressed. It has not even been responded to in the Government’s response. I urge the Minister to respond to these requests, because in my constituency in the north-east, since these local lockdown measures have come in, a third of the hospitality industry has closed down and many others have cut the number of days they are open. Furlough is coming to an end in three weeks, and there are discussions about mass redundancies going on in a region that already has significantly higher unemployment than many other parts of the country. The Government need to get a grip on this. They need to act to get control of the virus and support the economy and the people of this country.
I welcome this opportunity to speak, because while Cheshire East remains one of the few regions in the north-west not in lockdown, it is now on the watch list, and concern among my residents about what might happen is growing. Some have criticised the Government, but it is fair to describe the choice currently facing the Government as either acting to stop the spread of the virus or letting it rip. Whether it doubles every seven days, every 14 days or every 21 days, we know that it will speed up, that it will eventually speed up rapidly and that it will then grow exponentially. We must remember that the lower the R rate and the incidence when the Government act, the more likely those actions are to be successful and the less severe they will need to be.
I do not underestimate the impacts of the measures on mental and physical health, or on livelihoods. They are very significant, but I think we need to take some comfort from the fact that the chief medical officer frequently, if not always, references this when he is talking about the impact of the virus. I think the Government understand this, and they are weighing the impacts against the cost of the virus spreading. So far, it is thought to have affected 6% of the population, and our estimates are that that has led to the death of approximately 40,000 people. There is some scepticism about that figure, so let us halve it. That would be a generous response to the scepticism. If the rest of the 94% of the population were to get the virus, we are talking about something like 300,000 deaths in the next 12 months. But let us be even more sceptical and halve the number of people who are going to get it. Again, we are looking at something like 150,000 people who would pass away. That does not take into account the enormous strain that that would put on the health service as people became unwell and were admitted to hospital.
I do not think that the hospitality sector would not survive that kind of daily reporting of the health impact of a communicable virus. And can we really ask the 2.5 million people aged over 80 to stay at home? Those people are, on the whole, still living full, active lives, and we also need to consider the 10 million people in their 60s and 70s who would also need to stay at home. The more we let everybody else act in a normal way, the greater the restrictions on those people would be. If the virus was spreading rapidly through the younger population, we would be telling those older people that they effectively could not have anything to do with anyone else because they would be at such a high risk of catching the disease. I do not think that that is realistic, so until we have an alternative, whether it be a vaccine or mass testing, it is quite right that the Government act as they have been doing.
However, the Government need to work harder on explaining and justifying the steps they are taking, both locally and nationally. Where is the detailed explanation of why they have not excluded children from the rule of six? Where is the detailed explanation around the 10 pm lockdown?
This statutory instrument obviously relates to local lockdown measures, but if we do not have the confidence and the faith of the public in the national measures, we have very little chance of getting them to listen to us on the local measures, and it is Members in this place who will be out there explaining and justifying the measures and the approaches that the Government have taken. If we cannot explain them, do not understand them and do not have that detailed information, what chance do we have of successfully doing that for the public? I ask the Minister to get the Government to work harder on bringing this House with them on these measures, which I ultimately think are justified.
This House and the other place gave the Government enormous powers in March when the country was faced with the pandemic and a crisis. I believe the Government have abused those powers. They have taken arbitrary decisions and they have taken politically biased and prejudiced decisions. Most of all, as the Leader of the Opposition said at Prime Minister’s Question Time, they have shown “intergalactic incompetence” in what they have done—just sheer incompetence.
It turns out that the Government’s incompetence means that the massively overcentralised cure they have provided with the lockdowns is turning out to be worse than the disease itself. They have made more than 200 announcements, according to The Daily Telegraph. How many people can follow that number of announcements? People just ignore them, as colleagues have said. The Government have made 18 U-turns. It is not surprising that people have not followed those things.
Let me give the House an example of the incompetence as it has affected Salford. Of the 15,841 test cases that went missing, 200 were in Salford, and the results for a third of those took more than a week to arrive. The incubation period of the disease is gone in that time. Some of those people who had been tested and were waiting for results that did not come were in care homes. Some of them were over 90, the most vulnerable group possible.
The Government need to get rid of the centralisation and do what has been the history of public health in this country, which is to move decisions down to the local level, where people can work on a granular level. We can have sensible local test and trace systems that immediately get things into the system and allow local people to take action.
I said that the cure is worse than the disease. On 8 April, the Government were given a paper that showed that more than 200,000 people were likely to die because of the health service being switched off. At present, hospital beds are empty and people cannot get tested for cancer and other diseases very easily. We need to get the health service working, and one way to do so is to ensure that the test and trace system works effectively so that people can be treated immediately. I hope that the Minister will take this back to the Secretary of State and the Government and decentralise their policies immediately.
First, I thank the Minister for the fact we are having this debate on the Floor of the House today, which fulfils the spirit of what the Secretary of State promised last week. May I just take her back at the beginning of my remarks to my intervention and my attempted second intervention? I asked whether she could set out some data about the effectiveness of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North East of England) Regulations 2020, which have been in place for some time. She said in response to my intervention that she would do so later in her remarks. It may have been my failing, but I did not hear her do so. I hope that when she responds at the end of the debate she can say so, because when we bring regulations in, I want to see that they are effective.
Certainly there are mechanisms in the regulations for that review to take place. For example, the Secretary of State has to review the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) Regulations 2020 every two weeks to see whether they are still necessary. Presumably, that encompasses looking not just at testing data, but at hospitalisations and the whole range of data. Can the Minister confirm either that that information has been published for us all to see, or that it will be published, so that we can make a proper assessment of the regulations’ effectiveness?
In the closing minute or so of my remarks, I want to say one thing. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) that there are only two choices: the so-called “let it rip” option and the lockdown option. I think there is a third option. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and with what my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) said in his excellent speech in the debate last week. I do not think there is going to be a vaccine quickly and, if there is one, I do not think it will be completely effective. I am afraid that we will have to live with this virus for some time.
I use the word “live” deliberately, because we need restrictions that enable people to live meaningful lives. That includes being able to do the valuable things that hon. Members have talked about, such as seeing friends and family—the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) touched on that—and acting in a way that enables the economy to be sustainable.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and the Government need to recognise that we are in this for the long term. We need a set of restrictions that are sustainable, that we can stick with over the long term, that people feel are deliverable and that enable the economy to flourish. I was encouraged yesterday by the urgent question that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury took for the Government, because it sounded to me as though the Treasury was starting to think about this approach of living with the virus and putting in place economic measures. That is very helpful.
For someone who lives in Rossendale and Darwen on the border between Bolton and Lancashire, the rules have a labyrinthine complexity. They change on a weekly basis and people cannot follow them. Surely, living with this virus must mean having simple, easy-to-follow rules that do not change on a weekly basis, and that can be turned on or off based on local data. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is the right approach?
Yes, I do. We can see from the footnote to the regulations that we are debating that the two sets of regulations that they refer to have been amended 18 times. I have to confess that I find them difficult to follow. A resident of any of the areas in question cannot just go to the Government website and pop their postcode in—[Interruption.] The House is going to be asked to take a view on these regulations today, and I have taken the trouble to look at them and research them so that I can take a properly considered view on them. I am also concerned that the Government should make the right decisions based on evidence. We hear stories to the effect that these restrictions may be put in place in other parts of the country, and it is important that we get it right. Let me conclude my remarks, and I will sit down.
The Government need to think about living with this virus for a considerable period and having a sustainable set of restrictions. I do not think that there are just two choices. As I said to the Minister yesterday, I do not think it is helpful if every time somebody asks a question or sets out an alternative, they are accused of wanting to let the virus rip and let thousands of people die. I think that point was well made, because she did not refer to it again in her closing remarks. However, on a webinar with the CBI this morning, I heard the Secretary of State again set out that choice, which I think is a false choice.
I do think that there is a “third way”, to quote the phrase that has been used today. I think it is a more sustainable one, which would be better for the country and more successful. If the Government were to adopt that approach, I think the whole House and the whole country could get behind the plan. We could unite to live with this virus in a way that people would find meaningful and sustainable. I hope that the Government will reflect on that and bring forward such a plan at the earliest opportunity.
Order. I urge colleagues to be considerate of each other. Not everybody is going to get in on this debate, and if people have spoken once, it is quite important to remember that interventions are going to prevent others from speaking. I therefore urge people not to take interventions.
The Government, when introducing regulations such as this, should avoid overcomplication. Rules and regulations like this, which entire populations are expected to follow in their everyday lives, should be simple, explicable, understandable and transparent in the sense that they are evidence-based, especially when they lead to curbs on individual liberties and, as a consequence of breaking them, large fines.
The measures take 10 pages to set out, and contain a number of confusions: between a national restriction and a local one, and in areas of local restrictions that can be confusing; or differences between what is law and guidance—what we must do, or be fined, as opposed to what we are advised to do, for our own good. It is not at all clear what people are supposed to do, even if they read these 10 pages of detailed regulations.
Most of all, regulations need to be effective in bringing down infection rates. At present, it seems difficult to argue that the local lockdown rules have been effective. In 19 of the 20 areas where there have been introduced, infection rates have soared. On Merseyside, we have only had the rules for a week, but infection rates are soaring.
The local lockdown has the potential to cause great economic damage, and yet the regulations do not at present contain any provision for compensating those businesses that are now fighting for survival as a consequence of the effect of the measures on their ability to remain viable. That in turn threatens the livelihoods of thousands of people. In Garston and Halewood, unemployment has already doubled this year to 8%, or about 5,000 people, but worse is to come, because I have 15,000 furloughed jobs in my constituency and furlough ends in three weeks.
Some industries are not able to operate normally, or in some cases at all, such as entertainment, events, aviation and others. Now, areas such as hospitality are threatened with severe consequences by the economic impact of local lockdown measures. As for the approximately 77,000 self-employed workers in the Liverpool city region, many cannot work at all and qualify for no support whatever from the Government support schemes—they are simply excluded. There are almost 58,000 jobs in hospitality and the visitor economy in the Liverpool city region. Until coronavirus, it had been booming, with 10 consecutive years of growth. Now, 6,300 businesses and many thousands of jobs are at immediate risk. The Government have not offered any additional economic support under the regulations—just £7 million, across nine local authorities, for outbreak control.
Furlough ends in three weeks. These measures will still be in place, if not more stringent ones, if we believe some of the briefings this evening, and given the infection rates. The Government must implement a local business and job support scheme for where local lockdowns are implemented to prevent the jobs carnage we are about to see. I hope that the Minister will agree with me.
I must admit that when I was elected back in December, I did not anticipate standing here among the green Benches to talk about it being an offence for two households to meet, but the impact of the pandemic is such that that is precisely what we are here to discuss. That is where we find ourselves.
In the early stages of the pandemic, when little was known about the virus, it was right that all steps were taken to stop the spread. Since then, we know that it has not spread evenly around the country, and we have seen a rapid rise of cases across the north-east. The Government are exactly right to take a localised approach, rather than subjecting those in local areas to overly restrictive national measures but, on that note, since north-east restrictions were announced, I have had emails from constituents in Middleton-in-Teesdale, Bowes and Hamsterley, confused and angry as to why they must be put through more serious restrictions, despite cases in their immediate local vicinity remaining low.
If localised measures are to become the norm, will it be possible to have data analysed on a more localised level, allowing areas with minimal cases, where local residents are working hard to follow the guidance, to enjoy more freedom? After all, we are the party of freedom. Also, if we are to have restrictions on businesses to reduce the spread of the virus, I believe that we must have greater protections for the sectors that are hit hardest by the inability to socialise.
One of my constituents is John Harper-Wilkes, who runs Lartington Hall, an incredible wedding venue just outside Barnard Castle. Couples who had booked to get married at Lartington Hall this year are choosing to postpone their weddings until next year, rather than getting married in front of socially distanced crowds of 15. John has done nothing to make customers postpone their bookings but, through no fault of his own, he has lost almost all his custom. He will now have to make all his staff redundant. The impact of such job losses be overstated, and the long-term mental health impact of unemployment or lost incomes can be devastating.
Another constituent, publican Christian Burns, has done everything that the Government have asked him to do to make his venues covid-secure and ensure that customers are safe to return to his pub. Last weekend, he told me, rather than his usual Saturday take of £5,000 to £6,000, he took only £128 all day, not even enough to cover his entire staffing bill. Given the 10 o’clock curfew and with households being unable to meet, I am really concerned that these restrictions may, without additional financial support, have the overall impact of closing pubs, and not just for lockdown but for good. We must make sure that our pubs, the social hubs of our communities, remain viable for the long term for the mental health of all those people who rely on them for social contact.
We have to balance reducing transmission of the virus with allowing business to carry on as usual. To stem the rising number of cases, I will support the statutory instrument today but may I please urge my right hon. Friends in the Government to look closely at how we can provide new tangible support for our hospitality and events sector? That is for people like Christian, John, Cheryl Jeffrey and Chris Robinson. We cannot let them down.
These decisions were taken on false data owing to the Excel error. The situation in Knowsley and St Helens was worse than first thought. The infection rate is almost four times higher than that in Greater Manchester when restrictions were introduced there. I fear that, once again, the Government have acted too late.
There are bigger consequences of this mistake. For the past week, thousands of people across the country should have been told to self-isolate. Instead, they have been unwittingly spreading the virus. That has put lives at risk and could lead to many more families losing their loved ones. For our £12 billion world-beating test and trace system the public deserve better. Even before this error, 35% of contacts had not been traced in Knowsley. The Government have had months to fix this. Infection rates are back to the levels we saw in April but, with the serial incompetence that we have seen, I am afraid this is hardly a surprise. Local authorities and health officials have proved far more effective at contact tracing than private companies. If the Government had trusted them and invested in them in the first place, we would not be in the situation we are in now.
Like many colleagues, I have received emails asking me to oppose the restrictions. For me, health will always take priority over the economy. I understand that we need a strong economy to fund our national health service but the best way to repair the economy is to get the virus under control. The UK has had the highest number of covid-19-related deaths in Europe followed by the worst economic crisis. That is in stark contrast to Germany where many fewer deaths have led to a much better performing economy. This is no coincidence.
There is no trade-off between the economy and health. To improve the economy, the Government must get the virus under control. To get the virus under control, the Government must have a working contact tracing programme.
This announcement came with the promise of £7 million pounds for the councils affected, working out at less than £800,000 for each authority. For the size of the task in hand that is simply not good enough. These are the councils that were originally promised that they would be reimbursed with whatever it takes to keep communities safe. Hardly is the word the bond.
We are not yet out of this crisis. We may not even be halfway through. The reality is that even our top scientific and medical experts do not know how bad this could get. With this in mind, I urge the Government to share the scientific and medical evidence with local communities so that they may understand on what basis a decision has been made and for Government always to err on the side of caution to protect lives. It is better to be safe than sorry.
This is of course one nation. No area of our country should be left behind or forgotten by any Member of Parliament. I am therefore pleased to be able to speak in this debate.
I have a number of detailed questions that I would like to ask the Minister. First, on these regulations, is there any granular data that can give clarity on why the rise is so great in these areas compared to the different picture that we have in the south-west of England? That type of granular data should be available from local public health teams who were able to tell us, after the Leicester outbreaks, that the transmission was coming from takeaway shops and household transmission rather than from clothes factories as everyone assumed wrongly. Is not knowing this granular detail absolutely key to focusing restrictions on what is likely to be effective rather than on blanket harsh lockdowns that may achieve little at enormous cost?
To what extent is the spread of the disease related to large university halls of residence? What evidence is there that either lockdowns or track and trace are making a substantial difference to bringing down infection levels, or is that just testing a model? What measures have been taken to minimise agency staff moving between care homes? Can we confirm that there is no seeding of covid from hospitals into care homes again by discharging test-positive patients? Finally, on nosocomial infections, it appears that infections within hospitals are starting to rise. Is that being monitored and addressed? With that, I will end my contribution, because I want other Members to be able to represent their areas.
If the hon. Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) is correct in his earlier intervention on the Minister and low hospital admissions are the key to avoiding local lockdowns, then most certainly Hartlepool would not have gone into lockdown last Saturday. His brass-neck intervention on the Minister does not help the people of Teesside one iota; it just adds to the confusion.
The challenges that this crisis have created for my constituency are unprecedented. I want to place on record my gratitude to the local council and its staff, NHS and care workers, and all key workers for doing extraordinary work in these very difficult times.
The newly imposed measures, with less than a week gone, are already having a negative impact on local businesses. Pubs and restaurants, already damaged by the 10 o’clock closing rule, are being knocked out by the body blow of restrictions on meeting anyone outside of the household bubble in public spaces.
The rules lack clarity and are causing tremendous confusion. A lack of a clear strategy to get us out of lockdown is worrying. I have to say that my constituency neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and I were disgusted by the lack of advanced notification from the Government of their intentions. I hope that Members are treated better in future. More importantly, the fact that my council was notified via a press release is unacceptable.
Jobs are at risk, our local economy is floundering and public health is suffering. Our council asked for safeguarding measures; the Government gave it lockdown. Our council needs £4.5 million to get us through this crisis; it got a share of £7 million, split between nine local authorities. Frankly, that is nothing short of a disgrace.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), who made some terrific points. In the short time that I have, I would just like to make some specific points and ask the Minister a few questions, if I may. And if I may I just say to the Minister, with all due respect, that we are all in the same business. No one in the House wants to do anything other than stop the spread of the virus, save lives, and support jobs and businesses. Those are not mutually exclusive objectives and I am sure we can do all those things.
I want to share a comment with the Minister and ask her a particular question. I spoke yesterday with a senior source from within Durham constabulary, who raised with me a specific concern: advice had been given that additional resources promised for policing the local lockdown restrictions were dependent on taking robust enforcement action and pursuing prosecutions. He felt that that was too prescriptive and likely to sour existing good community and local business relations. He, like me, feels that the local authority and police are working well and collaboratively in County Durham, and that to be effective we need policing by consent. Additional police funding should not be dependent on demonstrating more prosecutions. I hope the Minister agrees with me and responds to that if that is not correct.
To be aware of the consequences for jobs, Minister, the pub and hospitality trade in my constituency, as in many others, is withering under Government restrictions. I am still unconvinced of the evidence for the nonsensical 10 pm very strict hospitality curfew, which throws large groups of people on to the street all at the same time, who then crowd on to public transport all at the same time. I do not believe that that protects public health and it does not protect businesses. Performance venues of all types are closing their doors, the community is losing amenities, and people are out of work at the start of what may well be a very bleak winter.
Further down the supply chain, local breweries are losing orders. The Chancellor seems to have a vendetta against the smaller British brewers: he has excluded them from support for the hospitality industry. They may struggle in the covid crisis through the winter, but the Chancellor seems determined to run them out of business with his proposals on small brewers relief. Will the Minister please look into that?
Relying on local restrictions and lockdowns moves the pressure to support businesses affected from national to local government. Minister, specific industries need specialist support—please, hear our plea.
I agree with quite a lot of what the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) has just said, and also what my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) said.
We all understand that localised restrictions are better than national ones, especially when there are particular spikes in local areas, but there are variations within our communities as well. Weardale in my constituency has far fewer cases than much of the rest of my constituency, so it would be great to see some really localised data and some really localised regulations. I understand that the Government have to respond to local authorities and have worked with them, and they have listened to Members when we have raised some issues. I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for responding to the childcare issue that we raised recently.
More broadly, people in my constituency are concerned about three overarching things. First, the clarity of the schemes—how areas are put into them and how they get out. People really want to know the path forward, because currently that is really worrying people, and particularly local businesses in the hospitality sector.
Secondly, on the 10 pm curfew, my local pubs, clubs and restaurants really benefited from the eat out to help out scheme, but they are now really worried about what we are going to do going forward. We need to understand why the 10 pm curfew is in place—people need to hear what the Government are saying and the evidence behind it.
Thirdly, on test and trace, we have seen a huge increase in testing in the UK, but recently there has been a problem with speed of response, which has led to more concern locally. We really need some answers from the Government on how we are moving forward on that.
I shall conclude quickly, because lots of other Members want to speak. The Government really need to explain and justify the things that are being put forward, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) said. Only by doing so will we maintain the consent of the people to impose measures. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland that, with our local businesses facing real local impacts after being locked down once, and now facing restrictions again, they really need the Government to come forward with a clear message and some clear support.
Order. I want to bring the Minister in at the end for at least five minutes. We can get everybody in if people think about each other. If people take, say, two and a half minutes, we can get everybody in. I am sure Margaret Greenwood will lead the way.
We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those people have been working so hard during the pandemic to keep us safe. We are all very aware of the many sacrifices that people have had to make, not being able to visit loved ones or be with family members.
Last week’s announcement of additional measures for Wirral and the rest of the Liverpool city region was in response to the sharp increase in infection we have seen in Wirral in recent weeks. It is a matter of very real concern, so we all have an important part to play in tackling it. It is also important, though, that the Government recognise that the regulations will have a profound impact on local jobs and the economy. In Wirral West, 500 people work in pubs and bars, 400 work in licensed restaurants and many thousands more across the region work in the sector.
The Government must recognise that the regulations have serious implications for local authorities and city region combined authorities. Last week, the Secretary of State announced £7 million of funding to local authorities in the areas under new measures, which he said was
“to support them with their vital work.”—[Official Report, 1 October 2020; Vol. 681, c. 499.]
However, it appears that that money is to be shared across nine local authorities—something he did not make clear at the time. That money is to be used only for outbreak management; it is not to support any businesses that might be affected.
Public health regulations are important, and I am pleased to say that there is a high level of compliance in Wirral—people really do want to do the right thing—but the Government must match that by playing their part: they must provide financial support for the local economy and keep people in their jobs. The Government must also make sure that we have a test and trace system that is up to the job. If the regulations are to be successful locally, that is essential. Shockingly, we have been waiting for such a system for more than six months now. I have written to the Secretary of State three times in recent months—most recently in September—asking him to fully utilise the expertise and knowledge of local authorities’ public health departments as a means of fixing track and trace. We need a track and trace system that uses the expertise based in our local health teams in local authorities and one that is sensitive to the needs of communities. Instead, what we see from this Government is sheer incompetence.
The report this weekend that 16,000 positive covid-19 tests went missing because the Excel spreadsheet that was being used was 13 years out of date is evidence of yet further catastrophic mismanagement by this Government in what is a massive crisis. IT consultants across the country will have looked on in dismay and disbelief as it emerged that the data was being kept on an Excel spreadsheet at all, let alone one that was 13 years old. How do the Government expect infection rates to come down if vital data is lost and local public health teams are not provided with the information that they need to advise people to isolate? How do the Government expect to be able to assess the effectiveness of these regulations without a high-quality, reliable test and trace system? These are matters of great urgency and I ask the Minister to respond to that urgency today and set out what she will do to ensure that Wirral and the Liverpool city region get the support that they need.
I rise to speak today for the residents of Warrington North who have been under lockdown for 16 days now, with additional restrictions having been imposed a week ago. My constituents are now banned from going for a drink or a meal indoors with someone they do not live with, or from visiting a public venue together at the risk of fines that double from £100 upwards. Food and drink can be served only at tables, and the 10 pm curfew applies to pubs and restaurants. Local businesses tell me that that has caused their bookings to drop from 60% to 90% in a single week. As they are not being told to close, they are not eligible for further support grants.
There is a £1,500 grant available to businesses in places with local lockdown restrictions, but only in Blackburn and Darwen, Pendle and Oldham, not Warrington. These decisions will cost businesses and jobs, and, equally, the £7 million split between nine local authorities will not allow our council to help those desperate for support.
My constituents are eager to be responsible and safe, but what they resent are confused instructions, incompetence, inconsistent treatment and unnecessary economic harm. We have heard of more incompetence in the past few days, with 16,000 cases having been lost from the system because of inept use of Excel spreadsheets. One hundred and fifty seven of these cases are in Warrington, which means that hundreds of people have been neither tracked nor traced in my community. What are the benefits of these restrictions, confused, incompetent and inconsistent though they may be? Well, they have not stopped the spread of covid cases, but what they have achieved is massive damage to our local businesses and profoundly negative impacts on the mental health of our residents, who are cut off from friends and family in almost all circumstances.
The Government seem to be clamouring to impose even more restrictions on our community and on the neighbouring Liverpool city region without even giving us the evidence for the restrictions so far, any exit strategy for us to work towards, or any hope that there may be an end in sight. We cannot go on like this. The public want to do the right thing, but need to have the confidence that the Government are putting them in a position to do this. We are being let down.
I rise to speak very briefly, not only as the Member of Parliament for Weaver Vale, but as the son of a publican. I remember the days when kicking-out time was around 11 o’clock—quite a few Members in this Chamber will remember that. Before licensing laws were liberalised, there were some consequences of that kicking-out time. There was antisocial behaviour when leaving times were not staggered. I am not saying that that necessarily happened in my father’s pub, but it certainly happened in other pubs that I am familiar with in the community.
I look in horror at the 10 pm curfew in my community and in communities up and down the land. Despite constant questions and pleas for the evidence for this from Members right across this Chamber and from all parties, we are not getting sufficient answers. However, what we are seeing is people congregating at the new kicking-out time of 10 pm, crowding onto public transport, and holding impromptu parties in city centres and town centres, which means that, effectively, they are becoming superspreaders.
Interestingly, I represent a constituency, which has Cheshire West and Chester on one side and Halton and Runcorn on the other. One side has additional lockdown restrictions; the other does not. I have seen an astronomical rise in the number of covid infections on the Halton side and not such a large rise on the Cheshire West and Chester side. Pubs right across the piece, the events industry and the hospitality sector are on their knees at the moment—absolutely on their knees and desperate—and now we have the local lockdown restrictions as well. They need a support package; they need help. The decision on the 10 pm curfew needs to be reviewed and revisited.
I ask three things of the Minister, repeating similar things that Members have said across the House today. On the test, trace and isolate system, we should give it to the local authorities: devolve that responsibility to local authorities and fund them properly. It is working at that level; let us do something that works. On communication, which has been raised right across the House, let us get this right. Let us be proactive at the national level and make sure we communicate with local authorities. Let us also have the courtesy of communicating with parliamentarians: that has been absolutely disgraceful so far. The final ask is for a sectoral support package for the hospitality industry and beyond. Let us be smart about using public money if we are to fight this virus together.
We all want to fight to get the virus down and save lives, but to do so we have to have coherent and transparent rules from the Government that are simple and that everyone can understand, and that certainly do not run to 10 pages. We must have an effective test and trace system. We have to understand—I hope that the Minister will take this back to the Government—that we cannot get the virus down by lockdowns on the cheap. It makes no sense to withdraw the support that kept everybody going earlier in the year while the pandemic is coming back and still raging in our communities.
We need the Government to look very quickly at the support that they can give to the areas that they decide need extra restrictions. On the Wirral, we have 31,000 jobs still furloughed. Furlough comes to an end in three weeks’ time, just as the extra lockdown restrictions that this SI introduces are closing down and making unviable a lot more of our local jobs and businesses. In order for us to support the Government and join the battle to get the virus down, they must increase support for individuals who need to self-isolate when test and trace is fixed. They must support businesses that are forced to close or operate at a much lower profit levels or unprofitably, through no fault of their own, because of the restrictions that the Government have imposed. They must give extra support to local authorities and statutory services that have to maintain the ongoing capacity to act. On the Wirral, we have over 15,000 people who had to shield during the initial phases of the pandemic. In the past four months, the Wirral food bank has seen a 51% increase in the support that it gives to 65,000 people—71 tonnes of food. The Government must support us to do the right thing if we are to get the virus down.
I am pleased that we now have the opportunity to debate these regulations, but it is extremely disappointing that we have not had the opportunity to debate on the Floor of this House, since they were introduced, the original regulations that put Bradford under local restrictions.
Bradford has now been under local restrictions since July, and during that time my constituents have faced considerable restrictions on their freedoms, unable to meet relatives at home, in their gardens, in pubs or in restaurants, and restricted from visiting care homes. Many face real risks to their jobs and livelihoods. Despite these restrictions, the infection rate across Bradford South has continued to rise, from 35.8 to 187.5 per 100,000. Something is not working, and the Government must set out why they think this is and what they are planning to do next.
Since the local restrictions were introduced, I have had severe concerns about the way in which the Government have handled them. Throughout this period, decisions have repeatedly been announced on days when the House is not sitting, which means that we are unable to question Ministers about them on behalf of our constituents. They have often been announced late in the day through Twitter or by press release, which has added to a sense of outrage and confusion as people seek to understand increasingly complex rules. Moreover, the Government have repeatedly failed to make public the data and criteria that are driving these decisions. This lack of accountability by the Government cuts to the heart of our democracy, and has added to the feeling that decisions on imposing or lifting local restrictions are being taken inconsistently or for reasons other than scientific evidence.
Bradford South was at 35.8 cases per 100,000 when it was put into local restrictions, yet areas that now have much higher numbers of cases have not been subject to such restrictions. The Government need to explain why. We need clarity and consistency in decision-making processes. My constituents have been living with these local restrictions for months now. The least they deserve from the Government is honesty and transparency about whether the local restrictions are working, and a clear plan to review the Government’s strategy if they are not.
Two thirds of the north’s population are now living under some form of local restrictions. Batley and Spen was one of the first. The announcement on Twitter the night before restrictions came into effect caused confusion and distress. My constituents deserve better. The restrictions have certainly hit businesses including coach companies, wedding companies and beauty salons—to name but a few. They have all been hit hard, and although we are resilient in Yorkshire, as the weeks roll by it is obvious that these businesses will need the financial support that I have asked for many times in this House.
I am pleased that the Government have agreed to a £500 grant, but the communication has been another disaster. Is it open to those on low pay or just on benefits? Is it open to those who are self-isolating? What about those with no access to public funds? This is obviously a fast-moving situation, but the new restrictions —such as the 10 pm curfew—seem to be implemented so arbitrarily that they are potentially counterproductive. As elected representatives for our constituencies, we need swift and transparent answers. A generic reply is not good enough.
We know that there is a hard winter ahead, which is why we need a locally controlled test and trace system, with councils able to draw on money when needed. Our hospitals are under pressure. I thank Kirklees Primary Care Trust and the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which are stretched to the limits. We want to do the right thing by our communities, but we want to support common-sense restrictions. It must be a joint endeavour. Local council leaders and mayors must be part of making decisions that affect their communities. Our high streets are also struggling.
Without any clarity around the parameters for coming out of restrictions, and with no sense of an exit plan, we will all suffer: families who cannot see loved ones; those who are shielding, terrified to go back out into the world; and those who have lost their businesses or jobs, and are locked in a cycle of loneliness and poor mental health. For those people, who need hope or light at the end of the tunnel, we need a clear strategy to exit the restrictions, and start the job of recovery and renewal of our economy.
In the time available to me, it is hard to convey just how frustrating and frightening the current situation is. We are living through an international health crisis, but it is now translating into local crises too, especially in the north of England. Cases in Newcastle remain at an alarming level of 240 per 100,000 people.
It is frustrating that there is a clear contradiction in the Government’s approach that makes the task of controlling the rise much more challenging. While the Health Secretary focuses on suppressing the virus through local lockdowns, the Chancellor’s blanket approach of winding down financial support measures across the country makes it much more difficult for people to protect themselves and others from the virus, undermining the very purpose of these lockdowns. We already know that the mortality rates from coronavirus in the most deprived parts of England are more than twice as high as those in the least deprived areas. Pre-crisis economic and social conditions have left certain parts of the country particularly vulnerable to covid-19, which has in turn brought on local lockdowns, just as the Government are withdrawing financial support. It is not a sustainable approach for the months ahead.
Let us look at the hospitality sector as just one example. The reality of local lockdowns and restrictions on households mixing means that countless jobs in pubs, cafés and restaurants will become unviable—to use the Chancellor’s words—when the furlough scheme comes to an end this month. The Chancellor says that the replacement for the job retention scheme—the job support scheme—will support jobs that are viable in the long term. Clearly, the pandemic will impact on future working and consumption patterns, but are we really to believe—this is the implied logic—that Geordies will be less interested in going out for food and drink than people in other parts of the country in the long term? As we are seeing a high degree of local variation in covid cases and in the public health response, we need properly funded, localised economic responses too. If we fail to provide sufficient support in the areas most vulnerable to covid-19 we risk exacerbating further the country’s stark economic inequalities.
I have a few questions. When are we going to see the financial support for which LA7 leaders in the north-east have asked? Only one in eight workers are eligible for the new self-isolation payment. How are others going to be able to afford to self-isolate without it? The Government knew, when the virus first hit this year, that their public health strategy had to be backed up with an economic support package. The money was there to ensure that people could afford to do what it took to get the virus under control, to stay home wherever possible, and isolate where necessary. That support needs to be given again. We are not all in this together, but we will be if the Government do not step up soon.
In the brief time available, I would like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and make several points. This is tough, and it is difficult for many residents to understand the different shades of restrictions and so on. We should not underestimate the effect on those people who cannot see as many people as they used to see, even in the recent past. It is particularly hard on people with relatives in care homes, who are finding it really difficult not to see members of their family.
The seven local authorities in the north of the north-east, if I can put it that way, took a proactive approach to try to counteract the spread, prevent further infection and keep the rate down, but there were asks when they came to Government with that, as well as proposed restrictions to help us manage and come out of further measures in as healthy an economic state as possible. The first ask was to have a test and trace system locally, run by local authorities. There was a call for a localised track and trace service, because our public health teams, our local NHS and our councils know our area and are best placed to follow through on that action, so it is really important that we follow that. Secondly, those local authorities asked for support for businesses most affected, as we have heard—hospitality, retail, leisure, pubs and restaurants, which have all been affected by the 10 pm curfew and, as other hon. Members have said, by the fear of going out. We need extra measures and funding effectively to manage the situation locally and to make sure that we can come out with viable jobs in place.
On Tuesday, I asked the Secretary of State about local test and trace. In his reply, he said that the Government had given £10 million for local track and trace services, but our councils do not appear to have heard about that. Can the Minister confirm that that £10 million has been made available? It is particularly important in the light of the fiasco of the unreported test results last week that we have a really effective test and trace service, so can the Minister confirm that £10 million is there?
I thank colleagues for the contributions that have been made today, which I have listened to very carefully. There have been some extremely heartfelt speeches on all sides of the House that clearly reflect the enormously difficult time we face right now in this country for all our constituencies and all our constituents. They are facing restrictions and things that affect their day-to-day life—their livelihoods, the businesses they may run or work in, or, for instance, visiting relatives in care homes; we want to do everything we can to make sure that can be done safely.
But this does all reflect that we are truly facing a global pandemic and, as I said yesterday, for those who were in the Chamber for the debate yesterday, the greatest crisis or the greatest challenge that our country has faced since the second world war. That means that, however we want things to be, at the moment there is no way they will be as we want them to be. I am sure hon. Members on all sides of the House recognise that everybody, whatever role they are in, is doing their very best to make things as least bad as they possibly can be.
The reality is that we are fighting this truly invisible, deadly enemy that is spreading through our communities—and we know, sadly, killing as it goes—and we must suppress it, but do so with this incredibly difficult balance. Colleagues have talked about the impact on businesses and the local economy in their constituencies. We must do so while doing our utmost to protect the economy and, of course, keep kids in school and support those in university and other forms of education. As has been said, if the pandemic spreads faster and further, that in its own right also has impacts on the economy—not just the restrictions, but the impact of the pandemic itself and more people getting covid.
As the Government have responded over the weeks that have passed, we have been constantly learning, listening, adapting—learning from those overseas, as well as from the data that we have built up ourselves—and working closely with those in local areas, because the only way we will win against this virus is, indeed, by working together, fighting together and defeating it together.
I now come to some of the comments from honourable colleagues. One thing that came up several times is: why are we seeing different action in different areas? What I will say is that numerous factors are looked at—the incidence rate, the positivity rate, hospitalisations, intensive care units and, of course, taking into account local views. That absolutely has been taken into account in the regulations that we are debating today. As for the impact—in fact, one colleague asked: are they still necessary?—some areas have come out of some restrictions and seen easements. We do know that it takes time for there to be an impact, but we need to continue to take the steps that are necessary because, as we know, the real exit from this is for us to see rates come down.
We are clearly working flat out for a vaccine, and we are continuing to build up the capacity of our test and trace system. I want to pick up one particular concern that there might have been some problem in that there was not the right data because of the technical problem last week. What I will say is that actually the data on which these decisions were made, or the data that did not feed through was too recent to affect these decisions, but it will feed into future decisions—very much so. What I will say, and ask colleagues to remember, is that we have built up the capacity of our testing system from testing 2,000 people a day to being able to test well over 200,000 people a day, which is not to be sniffed at, and working up to 500,000 day by the end this month.
Members have asked about local test and trace. Absolutely, the systems work together. The national system does work with local tracers and is working with local teams, although what I will say to those who want their local public health to be running the whole thing is that I am hearing from local public health teams that they are really maxed out with a huge number of responsibilities at the moment. We should continue to work together, because the local and national complement each other.
There are no easy answers. Some colleagues have said that they want restrictions that are easier to live with. Restrictions on our social contact will be hard to live with. I would like to say a huge thank you to all our constituents across the country who are playing their part in following these restrictions, as we must do ourselves. I commend these regulations to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England and North East and North West of England etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1074), dated 1 October 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2 October, be approved.