Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests set out in the register, particularly in health and education.
I join other noble Lords in registering my gratitude to and admiration for the NHS and care staff who are at the front line in battling this disease. We know they do an extraordinary job in ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times. Many of them are putting their lives at risk to keep us safe, and they deserve our eternal thanks for doing so. There are other workers whose work will also be important: the police, school teachers, postal workers, bin men and those working in shops and supermarkets. I add to that list my noble friend, other Ministers and the civil servants who are working so hard. Let us not forget the sacrifices that they are making to keep us safe and resolve to do everything we can to lead by example to show that we are listening to the Government’s advice about how we should go about living our lives.
The purpose and content of the Bill would ordinarily be anathema to a freedom-loving people like the British, but in these circumstances there is something we prize even more than liberty—security, which is what the measures in the Bill will provide. For that reason, and in accordance with other noble Lords, I am very supportive of this legislation, while sincerely hoping that we will not need it for the two years the Bill provides for.
I have a few specific questions that I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could address, if not today in his response, which necessarily will be loaded with content and questions already, then subsequently by letter. The measures to allow for the urgent registration of health and care staff are sensible, necessary and proportionate, but can my noble friend explain how his department is using technology to meet the challenge of registration, credentialing and deployment of staff in the NHS and care systems? He will also know that this will be reliant on very good and fluid data flows within the NHS, which has not always proved possible because of GDPR. I understand that a public health exemption for GDPR has now kicked in, but can he provide reassurance that those exemptions are well understood when it comes to front-line practice and that the GDPR regulations, which are understandable in peacetime, are not being used to provide barriers, however unwilling, to the proper deployment of the staff we desperately need to keep us safe?
I commend the Government’s idea for emergency volunteering leave. It is an excellent innovation, but the current plan allows for only up to four weeks’ leave. If the pandemic lasts longer than we hope for, are the Government open to extending this leave if there is need in society? In particular, what plans do the Government have to use the labour force, whose wages the state are now subsidising, which the IFS has estimated could be up to 10% of workers, to fill critical gaps in health, care and the wider economy? We do not necessarily want to get to the Ministry of Labour-type approach that we had in the Second World War, but there is nevertheless a moral obligation on those whose wages have been subsidised. We need to make sure that we can make the best of their good will.
I confess that I am slightly confused about the situation regarding the DBS checks set out in the legislation. There seem to be clauses covering Wales and Scotland, but not England. Making sure that we can safely but urgently redeploy people in the health and care system without suffering from this bureaucratic bottleneck will be critical. Can my noble friend clear up my confusion?
Clause 10 provides indemnity for those in the NHS and care systems who are moved on to Covid-19 work. That is excellent news. However, the EVL scheme is also likely to raise issues of employer indemnity outside the health and care system. Are the Government open to extending indemnity to the wider economy to cover those under the EVL scheme to reduce the barriers across the entire economy to using this pool of willing labour?
I would also be specifically grateful to my noble friend if he could provide more clarity on the responsibility of employers. I have just been on the LBC lunchtime programme, where this was raised by many listeners who felt that some employers are not acting responsibly by insisting that people should go to work. What provisions exist to force recalcitrant employers who are posing a health risk to their staff to obey the guidelines? Do the enforcement powers extend to organisations as well as to people? Many people would want to know that.
Finally, regarding education, schools across the land are managing heroically to provide physical key worker schooling while delivering online education for everyone else. I declare an interest as a parent of three children going through online education at the moment. No doubt we will muddle through to the Easter holidays, but schools simply are not set up for this eventuality in the long run. What plans do the Government have to provide financial and technical support to enable rich, high-quality learning from home? I reassure my noble friend that, notwithstanding the answers to these questions, which I know he will be able to give, the Government have my full support on these measures and I will do whatever I can to support the national effort.
As my noble friend Lord Bethell pointed out, the Bill is one part of the national response to Covid-19, but it is not the full armoury. Many other interventions are needed besides. That means, for example, making sure that as borders close, we do not interrupt the supply chains of the medicine and medical device industries and that they stay open; mercifully, that seems to be the case at the moment. The Government are ramping up ventilator and ICU capacity, which is extremely welcome, and we have unprecedented financial help for all those families whose livelihoods are at stake. Government should be and are being applauded for their actions, even while we know that much more is needed.
If my noble friend will allow me, I will make two more suggestions about policy interventions that I believe will be needed. The first is diagnostic testing. We simply are not yet at the capacity that we need to be at; we ought to be aiming for nationwide population-wide testing so that we can understand who is infected and who is not, to be able to redeploy them in the economy as soon as possible. Can my noble friend give me some idea about when that might happen? The cost-benefit analysis is overwhelming. It might cost £5 billion or £10 billion a year to provide such a scheme, which is a lot of money, but that is set against the £330 billion-plus package to keep our economy going through this time. I am sure that all Members of the House will appreciate some information on this. We also need a social policy package that is as ambitious as the economic and health plans we have in place. That is essential if we are to get through this crisis as a stronger and more cohesive society.
To conclude, we find ourselves, sadly and unexpectedly, in the most difficult of times, but I believe there is cause for hope. On the health side, we see the potential for vaccines and new treatments coming on stream. However, more than that, we will display our real character as a nation. The good news is that, according to the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Centre, when faced with these crises we become kinder, not more selfish. Let us use this opportunity, which of course nobody wanted, to demonstrate just what the British have in their character.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, in paying tribute to NHS staff. I will pick up on his point about the importance of diagnostic testing. If we are to find a way through this that does not involve people being off work for months and months, which could be the alternative, we need to start mass testing of the population. I know that the Minister has been on to this, and preparations are being made for ensuring that the tests meet appropriate standards, and so on, but this clearly is a way through. Just as we are having to make it up as we go along, to some extent boldness on the part of the Government would be appreciated.
I commend the Minister and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on their opening speeches, which were well judged. Nobody wants to be here but we are where we are. It is because we trust the Minister and his colleagues to use these powers in the public interest and we are defending our way of life and not attacking it that we entrust these powers to them. However, to quote the Book of Proverbs
“Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
We need to look beyond the crisis; the crisis measures need to look beyond so that people have significant hope. I will make a few practical suggestions to the Minister which he might be able to latch on to in his reply or in a letter in respect of three extremely significant and vulnerable groups: young people, the low paid, and those in rented accommodation.
Massive disruption is taking place to young people’s education at the moment—that is unavoidable. Appropriate steps are being taken with regard to ensuring online learning, guaranteeing places at university and in sixth forms for students who will not be able to go through the proper exam systems, and so on. However, there will be a huge impact on education, and I suggest to the Minister that the Government should think about making an offer while this crisis is proceeding for people to repeat years at public expense when this is over. That will be particularly important to people in the final years of GCSE, A-level and university courses, where they may not be able to complete those courses properly or get properly graded exams. The opportunity for them to complete and for this to be offered at public expense—or, in the case of the universities, which have quite large reserves from the big increase in fees, maybe partly at their expense—would be a big step forward.
Secondly, on the low paid, we had a Statement earlier on the self-employed—or rather, we had a Statement saying that there would be measures in respect of the self-employed; we still do not have them. However, this group was already vulnerable. Those most vulnerable in the community at the moment regarding employment protection and the protection of their wages and rights are the vast number of workers in the gig economy—I had to stop myself saying “employees”, because that is the fundamental point.
A whole slew of cases is going through the courts at the moment, so this is about whether the 5 million people in the gig economy, a number which has doubled in the past three years, are or are not employees. There is the big Uber case that is going to the Supreme Court later this year along with a load of other cases. Because of zero-hours contracts, people in this group do not have secure employment and in many cases they do not even appear to qualify for the scheme that the Chancellor announced last Friday. In many cases, people in this already vulnerable group stand to see their incomes cut to ribbons and with no great future to look forward to afterwards. If the Government want to offer hope and security to people, I suggest that they should indicate their willingness to look at the really vexed issue of the employment status of gig economy workers. We have had the Taylor review which contained a set of recommendations, but the Government have not actually moved on them. They said that they would—it was a big theme for the last Prime Minister and it was in the Conservative manifesto—so if they are able to indicate that they are moving forward on this, that would be a big and positive step which would give people the confidence they need in the period ahead.
The third issue is people’s accommodation. In his opening speech, the noble Lord referred to the huge transformation in technology that took place in the First World War. The element of that war which sticks the most in my mind, where delivery did not match promise, was Lloyd George famously saying that there would be homes fit for heroes. The homes never materialised and we had a housing crisis that took the best part of the next 60 years to resolve through mass housebuilding on the part of local authorities.
One of the biggest and most sorely felt issues of the current crisis is that of people in rented accommodation, who are in a very insecure state. I would like to press the Minister to say in his reply whether he can further elucidate the meaning of Schedule 29, related to the provisions in respect of renters that were inserted late last night in the House of Commons. It is extremely complex and I do not fully understand it—I am not a legal mind, although there are others in the House who may be able to help us in Committee tomorrow. My understanding is that while Schedule 29 meets the concerns of people who may potentially be evicted by preventing actual evictions during the period of the coronavirus crisis, it does not prevent evictions or action being taken against tenants afterwards in respect of the non-payment of rent while the crisis is proceeding. That simply does not seem reasonable to me if our aim is to offer security and decent support for people because of the crisis. We need to see to it that not only are they not evicted, but that they are not waiting until the day after the crisis ends to be evicted because they have not been able to pay the rent in the interim. The rent waiver provisions which have so far been announced by the Government are quite weak. I know that it is not his area and I do not know how the Government are going to handle the Committee stage tomorrow, but perhaps I may ask for an elucidation of what Schedule 29 actually means. If he is able to come forward with stronger assurances that it is not just that people will not be evicted during this crisis but that that will not happen afterwards, we will be able to offer some genuine hope to those whose lives have been made a misery through this crisis.
As many noble Lords have noted, this Bill contains unprecedented powers, but we recognise that it comes before us in unprecedented times. Its purpose is to protect the lives of the public and to provide the National Health Service with the best chance of minimising the death toll from this virus. We owe NHS staff, the staff in our care services and all key workers who are working so hard and taking many risks to keep all of us safe, an immeasurable debt of gratitude. Among all the debts that we as a country will run up in tackling this virus, that will remain by far the greatest debt.
I support the Government in bringing forward this Bill. My noble friends and other noble Lords have set out a number of concerns about some of the measures it contains, which I share, in particular covering the duration of the powers and procedures for bringing them to an end, the variants to the social care duties of local authorities which were spoken about so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, the changes to sectioning powers, the wide powers to detain people under Schedule 20, the issues around prisoner management, immigration detention, the hostile environment and data sharing. I hope that the Minister will be able to address the important questions which have been raised in these respects on all sides of the House.
Personally, I would have preferred a Bill which was of a much shorter duration—perhaps three months, as my noble friend Lord Scriven suggested—with robust arrangements for scrutiny and review, but which also contained further powers in three specific areas. The first is the powers to regulate the food supply industry, including retailers; secondly, the powers to support the self-employed and to protect renters from eviction; and thirdly, the powers to direct both supply and labour across the economy to ensure that we can meet the urgent demand for critical equipment and, going forward, for the manufacture of a vaccine, when it is discovered—hopefully, in the near future.
At the weekend, an elderly woman asked specifically that I raise with noble Lords her experience of trying to shop for essential food items last week. She went to a dedicated shopping hour for the elderly in a major supermarket in my home town of Surbiton. She had to stand in a long line of people packed close together; the majority of them not elderly. When the shop opened, the staff had no powers to prevent people who were not elderly from entering the store. As a result, she was pushed and jostled in a congested and unsafe environment as she tried to shop. She has a husband at home with underlying medical problems and she is desperate about how she can look after him and keep them both safe.
It is not enough for us all to decry the obvious selfishness and irresponsibility of those who act in this way. What this elderly lady wanted from the Government was not more censorious words but actions to enforce and protect. I therefore hope that the Government will consider introducing powers to direct food retailers and the supply chain to ensure that there are sufficient supplies in the shops, because the actions of some of these people are driven not just by greed but also by fear. They should also allow police or designated council officers to enforce dedicated shopping hours for NHS staff and the elderly and, if required, powers to require controls on the price of goods and the quantity that may be sold to individuals.
Secondly, the Bill needs to provide sufficient statutory authority for the measures that the Chancellor will need to take in the coming days and weeks—in particular, the urgent need to provide support for the self-employed. I raise the specific case of a self-employed neighbour who is working in NHS hospitals constructing the additional wards and isolation partitions needed to expand NHS capacity to deal with the crisis. He is taking risks every day by going into hospitals and yet, when this work is completed, his only recourse will be to the benefit system. That is no way to treat someone who is doing so much to ensure that the NHS is able to cope with the virus.
That is a particularly resonant case but, all over the country, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, highlighted, self-employed people are seeing their livelihoods disappear overnight due to government restrictions. It is right to impose those restrictions, but we must stand by the self-employed who are impacted by them just as the Chancellor stood behind those in employment. The Bill should also contain powers to introduce a rent holiday and impose a moratorium on evictions in the rented sector for rents not paid during this crisis, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned. We cannot have one rule for owner-occupiers and another for renters. That is the way to division, not unity.
Thirdly, the Government need greater powers to direct both supply and labour across the economy to ensure that we can meet the demand for critical equipment, testing kits, personal protection equipment, ventilators and any other equipment needed to fight this virus and protect NHS staff and other frontline workers and volunteers while we do so. Cabinet-level Ministers of supply and labour should be designated to direct this work and, in time, to ensure that we have the manufacturing capacity for the vaccine that we hope will be discovered very soon.
The Bill contains unprecedented powers that in normal circumstances this House would not dream of entertaining. But these are not normal circumstances. Therefore, with a heavy heart, a plea to the Government to shorten the duration of powers in the Bill and to review the procedures for renewal, I support the Bill and commend the hard work and dedication of Ministers and civil servants in assembling it so rapidly. Most importantly, I thank once again all our frontline NHS staff and all key workers who are working to keep us safe.
My Lords, I support the Bill. Clearly, we are in the throes of a pandemic, and the Government’s attempt to make it a slow pandemic rather than a fast one needs to be supported.
I want to make three points, the first of which relates to the vulnerable. It is in a time of crisis that the real values and priorities of a society become apparent, and I will reference homelessness in this regard. The homeless will be on the front line of whatever happens next in the Covid-19 pandemic, and I wonder whether we are really doing enough to ensure that they get the support that they need. I am aware of the hotels opening up rooms for the homeless, but more needs to be done to co-ordinate the efforts of the homelessness organisations, which are attempting to do their best for and with the homeless.
Here, I refer in particular to the Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health, formerly known as Pathway, which has been working very hard with UCL professors to ensure that there is a proper care pathway for homeless people. Will the Government ensure that organisations such as the Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health, which I know are struggling for funds while doing this important work to ensure that the most vulnerable homeless get the support they need during this pandemic, are supported? Will the Government go as far as they can to ensure that homelessness services are co-ordinated in their attempts to provide support for those on the streets?
That leads to my second point, which is about testing. I know that the Government are looking to bring forward testing, but what will they do to prioritise it? The World Health Organization has made it clear that we need to test, test, test; we cannot manage what we do not know. In so doing, however, it is important that we are very clear about the priorities and stratification as to who gets tested first. In my view, that should be the most vulnerable and those who are working on the front line in the NHS and other areas. Can we have some assurances about the timing of that testing and how it will be prioritised?
Moving on, I declare an interest as the incoming chair of the NHS Confederation. In preparing for this debate, I sought feedback from NHS Confederation members about the Covid-19 Bill. There continue to be concerns about PPE supplies. The Government need to work closely with the NHS Confederation and providers in ensuring that supplies are available for those in most need on the front line. I am receiving emails from doctors and nurses who are very concerned about the supply of PPE to them and their colleagues.
I have mentioned that testing must be ramped up for all staff; staff in the NHS need to be prioritised. We welcome the £5 billion emergency fund in the Budget for public services, but we need to ensure that money can be accessed quickly to manage additional workloads and to cover absences due to staff sickness. Relaxing the rules on PCN underspends would be a positive enabler of this. Further, there is a need for care and nursing home staff, who will require training and preparation for scale, which will be difficult.
I should mention the efforts being made to make transport more available for staff on the front line. I am concerned: I have read reports that reducing transport has an impact on staff who work shifts, particularly in London, and there are reports of overcrowding.
Before I leave this issue, I note the self-employed. Notwithstanding the Government’s statement on the self-employed, I am concerned, because I am aware that people who are self-employed in the health and social care sector feel forced to go to work in order to put food on the table. I note the Minister’s comments on the self-employed. Shakespeare, of course, wrote some wonderful works during a time of stress, but I note that he had a patron; these people do not. It is very, very important, not just for their welfare but for the welfare of all of us, that people are not forced into a position where they have to work in order to feed their family and put a roof over their kids’ heads. I hope that those proposals are brought forward now and are focused with particular rigour on those in the health and social care sector.
Finally, I know the Minister is aware that social enterprises are also businesses. Some 38% of community services are provided by social enterprises. They need to be treated in exactly the same way as other providers in the health and social care sector. Indeed, the fact that social enterprises are run not just to provide dividends should be taken into account as a favourable aspect of them. I am sad to report, however, that many social enterprises have not yet received the communication that others in the health and social care sector have, and some are relying on emails being passed via CCGs. Details of reimbursement for any additional services are not being provided to the social enterprise sector, and day-forward and other Covid-19 payments have not been extended to social enterprises, nor have evaluations of supply of PPE. This is important, because social enterprises tend to provide services in our poorest communities. Not many Peers have mentioned the fact that those are the communities that will suffer most from this pandemic. I urge the Minister to communicate with social enterprises and ensure that they are treated in exactly the same way as other providers of health and social care during this crisis.
My Lords, I commend the Government for bringing forward this important piece of legislation. We are indeed facing challenging times. The coronavirus has caused widespread disruption and tragedy. Families have been torn apart and businesses forced to close.
I was in self-isolation but felt that it was important to contribute today as this Bill raises important questions about the treatment of the deceased. The permission granted to local authorities to cremate the deceased caused anxiety within the Jewish and Muslim communities. I therefore broadly welcome the Government’s decision to amend the Bill to provide safeguards against this practice. I pay tribute to members of the Muslim community, who have all worked together on this issue to face the problems in a true spirit of solidarity.
There should be respect for the souls of our dead. Our collective human dignity and preservation should not be compromised and defeated by this pandemic. It is important to emphasise that Islam strictly forbids cremation of the deceased in any circumstances. There are verses in the Holy Koran which state that the body must be buried. We regard what is written in the Holy Koran as the words of God, and we need to abide by them. There is a great deal of disquiet and concern about the provisions of the Bill relating to this subject.
I have had discussions with, and received correspondence from, leaders of mosques, burial grounds and Muslim organisations, and scholars, who all recognise the practical challenges of burials due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has caused deaths in the community to become a major talking point, as a number of Muslims have underlying health issues including heart and lung conditions and diabetes.
Although I welcome the Government’s concession, I fear that it may not go far enough, as there is a chance that cremations could occur in exceptional circumstances. I would therefore be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House as to whether Her Majesty’s Government will give further guarantees to ensure that cremations do not take place against the will of the deceased’s loved ones in any circumstances. These guarantees are absolutely essential.
The Muslim community is keen to work with local authorities to find solutions to the challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic. A fatwa has been issued by the Ulama Council of the UK Islamic Mission, which has declared that the practices of Ghusl and Kafan have been suspended in the present climate. Ghusl means washing the body and Kafan means shrouding the body in accordance with Islamic principles. The deceased’s body will therefore be buried as it is received in a body bag. Furthermore, the burial prayers will be performed in a graveyard from a convenient distance at the time of the burial or offered at the grave after the burial has taken place.
Today, I was told that there is a shortage of body bags in mortuaries. That needs to be addressed. Mosques and burial grounds are providing protective clothing to their members who will deal with burials. The number of friends and relatives of the deceased at the funeral is being kept to a minimum. The community also acknowledges that there may be problems regarding burials in the light of a shortage of land and is willing to work with authorities to find solutions. A number of proposals have been made, including: burying bodies one on top of the other; burial in the garden of the deceased person, if this is possible; and burial in mass graves. In relation to the latter, local authorities will need to provide the appropriate land for this to happen. Today, I spoke to the head of a major Muslim charity who is willing to provide support.
The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for our global and local communities. It is vital that we strike a balance between addressing the concerns of our communities and enforcing this important legislation.
My Lords, I commend both the Minister for the way he introduced the debate and the responding speeches from the Front Benches.
Any Member who speaks from the well of this Chamber does so on wooden floorboards that were put in place to repair the Chamber after an unexploded bomb from the Luftwaffe fell 80 years ago. Our response to that crisis as a Chamber was simply to move; not a day’s sitting was missed and there was no break in proceedings. This emergency will require us to carry on with our parliamentary duties differently, rather than simply moving. It will mean us perhaps carrying out our roles of scrutiny and oversight through different means when we come back after the Easter Recess.
I agree with my noble friends Lord Scriven and Lord Alderdice that this is not a war that we are engaged in but a health and, by association, economic emergency. The Minister is right that some elements of crisis response are necessary. This legislation is the kind that no Parliament would ever wish to consider; in general circumstances, no Parliament would ever pass it. The powers in it are ones that our police, public services and local authorities should never have and that many of them would never want, but what is facing our country requires such measures. In passing them, we should not abrogate our responsibility to consider them in detail; sometimes that consideration is about asking pointed questions. It means that government still must be accountable to the people who will undergo many restrictions on their normal way of life.
The unsaid areas in the Prime Minister’s address to the country last night have been responded to by Ministers throughout the day. That is welcome. Further clarity is needed for people who need to travel to work in the areas of retail that are exceptions to the closures, and for people in the professions or in the circumstances that noble Lords have mentioned, insufficient information has been provided—but it is coming piece by piece. That is welcome.
After the immediacy of what we are doing in this legislation, there will need to be sober reflection. As I referred to earlier, I saw this approach abroad. Over the past three weeks, I have been in the Gulf, the Middle East and Africa. It was clear that the three regions I visited struggled at times to understand some of the UK Government’s messages during the response. I welcome the greater clarity that is now emerging, which will be underpinned by statute.
I am the very proud son of an NHS ambulance driver who retired a few years ago after 30 years of service. Our nation is proud of our recently retired health workers who are returning to service, as well as of our police workers, transport workers, retail workers who are working in the shops and premises that we will need to remain open, and adult care and health workers. They are the very backbone of our response to this emergency; they and their families need to be supported going forward.
The House will know that I live in Scotland and represented a border constituency when I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament. My following comments therefore relate to this issue. Many thousands of people who live and work across the border will see an emergency response from two Governments, underpinned by legislation from two Parliaments. Can the Minister reassure the people who live and work continuously over the border, in the agricultural sector and in the public services, that UK Ministers will work hand in glove with Scottish Ministers and those from the Welsh and Northern Ireland authorities?
The competences in many aspects of this legislation are devolved competences. It is the convention of this House, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and other noble Lords, have said, that we respect the devolution settlement, but equally, the necessity for close working and understanding that there will be times when legislation is required to be consistent across the border is welcome.
Can the Minister, if not today then in writing, answer some detailed questions. In Clause 83, there is a duty on the Secretary of State to make reports at two-monthly intervals on the interaction of devolved areas. Is the expectation that this would be the same from Scottish Ministers with regards to the implementation of those powers? It has been referenced before; the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, mentioned Clauses 32 and 33, regarding the suspension of disclosure requirements in Scotland. How will this interact with members of the public services across the different borders? How does this Bill interact with the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008, which includes quarantine, detention, medical examination and other powers for local authorities and health boards? How do the Government intend this interaction to operate?
There are two areas within Schedule 20 in which there are criminal offences regarding sanctions, and then the separate aspect of the notifications of infected areas. Will that definition of “infected areas” be identical north and south of the border, and if any offences under the Bill are committed north and south of the border, will they have different penalties? Can the Minister explain this?
As I said earlier, I have observed from other countries the UK’s response over the last three weeks. I want to put on record the support that I received from the Spanish embassy, through a colleague who was a British resident but a Spanish citizen, working with British authorities and officials. The Minister was previously slightly upset at my question. The Spanish deputy ambassador to the country that I was in, Alfonso Herrero Corral, gave the epitome of what sort of support one should receive from one’s Government: the information was clear, accurate and up to date.
This emergency will have major consequences. I very much hope that while we naturally look to our own citizens, providing services for our vulnerable until we get our economy back on track, we do not become insular. This country can manage a crisis better than many others around the world. I hope that we will still be global citizens of high honour, supporting other nations which, even at this moment of emergency in the UK, are more vulnerable than us.
My Lords, I declare my interests as detailed in the register.
If anybody ever doubted the statement that we could not have a truly sustainable National Health Service without a truly sustainable care service, this pandemic will write it in neon lights. I am sure that the whole House will ensure that it is heard loud and clear by the Government at every opportunity.
Unlike the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Scriven, I have not been the leader of Sheffield City Council, but I am still the leader of South Holland District Council. I put on record my gratitude from a first-hand sighting of the fantastic work that local government staff up and down the country are doing. Yesterday, I returned from here to the flatlands and had the pleasure of making my own spaghetti bolognese because my wife is looking after my mother-in-law—not generally the best of statements. While I was doing that, and watching the Prime Minister on the telly, our gold commander was on the phone trying to interfere with my concentration by digesting what the Prime Minister was saying as he was saying it. We started the conversation again at 6.30 this morning, based on the actions we had finished talking about at 10.30 last night. Local government staff are doing a fantastic job everywhere.
I have two other relatively minor points to make. First, we are rightly concerned about people being made homeless for not paying their rent because of this. One way that the Government can minimise the impact of that is by making sure that the rents they currently pay to tenants are paid directly to landlords, rather than risk them being misused in the process. That would make it less likely that we end up with a big spike in evictions in four or five months.
Secondly, does the Minister think that these powers go far enough? I know that every other noble Lord has said that they probably go too far, but I am concerned that we might be back in six or eight weeks looking for additional powers.
My Lords, forgive me; I was not expecting the noble Lord, Lord Porter, to finish quite so soon. I support the Bill and certainly agree that it, or something like it, is necessary. However, I want to sound one or two warnings and flag up some points that need the Government’s continuing attention.
We face a national emergency. In these circumstances, we should all be prepared to accept some sacrifice of personal liberty. What worries me more is the threat the Bill poses to structures of social and community support, already seriously eroded by a decade of austerity. I shall be supporting amendments that seek to ensure that these remain intact, as far as possible. After all, the fact that coronavirus is on the scene does not mean that pre-existing needs for support have somehow gone away. I hope that the Government may subject this area of the legislation to particularly searching review, with a view to ensuring that subsequent iterations are able to address some of the concerns that I and others are expressing.
I have received many expressions of concern at the way the Bill undermines social care support for disabled people. It suspends many duties in the Care Act 2014, including the duty to meet the eligible needs of disabled people, under Section 18, and their carers, under Section 20. Local authorities will have to provide care only if they consider it necessary for the purposes of avoiding a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. That largely frees local authorities from their duties to provide support under the Care Act 2014 and will oblige them to provide support only in cases where the human rights of disabled people, under the convention, are breached. That is a much higher standard to satisfy.
The Bill changes duties to meet disabled children’s educational needs to a “reasonable endeavours” duty. I have received many expressions of concern about this. First and foremost, there are concerns about the impact of relaxing statutory provisions for children with special educational needs and disabilities. How will the provisions in the Bill on education, health and care plans be used in practice? Will they be used to water down provision? I understand that that is not the Government’s intention, but backsliding authorities could easily use them as an excuse. Even if the Government are forced to relax their efforts to promote better provision at this time, they should not provide excuses for a deterioration in provision. Many parents will understand the need for flexibility at this time. However, their children still have the same need for specialist support. The Government need to give a clear account of why it is necessary to relax the statutory underpinning of the support that disabled children need.
If the duties around education, health and care plans are suspended, how will vulnerable children access the support they need? Can the Minister confirm that the Bill does not change the duties of schools and education authorities, under the Equality Act 2010, to provide reasonable adjustments and auxiliary aids for disabled pupils and students? Can he also indicate whether there will be any guidance for schools and local authorities on how they can support those children with special educational needs and disabilities who do not have an education, health and care plan? It is estimated that fewer than 20% of deaf children have a plan, for example. This area needs the Government’s attention.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Low, and endorse the concerns he expressed.
I want to pick up a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, about nursing and midwifery staff. Many noble Lords have begun by offering the thanks of the House and the country to NHS staff who are crucial to all our lives and working so hard under such difficult conditions. The Bill allows nursing and midwifery students who are just finishing their courses to begin working before they would normally have done so. This cohort of students is the cohort facing maximum debt. They face fees of nearly £28,000 and in many cases have had to take out loans for living costs. In London, that can total up to £34,000. They have had no bursaries. They have not had the new grant of £5,000 a year that is coming in for students starting now. I therefore ask the Government—no, I beg the Government—to make a special grant to these students, reflecting their special circumstances, of £15,000 each so that they will be placed in the same financial position as nurses and midwives starting their courses now.
Like many noble Lords, I support the Bill with great reluctance. It is a huge assumption of government powers. I welcome the Government conceding and not trying to force that it should be in force for two years and going to a six-month review. I echo other noble Lords: three months would be more appropriate, particularly given the haste with which we are passing this legislation. I also welcome the Government having yesterday introduced Clause 78, allowing for the remote meeting of councils. As many noble Lords have noted, that is crucial for their functioning in the coming weeks and months. I believe there is still an issue about parish councils to be sorted out and I hope we can work through that.
That stresses the point that, in the coming weeks and months, democracy will be crucial to the functioning of our country. I endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about the essential need to keep this House and the other place functioning. Last weekend the Green Party held a remote conference, over the four days when we had been planning to have our spring conference. We are a very small organisation, yet we managed to organise that in a very short time. More than 700 people took part—almost as many people as are in your Lordships’ House. We successfully held debates and people held discussions, had chats on the side and essentially did everything that we do in this House except vote. I note for your Lordships’ reference that the European Parliament will now be voting by email. I spoke to the Clerk’s office two weeks ago and was told that it was working on the remote working of the House. I urge the Government and the authorities of the House to ensure that we can fully operate remotely as soon as possible.
I have very little time and lots of points to make, so I hope the House will forgive me a bullet-point approach. I have grave concerns about some of the draconian powers, in Schedule 21, relating to “potentially infectious persons”. I am particularly concerned about the potential treatment of children under that provision.
For the cause of my noble friend Lady Jones, who cannot be with us today, I have to note the extension of powers under the Investigatory Powers Act and urge that they should be used only for the absolute minimum period possible.
I endorse the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. As many noble Lords will have done, I have had many representations over the concerns of disabled people and frail people about the provisions of this Act.
What is not in the Bill is the protection of incomes. We have talked about protecting wages and businesses and the Government have acted, but we have to protect everyone’s incomes. As your Lordships’ House has heard, I am a long-term champion of a universal basic income. For the period of this crisis, we have to ensure that everyone has an income to survive. On that point I will refer, as many have, to the situation of the self-employed. There is an amendment for statutory self-employment pay, and that is something that we should definitely look at.
On food provision, there are some limited provisions in the Bill, but I would also like to see provisions in the Bill—or soon—ensuring that we do not see profiteering in food prices or other essential supplies. I would like to see provisions to help seasonal workers to get farming produce growing and to bring it in from the fields. There is talk of a land army of volunteers to help with that, and I would like to see that happening.
I turn to the question of the vulnerable in our society. We should be closing the immigration detention centres. Those people have committed no crime. To take the example of Yarl’s Wood, 70% of people who are held there are eventually released anyway. They are in an incredibly dangerous and difficult situation and should not be there. People in prison for short-term sentences and those whose sentences are going to end shortly should also be released and, as the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said, we need much more provision for the homeless.
I am being asked by many people whether the Government will suspend the requirement for MOTs because many people are leaving their homes dangerously to deal with that.
On construction, surely only essential safety-related construction should be continuing. In London there are grave concerns about construction workers on the Tube and what that is doing to overcrowding on the Tube.
Lastly, there is the question of burning on the moors. Yesterday a controlled burn got out of control on the West Yorkshire Moors and 15 fire appliances had to be called the deal with it. Surely things like that should not be being done in this crisis.
My Lords, before I say anything else I would like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister and his team of two advisers who communicate almost daily with the British people. In my experience of 46 years across two Houses, that is unique. I pay tribute to that team and to all Ministers at every level, particularly my noble friend on the Front Bench, who was my excellent Whip until he was promoted.
I am here—as someone who is 83 I am not supposed to be here—because the Bill is very intrusive, but I recognise that the situation is so serious that it is appropriate. I see my role as one to ask questions. I have spent most of my 46 years here asking questions: on the Public Accounts Committee for 12 years; as Deputy Speaker; and then in this House.
I come from a medical community: my wife, to whom I have been married for 59 years now, is a full-time GP while my son is a doctor. Necessarily, as I and my wife have worked in the UK, India, Sri Lanka and other parts of south and south-east Asia, we understand the medical world at some length. I recognise that south Asia and south-east Asia had the SARS catastrophe, and as a result of that they are used to dealing with the great problem that we now face. They were prepared for pandemics, which the West was not and is not.
I have a question about the aims of the Bill. The summary of impacts says:
“The purpose of the Bill is to provide powers needed to respond to the current coronavirus epidemic. Powers are for use only if needed, judged on the basis of the clinical and scientific advice”—
or, as the Prime Minister says, action to save the NHS and to save lives. Is that the limit? Frankly, I do not think it is. I believe that there is another criterion. Are we to follow totally slavishly those two conditions, regardless of any impact on the economy? I venture to suggest that we should not.
A section of the NHS which I looked at closely over the weekend is the dental community. I had a telephone call on Sunday from a dental practitioner in Bedford, because Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire are where I know best. He raised with me the key point issued by the British Dental Association, and that is uncertainty. The BDA recommends that
“no aerosol generating procedures are undertaken on any patient without appropriately fitting FFP3 masks, other required protection equipment and protocols”.
That is pretty clear. It is backed up by this individual consultant, who then said to me in an email: “The situation is that the front-line ITU staff do not have FFP3 masks. We will not treat cancer cases until equipped. We will need to run some emergency clinics, but where are they to be?” Since nobody else has raised dental matters, I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that I hope this can be looked into.
Secondly, I thought we were communicating with all the trade associations, but two days ago I read in the Telegraph that the CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping in London makes the point that shipping is an absolutely vital industry. It has made contact with Her Majesty’s Government—that has been raised with the Transport Secretary—but has heard nothing. That is a problem, is it not?
What can be done? Since the Prime Minister is a great believer in Churchill, I suggest that he might think about having the equivalent of Lord Beaverbrook. On the television news last night or the night before, there was a shedload of these masks—a warehouse full —at Amazon. Why are those in the warehouse? They should be out with the front-line people waiting for them. It needs someone to get behind this and get those masks out and into the field. I suggest that this must be happening in many other areas as well.
I finish by saying a huge thank you again to the front-line NHS staff. I have lived with that community for years. It is doing more now than it has ever had to. I re-emphasise that we have to learn from what Korea and others did. The key word is “testing”. We need large-scale, readily available testing, combined with case isolation and contact tracing.
My last question to my noble friend is: where are we on testing? The WHO recommends: trace the contacts to trace infection; isolate to stop the spread; then test, test, test. If we do all that, we ought to, and might hopefully, get through the incredible challenge we face at the moment. I wish all those involved all possible success in their attempt to do so.
My Lords, I begin by referring to my interests in the register. I am involved in business and am chairman of the Cumbria local enterprise partnership and, as a result of that, a member of the NP11—the Northern Powerhouse 11. It is because of those two things that I have come down south to London to this debate. The Cumbria LEP is leading on business resilience, which is an integral part of the Cumbria local resilience forum. At regional level, the NP11 is doing much the same on a wider canvas.
Quite rightly, the Government are placing their prime focus on the country’s health, but the more health measures introduced, the greater the impact on business. That is not to say they should not do it, but it is a consequence. The impact on business, commercial life and jobs is therefore getting greater.
There are two fundamental and important implications. First, if people do not have any money, the consequences are self-evidently dire. Secondly, businesses provide work, and with it wages, to the parts of the supply chain and among producers of things that we need and want. They are the basis of commercial life. In future, if they do not have any money, they will cease to exist.
Cash is king. If cash stops, business stops. If business stops, cash stops. If business stops, jobs and goods stop. On top of that, the infrastructure of the future economy is strangled. I welcome that the Government recognise the need for cash and are putting measures in place to get it into the wider community. But is it enough, and is it being done quickly enough? What is needed from central government is speed, precision and user-friendliness in the economic and governance measures that it puts in place, to run in parallel with the health measures that are the predominant topic of this debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, money is needed now—not at the end of the week, or the month, or the end of April, or this year, or next year or whenever. I echo the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, about the self-employed, and that the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made about charities.
As I have intimated, I welcome the general direction of travel shown in the Answer repeated by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, to an Urgent Question earlier this afternoon, but where is the beef? Individuals are running out of both time and money. Business owners, perplexed by the lack of clarity, will shut up shop, get out with what they can and cut their losses. The devil lies in the detail. Banks distributing interest-free loans are seeking collateral, I understand—and anyway a loan, interest-free or not, has to be paid back. People, especially smaller operators, are understandably asking themselves, “Is it worth it?” The self-employed are feeling exposed and discriminated against, as has been said.
What is needed is equivalence and even-handedness across the piece—big and small, rural and urban, employed and self-employed. The perspective of everyone’s personal and business financial affairs, looking both forwards and backwards from this coming year end, seems diametrically different, in my view. I think that no payments should be made as opposed to liabilities incurred until the end of the forthcoming financial year, in order that liquidity is preserved in society.
Twenty years ago, my own farming business was destroyed in the foot and mouth outbreak in Cumbria, when I was a Member of the European Parliament for that area. I have first-hand and close experience of some of these things. One thing that we must not overlook is the implications of isolation combined with worry. It is very unpleasant and damaging for people’s mental health. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.
Finally, there is the long term, which I hope will start with the comprehensive spending review later this summer. As many Members of your Lordships’ House have said, we are looking at an unknown future, and we must revisit de novo, pragmatically, our future national economic, commercial and business policies so that they are based on hard-nosed, real-world economics, to get our economy up and running again. The first step on that road is a recognition that cash is king, because cash is the lubricant of the engine that is the economy.
My Lords, I salute the superhuman efforts of NHS staff and all other key workers in their efforts to win this battle against an invisible enemy. I will focus my remarks on issues within the remit of the Department for Education.
It may not be widely appreciated that staff on casual contracts are widespread throughout the education sector. Many from early years to higher education are on casual or zero-hour contracts or are freelance. If there is a guarantee that institutions will not lose funding, it should be made clear by the Government that these kinds of contracts should be honoured in full.
It may require secondary legislation, but the 25,000 students currently undertaking a course leading to qualified teacher status need to have their coursework validated so that they can start teaching in September—the earliest schools are likely to reopen. It will be essential to ensure that the supply of new teachers is maintained when the school system will need them more than ever.
I welcome the key role for local authorities in co-ordinating the new arrangements. By working with maintained schools, academies and the independent sector, they should ensure there is sufficiency of places for children of key workers and vulnerable children. But why is the Secretary of State not being given a power to authorise local authorities to co-ordinate all 16 to 19 provision in their area? In Schedule 15, the local authority can be authorised to exercise powers over childcare, schools and 16 to 19 academies, but why should that be restricted to academies?
The decision to close schools is unprecedented but proportionate given the scale of the crisis. None the less, it must be recognised that a decision of this scale will have life-changing consequences for families, many of whom are already stretched to the limit. It is vital that the issues that school closures create are properly considered and appropriately dealt with.
It is of course right that the interests of the most vulnerable children—those who are known to social care because of issues such as abuse and neglect, or those with additional learning needs—are being prioritised. However, we know that many highly vulnerable children are hidden from view and do not benefit from the official status that will mean they can continue to attend school. For instance, as highlighted by Barnardo’s, what about children living in domestic abuse households who do not have a social worker or an education, health and care plan? How will they be protected?
There are genuine concerns about the effects of the crisis on children’s social care, and other children’s social services. Many social workers are also on temporary contracts and not eligible for sick pay. Will the DfE instruct schools or safeguarding leads to check on vulnerable pupils who do not have an official social care status? Will schools receive discretionary powers to ensure that vulnerable pupils who do not have official status can remain in school? Will the Government keep pupil referral units open, given the vulnerability of most of the children who attend those schools?
Clause 5 provides for the emergency registration of social workers, with guidance referring to
“deployment of volunteers where it is safe to do so, and where indemnity arrangements are in place.”
This will be important, but they will also require sufficient protection for themselves and those they work with, and an induction to ensure that they understand their remit and can conduct their role safely.
In essence, the Bill suspends or disapplies all the key provisions of the Care Act 2014 and there are genuine concerns about the impact of relaxing statutory provisions for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Ten years of local authority cuts have already seriously eroded SEND provision; coronavirus must not be allowed to compound that.
Schedule 16 contains powers for the Secretary of State to vary or disapply statutory provision, such as Section 42 of the Children and Families Act, which is the core duty to secure special provision in accordance with an EHC plan, and the Secretary of State could vary Section 43 of the same Act, which covers the duty on schools and other institutions to admit a child where they are named in a child’s plan. Many parents will understand the need for flexibility in these uncertain times. However, their children will remain in urgent need of specialist support and they deserve a clear explanation of why it is necessary to relax the statutory provisions.
There is a further concern; namely, the assurance that children with special educational needs and disabilities continue to receive the support they need. Can the Minister confirm that the Bill does not change the duties of schools and education authorities under the Equality Act 2010 to provide reasonable adjustments and auxiliary aids for disabled pupils and students? For example, there is concern about how deaf pupils will be able to access online or remote teaching.
The cancellation of GCSEs and A-levels will have a major impact on the hopes of millions of young people for their future. My noble friend Lord Adonis called for students to be able to repeat this year should they so wish. The Secretary of State said yesterday that children would have the option to sit their exams in 2021. Could the Minister clarify what that might mean? The Secretary of State has said that not just predicted grades will be used to replace cancelled assessments. His statement yesterday offered some insight as to what is proposed, but not enough to assuage the concerns of teachers, students and parents. There is widespread anxiety and confusion over the replacement assessment system, and the Government should at least set out a timetable for making definite decisions so that there is clarity.
One lesson that emerges from all of this, which applies in many areas of life, is that we have developed systems that rely on everything working perfectly. That is true of intensive care bed numbers and supermarket deliveries, but also of school exams. Once we had AS-levels and coursework, which could have provided evidence to counter the crash of the exam system. Building in some spare capacity should be part of any robust system; for exams, that means not relying on just one source and therefore being better able to withstand shocks. There is a lesson here too for the future: a fragmented education system does not work well when subjected to stress.
My Lords, we are all immensely grateful for the selflessness and professionalism of everyone responding to this pandemic and for the reasonable, calm heads of those in government. I associate myself especially with the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Scriven, Lord Blunkett, Lord Robathan and Lord Alderdice, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.
There is a need for tighter scrutiny, a shorter timeline—three months has been mentioned; I strongly support that—and reasonable balance. We need not to fall into a collective consciousness of consent. We need dissent for democracy to continue to flourish. We continue to need to ask hard questions and not be rolled over by fear but instead, with reasonable wisdom and proportion, keep this thing in balance.
I will make a few specific remarks about areas of the Bill, particularly paragraph 7(5) of Schedule 21, which refer to the powers to be given to the police and immigration officers for detaining and holding people on the basis or assumption of their ill health or of the coronavirus being present. We have had a number of warnings from Liberty; in its briefing, it rightly points out that the consequences of some aspects of the Bill are too grave and far-reaching to be simply nodded through. One dimension of paragraph 7(5) of Schedule 21 states that the police and immigration officers may detain and, if necessary, remove someone for testing and, if possible, have a health official present. I do not think “if possible” is good enough, especially coming from a community where people are very frightened of being tapped on the shoulder or even asked to their face by police to come with them. In a prospective detention or if someone fears the possibility of exposure on an immigration case, they are more likely to abscond—which now becomes an offence, according to the requirements in Schedule 21.
We all want to have the utmost regard and respect for the police and immigration officials at this time. I do not want to unnecessarily conflate two things, but I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to the comments made in this House and in another place last week. On Thursday, at the tail-end of business here, the Minister repeated a Statement on the Windrush report from the Home Secretary, who used the words:
“Ministers did not sufficiently question unintended consequences”
of their conduct, behaviour or decisions. In particular, she referred to the fact that there was institutional
“ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.—[Official Report, 19/3/20; col. 1615.]
I have had many representations from people in the black and minority communities who still feel that nothing has changed between last Thursday and this afternoon. The very department with responsibility for police and immigration—the Home Office—will probably help to set the tone of how officials, without health professionals, will go about detaining people and holding them, even though for only short periods of detention. The presence of health officials ought to be a fundamental requirement in an amendment to this Bill: a health official must be the decider, not the police or immigration officials.
There is a need for some elements of reasonable societal caution. However, too much suspicion of people who fit into categories that are uncertain and unclear leads people towards greater fear. Liberty says that there is a real prospect that groups may be targeted on the basis that they are effectively proxies for characteristics such as income level or race and especially in light of existing patterns of discrimination in police-public interactions, as identified by the Lammy review.
I hope we do not blunder into causing further, unnecessary fear in communities all over this country where black and minority-ethnic people are or where immigrants feel they may be holding out, by adding to police powers without ensuring that health security is the decision-maker, not the individual constable—there are constant references to constables, not senior officers, in the Bill. That places too much burden on those individuals.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. I agree with the entirety of his contribution. The entire world faces the colossal fear—unimaginable a few weeks ago—of an outbreak of such magnitude; a public health emergency.
Only today Dr Fuad Nahdi’s family laid him to rest as I sat in the Chamber. He lost his battle with several health conditions and finally succumbed to coronavirus. I do not know whether he was able to be resuscitated—whether that facility was available to him. But he was an outstanding community champion and he worked relentlessly—tirelessly—with Government Ministers, churches and the community to keep people safe post 9/11. I express my condolences, heartfelt prayers and good wishes to his family.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, an honourable Member of another place, has called for urgent attention to be paid to the shortage of resuscitation units. These are already full, she says, in many hospitals as the numbers of admissions rise. NHS staff face an incredible decision: who will live and who will die? I add my thanks to all those NHS and front-line bravehearts who are putting their own life and well-being aside to take care of us and others.
The country understands that decisions must be made to prevent mass infection and preserve security, with adherence to the norms of a civilised, humane nation. Perhaps liberty is in temporary abeyance—the freedom and privilege that we have enjoyed. Therefore, the Government’s economic measures and responses are welcome, although I have pointed reservations. Since the Bill was published, all parliamentarians have been inundated by constituents and community and business groups alike; they support government measures but are deeply troubled by some aspects of the proposed legislation, and its short- and long-term impact on significant sections of our vulnerable communities. I record my thanks, for their incredible insights, to Toni Meredew at account3; James Lee at the City of London Corporation; Inclusion London; Haji Taslim Funerals; the East London Mosque; and Hasina Zaman from Compassionate Funerals.
I wish to raise two points in particular: first, how the Bill will potentially impact the lives of disabled people such as my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson. Many fear serious risk to their and thousands of other vulnerable people’s daily care needs, and that they will be abandoned in the emergency situation and left to the discretion of an already overstretched local authority. There are incredible misgivings about measures to suspend provision under the Care Act 2014. The fear is that social care provision is likely to breach the human rights threshold, as has been said, and will be offered only to those in critical and severe need.
We have large numbers of disabled people who require daily care and noble Lords are rightly concerned that the Bill will suspend their right to daily care from a local authority. If, as the legislation proposes, assessment needs are delayed, there will be untold suffering, which will cause lasting mental and physical harm to the well-being of those dependent for their care needs, as well as an unbearable imposition on carers to cope alone.
With regard to mental health services provision, I accept that this is a national emergency and we are being asked to suspend normal freedoms as a new norm. However, we must think carefully about obliterating our social care responsibilities. There is also significant fear about the power of detention by one doctor. I cannot overemphasise caution about that provision, given that many black and minority ethnic citizens experience detention disproportionately, as has been mentioned. Suspending any accountability in the process may leave a generational legacy of damage. Will there be an impact assessment in place to monitor the impact of the proposed legislation?
Equally, I declare an interest as a former social worker. The well-being of those who experience and will continue to experience domestic violence, child sexual and physical abuse, and sexual exploitation depends on social workers, but there is a huge shortage. What are the Government doing to ensure that social workers will also be asked to come back and provide emergency services?
We have worked for decades to advance the rights of people with disabilities, those who live with mental health issues and those who are cared for by social services. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson and ask how the Government will adhere to the human rights of people who receive social care and social services support.
I also wish to make a point about the power in the Bill at Schedule 28, which proposes to suspend taking into consideration the preferences of the deceased, regardless of their religious duties and obligations. I apologise to the House for taking a few more minutes to finish this point. The Bill suggests using powers to direct the deceased to be cremated if there is a lack of capacity at storage facilities, thus suspending Section 46(3) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which prohibits cremation against the wishes of the deceased. This has caused serious panic and anxiety in many parts of our communities and many have written to ask us to raise that matter as Members of Parliament. The honourable Member for Bradford West tabled an amendment to the Bill and has now withdrawn it. I am thankful for her outstanding campaign to mobilise and bring about the Government’s understanding that, even in these times of national existential threat and crisis, we will remain resolute in remaining a society that values freedom of choice, particularly around the dignity of human death.
I spent the whole weekend speaking to various organisations that lead funeral services, including those I mentioned earlier. Will the Minister agree to consult and work with them and with faith-based organisations along the lines that I referred to earlier to ensure—
I have nearly finished. With the leniency of the House I will ask my final question.
I appreciate the fact that the Paymaster-General has given his assurance, but will the Minister assure us that the provisions in Part 4 of Schedule 28 in relation to the wishes of the deceased will be respected? I thank noble Lords for their leniency.
My Lords, I too offer my strong support to the Prime Minister and believe that the Government are doing the right thing to prepare the armoury, to be able to do everything they conceivably need to do to protect lives and support people whose income has disappeared in the face of this unprecedented crisis caused by the coronavirus.
There are many people who have experienced some of the symptoms and think they may have contracted a mild form of the disease but have already recovered. These people are self-isolating but wish they could be tested for antibodies so that they would know whether they have had the disease. If they know that they have, they should be free to do useful work, which they could easily find with supermarkets, on farms and perhaps in the NHS. Good testing kits are available which show a result within 24 hours or so. Can the Minister offer any advice to people in this situation and tell the House whether it is possible to arrange for such people to be tested?
I declare my interests as set out in the register. Statistics provided by the Association of Independent Festivals show that in 2018 the UK live music sector contributed £1.1 billion to the economy—an increase of 10% on 2017. The 65 festivals staged by the association’s members generated more than £386 million in revenue in 2017. In addition, festivals have a large beneficial effect on the economies of the villages near where they are held. According to UK Music’s report published last year, 4.9 million people attended a festival in 2018, a considerable increase on the 2.7 million back in 2012. Small music festival companies, many of which stage a single event every year, usually in the summer months, have been put in a particularly parlous position by the pandemic. The Government are to be congratulated on taking measures that will alleviate the financial damage to the leisure and hospitality industries, but many of these do not actually have a beneficial effect on the festival sector. Cash grants of £25,000 and £10,000 are, of course, welcome, but they do not have a major impact on the sudden and enormous negative effect on cash flow.
Festival organisers who had been planning events for this summer have seen their income from ticket sales and sponsorship completely dry up. Furthermore, festivals are still contracted to pay their artists’ deposits, which are often substantial. The business interruption loan scheme is a very welcome lifeline for the sector, but some lenders are asking directors of festival companies to pledge their personal assets. Many will be unable to do that. Will the Minister consider asking lenders to apply flexibility regarding the collateral required to cover the 20% portion that is not guaranteed by the British Business Bank? Will he confirm that it is the Government’s intention that all events businesses whose financial viability has been affected by the pandemic, whether or not they have yet cancelled or rescheduled their events planned for 2020, will be eligible to receive loans equal to the amount of financial damage they have suffered as a direct result of the pandemic?
Paragraph 5(5) of Schedule 22 empowers the Secretary of State, in exercising his powers to prohibit mass gatherings such as music festivals, to inform persons of the prohibition, but the Bill does not include any requirement to specify the duration of such prohibition, although that is the case under Clause 6, which deals with the powers to close premises. The industry needs to know when and for how long the Government intend to prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people and the process by which they will determine whether a prohibition will be extended beyond its original period.
The one measure that festival companies and other event organisers need most urgently, and which is not included in the Bill, is the suspension of the provision of the Consumer Rights Act requiring the return of monies to ticket holders within 14 days of cancellation. I was encouraged to hear the Secretary of State for Health say at a meeting on Thursday that the Government are looking at this. The German Government are considering a measure that would permit the promoter of a festival to defer refunds until the end of September but containing a review clause that could extend this break until 30 July 2021. I have also heard that in Italy a new law has been enacted that allows promoters of festivals to issue vouchers for future events instead of refunding cash. The Bill may not be the right place, but will the Minister inform the House whether the Government will introduce legislation to this effect?
Some noble Lords may dislike restricting consumer protection in this way, but it would, paradoxically, serve to protect consumers’ interests. If no relief is given to the 14-day refund rule in the very near future, it is likely that many small festival companies will be insolvent and will liquidate, meaning that the ticket holders would receive nothing back at all. This would also have a devastating effect on the income of artists, many of whom are self-employed freelance workers who do not benefit under the salary support scheme.
It is very welcome that this scheme will alleviate the problems faced by festival businesses that have no cash flow to pay their staff. Will the Government consider a London weighting provision for the threshold of £25,000? What are the Government’s plans for those whose salaries exceed the threshold?
Extraordinary times require an extraordinary response. I am confident that the various schemes introduced by the Government could alleviate the financial difficulties that will be faced by very many. I earnestly hope that access to the schemes will not be unreasonably restricted by bureaucratic and onerous conditions.
My Lords, to defeat a disease, strong and unpleasant medicine may be required. This Bill is that kind of medicine. Its likely side-effects are alarming, as we have heard today from all sides of the House. However, we must swallow it—and we must try to do so not like a child, with our eyes tight shut, but, as befits parliamentarians, with our eyes wide open.
The medicine is sweetened by two features which we would normally take for granted but which it is reassuring to see in abnormal times: the absence of any attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts, and the declaration of compatibility with convention rights that appears as a badge of honour on the front page of the Bill. Given the number of rights engaged, that is a tribute both to the pragmatic flexibility of the ECHR and to the Government for not seeking to derogate from that rather sensible reminder of our basic freedoms, as a few other contracting states have recently done.
Clauses 22 and 23 concern the judicial approval of warrants. Warranted investigatory powers are of course vital to our national security and the fight against crime. But the function of judicial commissioners is not simply to facilitate surveillance; it is to keep it within lawful bounds. To take one example—topical, though hypothetical in this country, so far as I know—they might have to decide the extent to which the location data from our mobile phones may be used for contact tracing, or for the monitoring and enforcement of the movement prohibitions that may be introduced under Schedule 22 to the Bill. These are not straightforward issues, which is why we entrust them only to judges of High Court rank and above.
These clauses strengthen, rather than undermine, the system of judicial approval by allowing for the rapid appointment of assistant or temporary commissioners and extending the time necessary for approving urgent warrants. The reasons are not far to seek: the overwhelming majority of judicial commissioners are over 70 and male, and the highly classified nature of their work requires the use of a secure physical location. The key safeguard, noted by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in opening, is that the Secretary of State can make the necessary regulations only if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—a senior judicial figure—notifies her that this is necessary. That is good enough for me.
Before leaving these clauses, however, I would ask the Minister two questions. First—he can answer in writing, if he prefers—could a temporary commissioner serve under successive regulations for a total period of longer than 12 months, if required? That is a question on the meaning of Clause 22(3). Since it can take a while for judicial commissioners to get fully up to speed in this arcane area—I speak as someone who has done some of their training—I hope that the answer yes.
Secondly, as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee pointed out in its report of yesterday, Clause 22(4) allows the Secretary of State to provide for existing statutes in this area to apply with
“specified omissions or other modifications”.
Why is that Henry VIII power necessary? Could the Minister give examples of the kind of omission or modification that the Government have in mind? Why are these powers subject only to the negative procedure, given that, as the committee explains in its report, a statutory instrument can be made just as expeditiously under the “made affirmative” procedure, under which they would lapse without parliamentary approval?
Finally, on parliamentary review, I welcome the new provision in Clause 98 for a six-month review by the Commons, though, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, I would have welcomed it more warmly if the Motion had been amendable. In either case, the effectiveness of review will be linked to the content of the two-monthly reports to be produced under Clause 97. I was encouraged to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, say in opening this debate that the Government would “update Parliament regularly on how these powers have been used across the UK”. However, as presently provided for, the two-monthly reports need contain nothing more than an account of which provisions have been activated, and a statement that the Secretary of State “is satisfied” with that state of affairs; one hopes he will be satisfied, because this clause requires it.
There is a broader point here. My experience of reviewing exceptional powers against terrorism has been that effective review requires basic information to be provided by government. One needs to know not just whether a provision is in force but, as the Minister said, what use has been made of it, what unexpected problems have been encountered in its use, what steps have been needed to enforce compliance, and how effective they are judged to have been. We are all acutely mindful of the need not to overburden the Civil Service with major new reporting obligations. But the Government will, as a matter of course, conduct their own assessment of these exceptional powers, based on experience of their use and an assessment of their effectiveness. I would suggest that they can only benefit—as would we—by the opportunity to communicate their reasoned case in this way to Parliament and to the public.
I tabled a modest amendment on this point this afternoon—not in a critical spirit, but in the hope that the Minister might look on it favourably. It would be, I hope we might all agree, a useful way of generating the trust on which public acceptance of the measures in this Bill will ultimately depend.
My Lords, I refer the House to my interests in the register. I start by thanking the Government for the actions they have taken over the last few days to help support employers and employees, especially taking into account the impact on small and medium-sized businesses.
I want to focus first on social care and the wonderful care staff who, along with their brilliant colleagues in the health service, are at the forefront of delivering care, both in hospital settings and in the homes of those who need their support. As a social care provider, I put on record how our staff have not wavered in ensuring that all our clients have been reassured, informed and been part of our contingency planning as it has developed. This is probably the same across the thousands of small and medium-sized providers across the country. Our care staff need assurances that they will be among the first to be tested for the virus, that we will ensure that protective equipment is readily available, and that the costs are not raised because there is a shortage. Will my noble friend the Minister assure the House that extra funding for social care is ring-fenced for social care provision? This is absolutely critical.
Being on the front line puts all care workers at greater risk of getting the virus. Will the Minister consider how, with the sector already under huge recruitment pressures, we can look at having all criminal checks for health and social care delivered in 24 hours, and the mandatory three to five-day basic training for care reduced to a day’s training? This would be as long as newly inducted staff work with experienced care workers in double-up calls for the most vulnerable, care-needing users.
I am sure there will be plenty of people wanting to play their part in supporting the health and care sectors. To ease the pressure on our health service, our trained care staff can reduce nurse call-outs and hospital admissions for such tasks as reapplying dressings and sterilising fluids on wounds and pressure sores. Also, with the shortage of blister packs, we could ensure that care staff are able to administer properly recorded medication prescriptions. Many other basic healthcare tasks can be carried out by trained care staff, which would ease the pressure on the health service.
Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in local government to see how these and other measures could be considered? Will he assure the House that those in the most vulnerable group, including the elderly, are not left without human contact, especially where they need assistance? Over the last weekend or so, I have had so many people calling to tell me how frightened and worried they are about their elderly, vulnerable relatives.
The care sector has been underfunded for far too long; too many Governments have not put care at the heart of their policies. There is a misconception that this sector is unskilled. It is not. It is a sector with hard-working, properly trained staff, who are well regulated, and subject to regular inspections by both local authorities and the regulator. I hope that, once this crisis is over, the social care sector will be given a much-deserved priority in government plans.
The other group I want to talk briefly about today is the self-employed and contractors. Many noble Lords have mentioned them in today’s discussions. Over the past few days, I have been inundated with people calling me to ask where they can go for government support. This important group of people help to grow the economy. We have a duty to ensure that they have proper care and financial support, and I urge the Minister to ensure that they get it. It was heartening to hear the Chancellor announce that a support package will be coming through very shortly. Will my noble friend impress upon colleagues across government that a proper communication strategy must be put in place and broadcast across all media channels to ensure that people know where to go for easy information?
People have contacted me to ask about the mortgage holidays and rent holidays for renters in the private and public sectors which were announced by the Chancellor. They all have the right to an initial three-month deferral to ease their financial pressures as they are told to stay home by the Government. Have commercial landlords been asked by the Government to give the same support to their tenants, particularly the larger landlords? I shall not name any landlords today, but if they do not support the Government in giving three-month holidays to their business tenants, I will not hesitate to call them out. This is a time when we should all come together and be supportive; nobody should think it is a time when they can make money on the back of somebody else’s pain, when they are simply following government instructions to close their business and stay at home. I want the Government to understand that small businesses just do not have the means and resources to navigate around complex forms. I ask the Government to ensure that all information is easy to understand and that if there are application forms to fill in, they are easily found and navigated around.
We all want to ensure that we keep everyone safe, but financial pressures have a huge impact on mental health, as has been said today, and our role is to ensure that in these most challenging times, those who can provide well-being and health support while people stay in their homes are encouraged and supported by the Government.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute not just to the staff of the NHS, who are doing a truly wonderful job, but to the army of cleaners, drivers and shop assistants who are playing an incredible role in the most difficult of circumstances.
I start by echoing what my noble friend Lord Newby —and, to a certain extent, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton—said about the need for scrutiny and for this House in particular to scrutinise legislation. Speaker after speaker has said that at any other time, this legislation would simply not pass.
It is extremely important that when the Government have to take extreme measures—and they do—they do so in an open way and that there is detailed discussion involving people who themselves have the relevant experience and information, or who have access to outside expertise, as do we in this House. That way, we will go beyond the level of a television interview. We need to deal with matters in great detail and be part of the information and education programme that will be necessary throughout all this, to ensure public support for and recognition of the need for extreme legislation.
Secondly, we must recognise that the Bill comes before us at a moment when we do not have large-scale testing programmes or vaccination, and that that has a direct effect on everything in it. If we have both in a few months—as I very much hope we will—life will be very different, and it will be important then to revisit some of the assumptions built into the Bill.
I want to make a point that may seem obvious, but nobody has yet said it today. When we talk about the NHS and local government, we are talking about completely different systems. The NHS is a centralised system which is largely run on a not particularly democratic basis; it is run more on the basis of expertise. It is a command-and-control system that enjoys a political standing in this country which practically no other body does. Local government is different. It is based on an open democratic procedure, with elected officials, and it does not, by and large, enjoy the same standing. Therefore, local government is, quite naturally, often very defensive and cautious, and for good reason—it gets taken to town by the Daily Mail quite frequently. We are suddenly expecting those two systems to function together in the same way. I go back to the point that my noble friend Lord Scriven made earlier, which may seem terribly technical but is in fact very important. There needs to be a general power of direction for local government, so that it can take the decisions that will have a bearing on the health and social care outcomes of its local population.
It is really interesting to see what, even in an emergency situation, government considers to be important and not important. Three things in the Bill are problematic. The first is the removal of the duty on local authorities to provide adult social care. Everybody understands that local government will go through the most massive transformation; it will never be the same again. It will probably have to reorientate everything towards this for years to come, and certainly for a year. However, to remove that duty completely is wrong, because from it flows not just the way in which vulnerable people are dealt with now, during the emergency, but the recovery process for local services and so on. It would be preferable if local government retained its relevant social care duties, but that their application was amended so that it was required to implement them only so far as is reasonably practical. As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, domiciliary care is under immense strain. If local authorities do not make those investments now because they think they will not have the money, the impact on the NHS in a few months’ time will be even greater.
When I talk to local government colleagues, as I am sure we all do, they say that one of the big issues worrying them is indemnity for volunteering. The Bill refers to volunteering for a local authority only in relation to health and social care. It may well be that, just to fulfil the health and social care duties, local authorities will have to rely on volunteers to do all manner of other things, such as carrying out some of their environmental responsibilities. They are really bothered, because local authorities have traditionally spent an awful lot of staff time doing DBS checks because of the nature of what they do. We need not only a fast-track system—for example, not allowing somebody who has ever been barred to be checked—but a much faster system. We should also have an indemnity for a local authority that has to reconfigure very quickly a number of its central functions.
The other point that it is important to make at this stage is that, more so than the NHS, local authorities have had whole ranks of staff taken out. They have a few central managers, and front-line staff. They do not have very much; in fact, unlike in the NHS, most of their services are not provided in-house, so they do not have the ability to command or summon up capacity in the same way the NHS does.
We are expecting that charities will step into that breach, but that sector, as people heard during the debate on the Question answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, this afternoon, is on a cliff edge. Charities do not run with great margins or large amounts of reserves, and they cannot quickly scale up on nothing. You cannot have an entirely voluntary workforce; volunteers need to be managed, which is a skill in itself. Can the Minister talk about the need for there to be grant funds—some via the NHS, some via local authorities, and some direct to charities—in order to build up that capacity?
The Government have taken drastic action in respect of the Mental Health Act. Mental health tribunals are now to be a single judge on a phone—if we are talking in that way, we ought to require them at least to be videophones—and the three-month treatment rule will be changed. I, along with organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, accept that in a time of great stress on the NHS we cannot run the system as we do now. However, there are misgivings about people being sectioned under Sections 2 and 3 of the Mental Health Act. Having taken away some very fundamental safeguards with regard to people being deprived of liberty and incarcerated, will the Government reconsider the length of time before which somebody can have their case reviewed and make it much quicker, so that anybody who has been detained by one doctor instead of two will automatically go to the front of the queue for a swift review?
Having said that, one thing that has caused much remark in the social care sector is that there is no mention at all here of the mental capacity legislation. There are two problems with that. First, in emergency medicine there is still a requirement to establish that somebody has mental capacity and to ascertain their wishes. I understand that, at a time like this, an A&E department will not be able to go through such a comparatively bureaucratic process, and that it is possible to do a simplified version of that just for these purposes.
The other, bigger, problem is that we will have lots and lots of very vulnerable people in care homes without access to any sort of representation, or even assessment. So I say to the Minister, and this is a very difficult admission, that the Government may wish to take out some of the bureaucracy and form-filling that was in the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act, which some of your Lordships worked on. We should be requiring people who run homes to enable relatives at the very least to have some kind of contact—remote contact, telephone contact, or something like that—if it is not possible to go in and visit. To ignore this completely sends out a really bad message to people.
I fully understand the Government seeing the need to free up medical resources by going down to only one doctor. I imagine that across the NHS people are looking at ways to free up time for medical staff, cut down visits and make sure that people are not going on public transport unnecessarily. As the Minister knows, I am concerned about women’s access to early medical abortions. We already have an agreement in England, Wales and Scotland that women can take at home the second of the two pills that they need, provided that they have ongoing support and access by phone to a medical practitioner. I ask the Minister to consider whether women can have a telemedecine interview with the staff of a clinic. They could then very quickly get the medicines that they need and take them safely at home. I am not asking for any other change to the grounds on which that might be done. It is simply an administrative procedure, but it would make an enormous difference to the ability of women, most of them young, to receive that healthcare.
On the next point, I declare an interest: my brother is shortly to retire as a police officer—this week, I think—having served in the Greater Manchester Police for over 30 years. All the provisions in the Bill are about health and social care workers, particularly health workers, returning. All the issues about their pensions apply to other people in public service. I rather suspect that there may come a time when we need police officers who are not long retired to come back, not least because they are first responders, they have some medical training, and all of that. I do not think anyone else has mentioned this issue. It is not a personal plea on behalf of my family in any way at all; it is a genuine point.
On the provisions to review this legislation, it seems wrong that the Government are going to say that the Bill cannot be amended in future. That is a mistake, a point that was made by David Davis in the Commons. As I said, the Bill has been made now on existing knowledge, but the position may well be very different in three or six months’ time. Inevitably, some of the proposals that the Government have put in the Bill will turn out to have been necessary, but some will not. It would be in the Government’s best interests to retain the flexibility for this Bill to be amended in the light of experience. I hope I have demonstrated, as other noble Lords have, that we say this in the spirit of seeking to be helpful to the Government, not to attack them or to try to achieve any kind of political advantage, and I hope the Minister and his colleagues will reconsider.
The Government have said that there are various powers in the Bill and they will be switched on and off as necessary. That is potentially very confusing. Have the Government thought about having a website, a place to which anyone who has to refer to the Bill can go, with a rolling update on which provisions of the Bill were active and which were not? I can see a number of people who will have to try to make this legislation work having problems doing so.
That said, sadly the Bill is very necessary. We will work hard, and although we will, I hope, be back here, we will work smart and in different ways to provide ongoing scrutiny and to help the Government, and indeed the country, to get through these extraordinarily difficult times.
My Lords, we are living in a strange and frightening time. I congratulate all noble Lords on their speeches and questions today. I refer to my interests as listed in the register, including the fact that I am a member of a clinical commissioning group until the 31st of this month, when it will be abolished and absorbed.
As always, our thoughts have to be with those who have lost loved ones to this virus. Also, all of us would praise, as we have done today, the extraordinary efforts of our NHS staff and other dedicated public servants. We are for ever in their debt. My nephew, Oliver Carr, is a newly qualified first-year doctor at the Royal Free Hospital here in London. I cannot stress enough how proud we are of Oliver, but we are also, like thousands of families everywhere with loved ones working in our NHS today, very concerned for his safety.
Today, we are being asked to make decisions of a magnitude that we would never have dreamed of a few weeks ago. None of us came here to put on to the statute book powers that would curtail so many basic freedoms which our forebears had fought so hard to put in place and which we take for granted. As my honourable friend Jonathan Ashworth said yesterday:
“This virus spreads rapidly, exploits ambivalence, thrives on inequality”.
I shall speak about health and social care. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer covered justice and dealt with the aspects relating to coroners—I am very pleased to say—as well as the sunset clauses. Also, I shall not refer to education, because, between them, my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Watson covered the waterfront on the educational questions that need to be asked with regard to the Bill.
The reference in last night’s statement by the Prime Minister to the fact that social isolation and distancing must be enforced was welcome. It was necessary because too many people were not following the advice. I think that we all watched with incredulity and horror the pictures at the weekend of bustling markets and packed Tube trains, beaches and parks, so I am afraid that the public health message was not heard loud and clear, and we now have to see whether it will be.
Everyone who should be at home, must be, and they must work from home. I am afraid that that includes your Lordships. There are six or seven speakers in this debate, including on our Benches, who should not really be with us. They are breaking the Government’s guidelines—now, instructions—and they endanger themselves, which is really worrying. I hate to say this but I know that they are here because most of their friends, including me, would not dare tell them not to be, and they have a contribution to make. However, it does not reflect well on this House after the magnificent example that has been set by the Lord Speaker. Hundreds of our colleagues are not here and have been sending messages to us, for which we are all grateful. They have been giving us advice, as many of us have mentioned.
I happen to think that Parliament must continue to sit as best it can. We must hold the Government to account, not least because, as many noble Lords have said, inevitably this Bill will have its flaws. Normally, we would have pointed those out over a period of months. It does not adequately cover some very serious areas which we have discussed today, not least the homeless, the self-employed and renters. Therefore, although I feel that the emergency powers, while draconian, are needed, that does not mean that the Government cannot regularly be held accountable. As the Minister said, the powers should be only in the context of this virus.
Turning to the health and social care workforce, one thing that we certainly now know unambiguously, as a result of this pandemic, is that nobody can be unaware of the importance of care workers in our community. There is definitely awareness of social care. It has to be accepted and of course properly funded.
The next few months will present a different level of challenge for the NHS and anyone working in the caring professions. We know that an increasing number of people will become ill and some will require medical treatment in hospital. The additional patient volumes will place enormous pressure on all sectors of our health and social care system. There will be pressures from increased absence by staff who are unwell and self-isolating in their households, so testing is absolutely vital, as is adequate PPE.
I will divert slightly from discussing the health and social care workforce. Several noble Lords mentioned the police, including the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. If we are putting on the statute book, as we have been and will do, things that mean that you might be breaking the law if you go out or do something you should not be doing that might involve our police, what protection are we giving them? I will read on to the record what a female police officer has said in a message I have received:
“We need masks for every officer and prisoner, at least four washable masks for police officers: one to use, one to have in the bag for three days to decontaminate before washing, and two to change during the shift. Shower facilities for police officers—there are not enough showers. Gloves. Where do we take prisoners who are symptomatic? Where do we take people in a domestic situation? What happens to child contact arrangement orders? Can a person on bail not sign for bail who is self-isolating? What’s the process for breach of bail? What about registered sex offenders? Do they have to tell us if they intend to be at a different address? They have to attend police stations and register where they are. What do they do if they are symptomatic and away from home?”
She goes on, including on serving warrants and all the issues that our police have to face on a daily basis and which will increase. The Bill does not address those issues, but the Government absolutely have to address them.
The Bill includes provisions for regulators to register suitable healthcare professionals, such as nurses, midwives and paramedics, as well as social workers, including those who have recently retired or are on career breaks. To facilitate the return of experienced staff, we understand that rules that prevent retired NHS professionals working for more than 16 hours a week and which affect their pension entitlement have been suspended. However, procedures must be in place to ensure that background checks and other measures are fast-tracked. We must ensure that the well-being of these people is prioritised.
The Government will also be registering final-year nursing and medical students who are near the end of their training. These students have to be supported, supervised and properly remunerated. I absolutely back what the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, said about the debt that nurses face.
We recognise that it will be appropriate and necessary for doctors, nurses and other registered health professionals to work outside of the usual scope of their practice and specialisms, and that a far wider range of staff than usual will be involved in directly supporting Covid-19 patients with respiratory needs. The Bill includes indemnity provisions for those undertaking these services. However, it is vital that NHS staff working outside their usual scope of practice are trained in how to care for vulnerable patients. Can the Minister outline what training will be available, what it will entail and how many staff will need to be trained to use ventilators?
We also recognise that health staff will need to depart, possibly significantly, from established procedures to care for patients in highly challenging but timebound situations at the peak of an epidemic. Can the Minister advise what guidance will be issued to assist clinical staff to make these calls? Can he assure the House that they will be kept under constant review?
I echo and support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, about the importance of support for social enterprises. That is based on the role and importance that they have in the delivery of social care in this country. Can the Minister commit that he and his colleagues will meet with Social Enterprise UK and its colleagues to discuss this matter urgently?
The Bill also includes provisions for drafting in volunteers, which noble Lords have discussed, but we have to recognise that people with disabilities and chronic conditions often have some of the most complex care needs. It is very unlikely that volunteers will be able to provide the care that they need. We need reassurances that these people will continue to receive the appropriate care they need from professionals.
The Bill will allow NHS providers to delay undertaking the assessment process for NHS continuing healthcare for individuals being discharged from hospital until after the outbreak has ended. We understand that this will allow hospitals to discharge all in-patients who are clinically fit to leave without delay. Sir Simon Stevens has advised that this will potentially free up 15,000 acute beds. However, it is important that these measures are brought into operation for only the shortest possible time at the peak of the outbreak. The increased burden on social care services, already creaking before the pandemic, means that they will simply not be able to cope. We are concerned that the sector will be unable to cope. It is understandably a great worry for existing service users, who will know how dependent they are on the social care they receive daily.
There is huge concern about how domiciliary social care will cope during the crisis. It really is the front line of social care, with dedicated but low-paid care workers providing vital personal care services, visiting people in their homes daily, moving from client to client and providing the link with the outside world for people who depend on them, particularly if they are without family and care support. Can the Minister reassure us, for example, that the 15-minute visits will be extended to make sure that there is adequate time for a care worker to take the effective Covid-19 precautions as well as seeing to people’s needs, reassuring them and addressing any problems? What guidance has been issued on this?
Finally on social care, the risk to care and nursing homes with older people living in them cannot be overstated. There is a huge responsibility on managers and staff to keep the virus out. Does the Minister anticipate that care workers will be required to self-isolate with residents in the event of a quarantine or lockdown? I think it is obvious: if the pandemic takes hold in a care home, that care home could account for all the acute beds in that area, so it is a very serious problem indeed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, covered the waterfront on mental health issues. On the powers to detain and treat patients who need urgent treatment under the Mental Health Act, to be exercised using one doctor’s opinion rather than two if that proves impractical or would result in unhelpful delay, can the Minister just clarify for us what the thresholds are for impracticality and unhelpful delay? I think that was the only question the noble Baroness did not ask on this.
On deprivation of liberty, I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said. Also, pressure on care homes is already significant. The legislation—which the Minister was not involved in getting through the House, but many of us here were—is being carried through now, so this really increases the pressure on care home managers.
One of the side-effects of the Government’s Bill will possibly be to reduce access to terminations. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that this is a problem. The Minister and the Government really need to address that.
On supporting the public over domestic violence and abuse, the evidence suggests that domestic violence may increase during this time and that children are particularly vulnerable. What are the Government doing to recognise this? Are they improving funding to this sector? Are they considering the most vulnerable, including ensuring immediate funding as well as replacement income for refuges that have already had to close?
Turning to renters, it is clear that nobody should have to lose their home because of the virus and its impact. The Government have acknowledged that with their action on mortgage holidays, yet have failed to protect those in the rented sector. Despite suggestions otherwise, we believe that the Bill fails to legislate for a ban on evictions. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the Government intend to amend the Bill to this effect or to introduce further primary legislation. There seems to be an overwhelming case here. Some 20 million people in England rent, 6 million of whom have no savings whatever, so they are particularly vulnerable if they lose their job or have their hours cut as a result of this virus. Last week, Shelter estimated that 50,000 households could face eviction through the courts in the next six months, thereby creating yet another crisis. We therefore remain extremely concerned that a three-month pause on evictions will defer this crisis only to the end of that period because landlords will then demand the total arrears of three months’ rent from many tenants who may not have been able to work at all and certainly will not be able to pay.
I turn now to the homeless. The Government need to address the specific question of people who have no recourse to public funds. As noble Lords will know, people experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are especially vulnerable in this outbreak. They are three times more likely to experience chronic health conditions, including asthma and COPD, and many are unable to access healthcare or housing because they have no recourse to public funding and benefit restrictions. These people include those on appeals whose rights are exhausted, EU and EEA migrants, people with existing visas, those whose status is not regularised, domestic workers and other migrant workers, as well as the victims of trafficking and torture, so it is critical that this is resolved. It is in everyone’s interests that it should be resolved—if we have people on our streets who are either infected or infectious, that will put yet more strain on the NHS.
On income support, we need income protection for those in precarious forms of employment. Apart from anything else, it would stop them packing Tube trains. One reason the Tube is packed is that many people in very low-paid jobs have to get to work. Like other noble Lords, we remain concerned that the Bill fails to give many people the financial support they need to get through this crisis. They should not be expected to make the choice between their health and hardship. Several noble Lords have talked about the self-employed and they are absolutely right to do so. The Government need to look at the position of the self-employed in a generous way. The Government should also act now to assist millions of people through the universal credit scheme by increasing it, suspending sanctions and scrapping the five-week wait for the first payment. We await to hear what the Chancellor will announce on this as a matter of urgency.
The issue of food is important. Stockpiling is clearly taking place and it is happening because people are not reassured that there is enough food to go around. The most vulnerable are losing out, so the Government have to take this very seriously. We understand that military personnel might be brought in to help with food chain logistics. Can the noble Lord explain what their role would be? Additionally on our food supply, by this summer we will need some 80,000 seasonal workers to pick fruit and vegetables, so we will have to train a reliable workforce for that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, covered the issues affecting the lives of disabled people. The Government’s plans in the Bill for this crisis will roll back 30 years of progress for disabled people. While we may tolerate this for a short period, we cannot tolerate it for very long. All the years that we fought for disabled people’s right to social care are being eroded and undermined, along with their civil liberties and right to support. We need to put the noble Lord on notice that, particularly in this House, we will tolerate this for as short a period as possible.
I want to say a word about food banks, which are suffering from, or are in danger of suffering from, shortages. Here I pay tribute to some of our major retailers, the Co-op in particular, for ensuring that deliveries to FareShare schemes are going through. Today I saw a message from the manager of a Boots shop, complimenting the staff on dealing with a totally unacceptable level of abuse. Apparently, it happens particularly when they run out of Calpol. Such scenes are being repeated over and again in our shops and supermarkets, so I pay tribute to all their staff and managers, who are doing very hard jobs, along with other shopkeepers and indeed our farmers.
In conclusion, as my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said in his opening speech from these Benches, we lend our support to the Government to put this legislation on to the statute book without delay, but not without comment or scrutiny. This is just the beginning of the challenges of the crisis facing our nation and our democracy.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords enormously for their powerful contributions in this Second Reading debate on this important Bill. It is an incredibly technical Bill; it is nearly 400 pages long. It was drafted on the hoof, at pace and in quick time. Noble Lords have stored up an enormous number of extremely thoughtful and, at times, extremely technical questions; there have been literally hundreds of them in today’s proceedings. I will try my hardest to answer as many of them as I can and I will write to noble Lords where I can, but I emphasise to the Chamber that, given that we will go into recess shortly, my phone remains on for any noble Lords with questions about either the Bill or the ongoing Covid-19 arrangements. I very much want to stay in touch with noble Lords who have questions.
Despite isolation and social distancing, we embraced technological innovation and embarked on a large amount of engagement for the Bill. I thank very much all the parties who engaged on the Bill—the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who is not here, and their various parties and conventions—all of whom engaged in an extremely positive, constructive and important way. The tone adopted was a great example of Parliament coming together. I am very grateful and hope that that will continue during the Bill’s passage.
A number of noble Lords bore testimony to the hard work of NHS staff and those who work in social care. I want to take a moment to say thanks to those who work at Public Health England, without whom we would not be in the good shape that we are in, and who continue to provide incredibly important scientific and supporting work for our healthcare system. I also want to take a moment to say a word of gratitude to every single member of the staff of the House who is here despite the circumstances, as well as to the Bill team, which has literally moved mountains to pull together an incredibly complicated and long Bill in such a short time and done so with great humour and tolerance; huge thanks to them.
I want to use this speech, first, to update the House on a Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care earlier today. Ultimately, our goal is clear: we must slow the rate of transmission to protect the NHS. Our instructions are simple: stay at home. People should leave home for one of only four reasons: first, to shop for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible; secondly, to exercise once a day, for example a run, walk or cycle alone or with members of the same household; thirdly, for any medical need or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; fourthly, to travel to and from work but only when it cannot be done from home. Employers should take every possible step to ensure that remote working can happen. These four reasons are exceptions to the rule.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, asked about the powers to enforce the PM’s instructions regarding essential travel and gatherings. For England and Wales, they will be introduced by regulations under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The Coronavirus Bill will give Scotland and Northern Ireland similar regulation-making powers. As the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, these measures are intended to protect the NHS and our social care service, and to save lives. We have taken the right steps at the right time but the spread of coronavirus across the UK is accelerating more rapidly than was originally forecast. Therefore, it is right that this Bill gives all four UK Governments maximum legislative flexibility to reflect the unpredictable circumstances that we will face.
I was pleased to see widespread support in the Chamber from noble Lords for these measures; the measures will, first, increase the health and social care workface; secondly, they will ease the burden on front-line staff; thirdly, they will contain and slow the spread of coronavirus; fourthly, they will allow us to manage the deceased with respect and dignity; and, finally, they will support people in getting through the crisis. However, I assure all Members of this House that none of these powers is taken lightly. The powers that we take in this Bill are not powers that the Government planned to take, but they are absolutely necessary.
A number of noble Lords spoke about the “on and off” aspect of the powers. I want to reassure the Chamber that the Government will activate them only on the basis of scientific advice. Guided by the experts, we will look at the evidence and continually review the effect of these measures.
Many noble Lords pressed me on whether the necessary powers were in place to curtail the provisions in the Bill. To reiterate, such a power is already in the Bill. Most of the powers in the Bill can be suspended and revived by the Government as the science dictates. On top of this, we amended the Bill last night in the other place to allow us to terminate provisions at the six, 12 and 18-month points.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Bill achieves the right balance between the necessary powers alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the proportionality referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Robathan. I am grateful for the endorsement from my extremely learned friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who notes that the Bill is proportionate in the unparalleled circumstances that we face.
I thank those noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who raised the issue of the deprivation of liberty safeguards. We recognise that we have to strike a careful balance between the need to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society with preventing the spread of the virus. Therefore, we have decided not to alter deprivation of liberty safeguards in primary legislation. However, we think that we can achieve significant improvement to the process through emergency guidance. That will include making clearer when a deprivation of liberty safeguards authorisation is necessary, and the basis on which an assessment can be made, including, for example, phone or video calling for assessment. We are especially grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other experts, who have worked with us on this. On that note, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who has given sage advice on a number of highly technical and detailed aspects of the arrangements for lord commissioners. I cannot answer those points from the Dispatch Box right now, but I shall certainly take them home and reply to him in time.
This brings me to the Government’s ongoing work to keep the country running. My noble friends Lord Robathan and Lord Naseby spoke movingly about this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Bennett. They have all raised important points about how we will need to fortify our economy and ensure that it bounces back. As I explained in opening, there is a direct connection between the effectiveness of our healthcare measures and our ability to ensure that people can pay their bills and are not driven back to work. The Chancellor has outlined an unprecedented package of measures to protect millions of people’s jobs and incomes as part of the national effort in response to coronavirus. This Government’s response includes strengthening the safety net for the self-employed, who will benefit from a relaxation of the earnings rules under universal credit and deferring income tax self-assessment payments due in July 2020. We have always said that we will go further where we can, and we are actively considering further steps.
The noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Low, Lord Watson and Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, among others, raised the impact of the pandemic on schools and students. As a father of four children who are being home-schooled at the moment, I feel those questions personally. This Government have confirmed that exams will not go ahead this summer and that we will not publish performance tables. These decisions were not taken lightly. There will instead be a standardised grades process set by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation which will take into account a range of evidence including, for example, non-exam assessments and mock results. Ofqual is working urgently with the exam boards to set out proposals for how this process will work. I assure noble Lords that they will talk to teachers’ representatives before finalising an approach to ensure that it is as fair to students as possible. Furthermore, the Government will issue a statement shortly on what we will do more broadly to ensure that the teaching workforce is maintained.
I turn next to social care and support for the disabled and carers, which was rightly highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Grey-Thompson, who spoke incredibly movingly on her own behalf and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. A number of noble Lords expressed serious concerns about the state of the adult social care market to deal with these profound pressures. I assure noble Lords that these concerns are felt very meaningfully at the Department of Health. My colleague Helen Whately is a tireless champion and an effective administrator, who is bringing both money and expertise to bear on this subject.
I completely accept and take on board the testimonies we heard in the Chamber today. The challenge to social care is profound, and many of the anecdotes told and circumstances alluded to in this House are of paramount concern. The challenges we face are enormous. We know that local authorities and providers will do everything they can to continue to meet all needs. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, spoke movingly and persuasively about that challenge. But we cannot rule out the possibility that, in the coming period, they will need to take difficult decisions and may need to be able to focus their resources on prioritising accordingly to meet the most urgent needs. The inclusion of the Human Rights Act in these provisions is intended to underscore that, where local authorities need to prioritise care during the coming period, there is an absolute and unavoidable obligation on them to meet everyone’s human rights as an absolute minimum. We are developing guidance on how councils can use these powers in the best possible way. The Secretary of State will have powers to direct councils to comply with this.
We also intend to make changes to the current rules regarding entitlement to carer’s allowance for those who have had to take a break in care, so that they can continue to receive carer’s allowance. During the period of Covid-19, emotional support can also count towards the carer’s allowance care threshold of 35 hours a week.
On protecting the most vulnerable, I want to update the House on shielding, which was introduced yesterday. We are writing to up to 1.5 million of the most vulnerable people in the UK to advise them that they will need to shield themselves from the virus in the coming months. We will provide targeted support for all those who will need it, so that they have the food, supplies and medical care to make it through.
I will say a few words about housing, which was touched on by a number of noble Lords. What we are setting out in this Bill delivers on our commitment to protect tenants during the crisis. These measures will mean that landlords cannot start possession proceedings in court for an initial period of three months, providing tenants with a clearly defined breathing space in which they will not have to leave their home because of a new eviction procedure. This is a proportionate response that mirrors the three-month mortgage relief we are giving to landlords with mortgages. We also have the power to extend both the three-month notice period and the date these powers will end, and we are clear that we will use these powers if necessary. This legislation is one part of our package of support; it should not be seen in isolation. We have sought to ensure that tenants will still have income coming in so that they can continue to pay their rent, and additional legal protections for tenants are being introduced.
However, let us not forget that the cold-weather period is a particularly tough time for those sleeping rough, as was quite rightly highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. Given the grave situation, they quite rightly asked about the steps that the Government are taking to protect and support those who are most vulnerable and living on the streets. Some £1.6 billion of additional funding will go to local authorities to enable them to respond to Covid-19 pressures across all the services they deliver, including stepping up support for the adult social care workforce and for services helping the most vulnerable, including homeless people.
There is much more that can and will be done. Our work is continuing, our funding is increasing and our determination is unfaltering. I welcome the opportunity to meet Social Enterprise UK, an organisation that I am familiar with, and I will ask my personal office to arrange that.
Many noble Lords have asked about the justice system, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lords, Lord Hastings, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Scriven, and rightly so; given the way that people are treated in the justice system, this experience may have a profound effect on helping them to recover. In response to why there is no mention of prisons and probation in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asks, the Secretary of State has advised that powers exist that are considered sufficient for the needs in prisons and for the probation service at this time. Any decision on the release of prisoners would need to be made by the Lord Chancellor in agreement with the Prime Minister and would need to balance public protection considerations. Any decision to release individuals would also need to take into consideration the shared pressures faced by probation services.
Regarding the extremely delicate and important question of pregnant women, governors have been provided with guidance issued by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives on supporting pregnant women, and we will continue to provide updates on this. In addition to this, the prison group director for the women’s estate has issued advice on measures that can be used to enable implementation.
I turn to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who has made some important and pertinent points about abortion. We completely recognise that continued access to safe abortion services has to be a priority, and in early meetings she bore testimony to the challenge and stresses for women in that situation. That will mean that doctors have to work flexibly to ensure that certification can still take place in a timely way, and not to delay women in any way from receiving treatment. There is no statutory requirement for either doctor to have seen and examined the patient. Assessment can take place via telemedicine or webcam or over the phone; DHSC guidance is clear on this point. We are also clear that the doctors can also rely on information gathered by other members of the multidisciplinary team in reaching their good-faith opinion. For these reasons, we do not consider that changes to certification treatment for abortions should form part of the Bill.
I am sincerely grateful for the important contributions made by my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who asked what steps we have taken to ensure that there are no forced cremations for religious followers. This is a very delicate issue, and stakeholder engagement has been moving and persuasive. I reassure noble Lords that we are engaging with faith communities to make sure that contingency measures are designed with due consideration for different practices around managing the deceased.
Is my noble friend able to give me the guarantees that the community is looking for with regard to burial and cremation? They are looking for assurances and guarantees.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh spoke very movingly. The amendment agreed to in the Commons is, I believe, an extremely important step in the right direction. A huge amount of discretion is given to local councils to make arrangements with the communities that they know best. This is a set of decision-making that is best made at a local level, and for that reason I would prefer to leave it in the hands of the amendment and in the hands of the local councils. However, I want to be clear that faith communities will be involved in the drawing up of statutory guidance that will be issued before any direction affecting burial or cremation is issued. It is of the utmost importance during this difficult time that we continue to respect people of faith and their beliefs.
People across the United Kingdom have already responded heroically to this threat, as we knew they would, and it is clear from the quality of discussion that this House will do the same. I am frustrated that there are several noble Lords whose questions I have not been able to tackle; my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lords, Lord Bates and Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, are on my mind, and there are others who may also wish to stay in touch.
I want to be clear that the Bill is a necessary weapon in the fight against coronavirus. The Bill is a vital tool in our efforts to protect lives and, as this debate has shown, it commands broad support.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.