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Enforcement of Lockdown Regulations

Volume 817: debated on Tuesday 18 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the equality of treatment between different groups in respect of the enforcement of lockdown regulations by the police since spring 2020.

My Lords, we are clear that nobody should ever be subject to police enforcement based on their race, gender, ethnicity, age or any other protected characteristic. That is why the NPCC—the National Police Chiefs’ Council—has commissioned an independent analysis of fixed penalty notices issued to different demographic groups during the pandemic. The findings from this analysis will be published in due course.

I am grateful to the Minister for that, particularly after such a long night. Broad police powers, however well-intended, will inevitably lead to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. She makes the point about racial bias and I look forward to the fuller picture. Have the Government now gathered more complete data on differentials in enforcement of lockdown regulations? How much was directed at, say, small family picnics or peaceful protests, as opposed to unsafe places of work?

As I said to the noble Baroness in my first Answer, there is going to be more analysis of FPNs issued to different demographic groups. The outcome will be very interesting in all sorts of contexts—social and otherwise. Like her, I look forward to the findings from the analysis. In parallel to that, the HAC has published its report, The Macpherson Report: Twenty-two Years On, which raised the same concerns over disproportionality of FPNs.

My Lords, when the Prime Minister was holding a series of parties in No. 10, what were the police doing to enforce regulations?

My Lords, the ONS has recently published data that shows, after adjusting for age, that men and women of black ethnicity are four times as likely to die from Covid as people of white ethnicity. What steps are the Government taking to identify and then eliminate the causes of this very worrying disparity?

My Lords, my noble friend asks a pertinent question—that there is a disparity is not disputed. I know that the Ethnicity Subgroup of SAGE has done some work on this, both the year before last and last year. Factors include people’s jobs, and therefore their exposure to risk; household circumstances, such as more people in the house interacting; and financial difficulty in isolating. Vaccine hesitancy is an undoubted factor. The Government are giving financial help with things such as Covid support payments, but I think there is more to be gleaned. On people’s responses to Covid, maybe there is something in the physiology or make-up of different types of people—such as the cytokine storms that we talk about and inflammatory responses—that make them susceptible to more serious illness. I think some of that is yet to be uncovered.

My Lords, the sad thing is that any new regulations tend to have more impact on the black community. How will the Government make sure that equality means equality for all groups?

My Lords, the Government are obliged, when they do anything, to make sure that there is not a disproportionate effect on different communities. That requirement is placed on them under the public sector equality duties set out in Section 149 of the Equality Act and covers decisions with respect to the Government’s response to Covid-19.

My Lords, I think the whole House is relieved that the noble Baroness has not been present at No. 10 parties, but it is not a general rule that Ministers can answer questions only about events at which they were present. I wonder if she might possibly write to the noble Lord, Lord Watts.

I think I answered the noble Lord’s question. I was not there; I was not witness to any events that may or may not have happened. As the noble Lord will know—and yes, I do speak for the Government—Sue Gray is doing her review, and the outcome of that will be known in due course.

My Lords, on this very point, the question did not require the Minister to have been present to be able to answer it. The question that troubles some people is that the Metropolitan Police has already publicly said that it will not investigate anything but will wait to hear what Sue Gray says and that it is in contact with Sue Gray. The Metropolitan Police has police officers in Downing Street, both inside the building and outside. Surely it is legitimate to ask: are statements being taken from those officers by Sue Gray, and is the Metropolitan Police offering them to Sue Gray’s investigation, seeing as it is not investigating this itself?

The noble Lord asks a perfectly legitimate question. To that I would say that the police are operationally independent of government, but the review and the investigation will take their course.

Do the Government currently believe that there has been equality of treatment between different groups in respect of the enforcement of lockdown regulations by the police since spring 2020? If the Government do not believe that that has been the case, what action are they taking now to address that point?

As I said to noble Lords, there clearly has been a disparity, with BAME people more likely to have fixed penalty notices issued to them. As I said, the NPCC is going to analyse that in more depth, and will report in due course.

My Lords, given the differences in health status among the different minority groups in the country, with those in the most deprived areas staying healthy only into their early 50s while those in the wealthiest areas stay healthy until around the age of 70, will any assessment be made of the impact on those required to go out to work—to defy lockdown, perhaps—or to find other sources of support if, for example, they were lacking a private pension to tide them over to the ever-rising state pension age, which we were talking about in the previous Question? Lockdowns impose much more hardship on those in poor health, who have much lower resources. I would be grateful if my noble friend could write if she does not have the answer.

I might have part of an answer, which I addressed in an earlier question. I do not think there is any doubt that nervousness in isolating because of financial circumstances was both anecdotally a factor and found to be a factor in people not wanting to isolate because they needed the money. I talked about Covid support payments, but I am looking now to my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott. I admire my noble friend Lady Altmann for linking the previous Question to this one, but I am sure that my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott will be able to answer in more detail in due course.