Peers hit out at ‘totally stupid’ Covid-19 rules and public blame game
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Boris Johnson’s Government was compared to a school teacher losing control of the class, as peers demanded to see evidence behind “totally stupid” Covid-19 restrictions.
A ban on singing, mingling and dancing in groups of more than six in pubs and restaurants came under fire in the House of Lords during a debate on the limits imposed on such venues across England.
Conservative former minister Lord Robathan warned ministers against blaming the public for rising Covid-19 infections and urged them to “not double down on failing policies”, but instead to look at the evidence rather than opinion polls.
He told the debate: “I’m sure noble lords when they were children, about 10 or 11 years old, had a teacher who couldn’t keep order in class.
“At my school he would stamp his little foot and say ‘If you don’t do as you’re told, I’ll keep you all in for a detention’.
“I say to (Business minister Lord Callanan), hard luck being dealt this hospital pass defending all these regulations.
“I see the Government now blaming the people and that really is not a good idea.
“We have these new measures, the Prime Minister finds them confusing as we know, I find them contradictory, draconian and very difficult to enforce.
“The question has to be are these regulations working? Well Leicester, near where I live, has been in lockdown for more than 100 days, the infections have gone up.”
Liberal Democrat Baroness Walmsley claimed there is “total chaos” due to a lack of simplicity in the rules, adding: “People have lost track, they have also lost trust in the legitimacy of the regulations because in some cases they appear to be totally stupid.”
Conservative peer Lord Cormack said black cab drivers have bemoaned the “chaos” caused by the 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants, before urging for clarity and consistency over the rules.
He also suggested involving peers and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in consultations over developing new rules, adding: “The country has got to be united, and if it isn’t united we will drift from a series of chaos to more chaos.”
Labour former cabinet minister Lord Blunkett added: “I have no expertise in the relative danger of playing rugby or gathering to shoot grouse compared with the best man dancing with his bridesmaid with whom he is already living with, or for that matter socially distanced tap dancing which people enjoy.
“But I do agree entirely with those who have asked for consistency, logic and common sense.”
Baroness Warsi, a Tory former minister, questioned why businesses which operate as restaurants and have several bookings of up to six people cannot have more than 15 people for a wedding reception.
She said many places say they are able to stop the mingling, singing and dancing, adding: “These premises are hosting large numbers for meals in a safe and socially distanced way on a daily basis as part of the restaurant service, so why not for a specific purpose?
Lady Warsi added: “I’d urge the minister to ask the Government to think again regarding numbers at socially distanced, seated wedding meals to ensure we stop many struggling businesses in the hospitality sector from simply permanently closing.”
Non-affiliated peer Lord Mann said: “If pensioners can tour this weekend in coaches, and that’s deemed safe and it is, then sports such as rugby league should be allowed to survive by having a socially distanced plan and getting some revenue in.”
Conservative Lord Naseby highlighted higher Covid-19 death rates for people aged over 60 and over 80, asking: “The question we have to think about is are all these lockdown measures really necessary or should we just be protecting the elderly with multiple morbidities and let everybody else try and get back to normal?”
The Labour frontbench demanded additional financial support for businesses affected by extra restrictions and greater scrutiny by Parliament of new rules.
Replying for the Government, Business minister Lord Callanan insisted there were “not draconian measures” in place.
He said “early data” suggests a “significant proportion of exposure to the virus is seen in the hospitality sector” as he responded to concerns over the 10pm curfew.
Lord Callanan also told peers: “We are seeing coronavirus cases rise across the entire country but they are rising faster in my home region of the north east, and the north west.
“We’re keeping the data under close review and we’re considering a range of further options to reduce the spread of the virus in order to protect communities and ultimately save lives.”