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On Monday, October 12, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tier system for England in an attempt to make new coronavirus restrictions easier to understand:

He delivered a statement in Parliament and later addressed the nation. In the video clips below, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty is on the left and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is on the right:

These plans run for the next six months:

Earlier that day, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam presented an update. It is unnerving when SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) members make an announcement of upcoming health policy before the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. They did this on September 21 as well, against a Government backdrop. They have official permission to do so, but it is unsettling to see. It looks as if they are in charge. Perhaps they are.

Hmm.

I very much agree with this tweet about SAGE members who are physicians, such as the aforementioned three men (emphases mine below):

‘Drs’ go into epidemiology and PH because they want the same salary as the frontline grafters without the hours, stress or risk.

So, how accurate were Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming projections from September? Not very accurate at all, as many people in England suspected three weeks ago, and deaths are thankfully minimal compared to springtime statistics:

The SAGE members spoke on Monday morning. Boris addressed MPs that afternoon.

The Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, rightly pointed out that a Conservative government should let citizens make informed choices for themselves:

As Conservatives, we often speak of levelling up. However, now is the time to level with the British people. There is no silver bullet. All measures to stop the spread of covid have painful effects on our economy, social lives and mental wellbeing. Voices on the Opposition Benches believe that British people are incapable of understanding complex issues such as Brexit. The Conservative party is the champion of individuals’ rights to make autonomous decisions without state interference. Will the Prime Minister double down on our party’s historic commitment to invest greater trust in the individual to decide what is best for themselves?

Boris gave his standard communitarian response:

Indeed, and I hope that the individual will also recognise that the risk that we carry—he or she carries—is not just to ourselves, but to the whole of the community because, in the end, we are all potential vectors of this disease and we may bring it inadvertently to someone who is more vulnerable than ourselves. That is the risk. That is why we are bringing in these measures, why we have had the package of measures that we have had throughout this pandemic, and why we now need to intensify them in some local areas now.

Boris answered over 100 questions in two hours. The session ended just before 6 p.m.

He addressed the nation on television at 7 p.m.

The adjournment debate in Parliament that evening revealed that the National Health Service would be more aptly named the National Covid Service.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson, who represents Putney in south west London, spoke about the continued closure of the Urgent Care unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Excerpts follow:

In August 1997, Queen Mary’s Hospital, which is in Roehampton, ended its A&E service, and has since had a minor injuries unit, which the trust gave a gold-standard accreditation in November last year. So there is no A&E service in my constituency. The minor injuries unit was upgraded to an urgent treatment centre, with a GP added to the excellent nurse practitioner staff, earlier this year. In a normal year, the centre serves 16,000 to 18,000 people, so it is a vital service in our community.

During the peak of the pandemic, the decision was taken to temporarily close the service because of a lack of space for social distancing and to be able to adhere to Government guidelines, and also to move the staff to other areas that needed them more. The pharmacy for out-patients has only recently been closed, and at very short notice. Of course I understand, as do local residents, that changes had to made and that health services had to adapt. I fully appreciate that our NHS managers had to make some extremely difficult decisions on service provision as they faced the prospect of being overwhelmed, which they are now facing again, with the second wave. The continued closure makes us in Roehampton feel overlooked, and it is putting additional pressures on NHS services at Teddington, the walk-in centre at Kingston, St George’s Hospital A&E and local GP surgeries. I am concerned that this will cause untold long-term damage to the health and wellbeing of our community.

I have been asked, “What about the person with the dislocated shoulder, the chest pain, the allergic reaction?” They all need to be assessed and stabilised urgently, but at the moment they are being turned away. I have met the chief executive of the hospital trust and raised these issues. I asked her to assure me that the centre would be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so, but she has not confirmed when it will reopen, if at all. That is very worrying. I hope to hear from the Minister this evening that he will support the trust in making plans to reopen the walk-in urgent treatment centre. 

I would like briefly to explain the impacts that the closure is having on local people. Anyone who goes to where the minor injuries unit used to be is asked to travel far away to the Teddington walk-in centre, to Kingston A&E or to St George’s A&E in Tooting. Those bus journeys can take an hour, which can result in painful journeys or in many people not making the journey, not being seen and not being treated. I am sure the Minister will agree that an hour on public transport is an unacceptably long journey time when there is a really good hospital right there in Roehampton, but it is just not open for walk-in urgent care. One of my constituents wrote to me this week to say:

I took my elderly father, who is nearly 90 years old, to Queen Mary’s just over a month ago, because he had cut his fingers quite badly and they were bleeding. The kind staff there had helped us when my father had a similar problem last year and they knew how to bandage his fingers because he has very thin skin…Because the Centre was closed, we had to go all the way to Kingston Hospital which was quite stressful. While his treatment there was good, it would have been far easier if we could have gone somewhere more local to him as my father isn’t used to travelling that far.”

Also, some patients are unable to travel or should not travel. An example is patients with diabetic foot ulcers, who should keep their activity to a minimum to allow ulcers to heal. At the same time, if they have an infection, it needs treating immediately as it could deteriorate rapidly leading to the need for amputation. That is one group of patients who are not getting the care they need because the urgent treatment centre and the pharmacy are not open. There is an obvious health risk to people needing to travel further if they are seriously ill.

There is also an increased risk of covid infection through asking people to travel greater distances by public transport during the pandemic, especially when they are unwell or chronically ill. They could have an underlying condition, which might be the reason they are going to the urgent care centre in the first place. That would make them more susceptible to the effects of covid-19. Closing the pharmacy is having the effect of delaying patients receiving treatment, as they are now being referred to their GP by the clinics. If they cannot immediately get an appointment with their GP, this can lead to delays of up to 48 hours before starting their treatment. That is another impact.

There is also a knock-on effect on services in other places. The fact that 16,000 to 18,000 people a year used to be treated at Queen Mary’s is putting pressure on St George’s and Kingston, along with the increasing demand at the momentGP surgery appointments are already at a premium, and this demand will only worsen as the difficult winter months approach. Even before the pandemic, it was reported that over 11 million patients had to wait more than 21 days for a GP appointment. In my constituency, there are 14 main surgeries and three branch practices. My team has called round all the local GP services. Several are still only doing appointments over Zoom, and in one local medical centre, a member of staff begged for the urgent care centre to reopen due to the pressure its closure is causing for GP surgeries.

Increased demand for overstretched GP surgeries with finite resources ultimately means fewer local people’s conditions or illnesses receiving treatment, and even more concerningly, serious and urgent illnesses such as cancer being missed and going undiagnosed. It is cancer diagnosis that I am particularly concerned about. As the Minister knows, lots of cancers are diagnosed when people present at hospital with a symptom. With the doors of the urgent treatment centre still closed, many cancers that might otherwise have been spotted will have been missed

Edward Argar, Minister for Health, responded on behalf of the Government:

… I am conscious that the trust has yet to set out a firm commitment to a reopening date, but I join the hon. Lady in saying that I hope it will set out its future plans as soon as possible. I am conscious that she has met the trust’s chief executive, Jacqueline Totterdell, to discuss these issues and plans for the reopening of the urgent treatment centre. Although that reopening date is still to be confirmed, I understand that the trust and local commissioners are undertaking work to agree a new covid-secure model of care before reopening, which is the right approach.

The hon. Lady highlighted not only the urgent treatment centre but its role in helping early diagnosis and treatment of cancers. I completely understand and recognise her concerns about the impact of the pandemic on cancer services and the importance of ensuring that cancers do not go undiagnosed. The NHS is working to restore the full operation of all cancer services, with local delivery plans being delivered by cancer alliances. Systems will be working with GPs and the public locally to increase the number of people coming forward and being referred with suspected cancer to at least pre-pandemic levels—I will come on to the performance of her local trust in a moment.

To support that, systems will help to ensure sufficient diagnostic capacity in covid-19-secure environments, through the use of independent sector facilities and the development of community diagnostic hubs and a rapid diagnostic centre. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that diagnostic capability is a considerable challenge, not least because, to put it perhaps a little bluntly, many diagnostic tests are very close and personal, and the equipment used is intimate in terms of looking inside the human body. The cleaning and infection control measures that are necessary between each patient make it challenging to see as many patients as would have been the case before the pandemic.

That last sentence worried my far better half, who asked, ‘Does that mean they weren’t cleaning between patients before coronavirus?’

After discussing cancer services, Argar discussed the Urgent Care pharmacy in question:

The hospital pharmacy is absolutely vital for people being able to have timely access to the medicines they need and being able to get them on site. Although people using it will have been treated and advised in hospital, they can none the less get very helpful advice from the pharmacy as well, so I share her view about the importance of that. As I have said, I include that in my offer to her—to discuss that with her and with the chief executive. I will endeavour to do that later this week …

I simply reiterate that I share the hon. Lady’s view that, where services for perfectly good and legitimate clinical reasons have been temporarily closed or altered, it is extremely important that they are reopened as soon as trusts are able to do so and, where in the future any changes are proposed, that they are subject to the usual full public consultation, engagement and consideration. I do not want to see temporary measures becoming permanent by default, and she can read that as perhaps an expression of my view on what is happening in Roehampton

I hope that I have been able to offer the hon. Lady some reassurances today. I thank her for securing the debate, and I very much look forward to meeting her

Fleur Anderson was reassured. I hope that Queen Mary’s Hospital gets back to full service soon.

The content of that debate was alarming.

Apologies for the digression, but this is the state of play for the NHS, or should I say NCS, not only in Roehampton but all over the nation. It is an absolute shambles.

Tuesday, October 13 — the almighty SAGE, no evidence needed

On Tuesday, October 13, Treasury Minister Steve Barclay laid out the Chancellor’s expanded plans for financial support during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

The 10 p.m. curfew for pubs was also voted on later that day.

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP representing Central Devon, asked for scientific evidence about the curfew:

My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have done a great deal to support the economy, but there has to be a careful balance struck between protecting against the virus and avoiding further economic destruction. With that in mind, what scientific evidence has the Treasury received that closing pubs at 10 pm gets that balance right?

Steve Barclay did not answer the question and inadvertently pointed out SAGE’s woefully inaccurate modelling (see graph at the top of the post):

We have to balance the evidence that the Government receive from a range of quarters. My right hon. Friend will recall that when the initial advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was put forward, the Government came forward with a range of measures, such as the rule of six and the curfew. Indeed, if we look at the projections that were made at that time, we see that we could potentially have had 49,000 or so daily cases by 14 October when in actual fact the figure on that date was 12,872. That indicates the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had an influence. However, listening to the SAGE advice, it is recognised that we need to go further and that is why the tiered approach has been set out.

Mike Wood (Con, Dudley South) sounded the alarm about pubs in his West Midlands constituency:

A tenth of pubs have not reopened since lockdown in March while two thirds were already trading at a loss, even before restricted opening times, mandatory table service and the new restrictions announced yesterday. Will my right hon. Friend look at the support that is available for pubs that are not yet compelled to close, but are legally prevented from operating economically, and in particular state aid limits that threaten to prevent 10,000 pubs from receiving the support they need? Without that support, many thousands of pubs will close their doors and never reopen.

Barclay responded:

Ultimately, that is why the Chancellor set out the wider package of support, recognising the concerns he speaks of with the tax deferrals, the loans, the business rate support and the measures on VAT, which are targeted at the sector because of the very real concerns he correctly articulates.

Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) asked for evidence that compels swimming pools and gyms to close in some areas under the new restrictions:

Is there any specific evidence that swimming pools and gyms are centres for covid transmission? Has any research been done into rising obesity and unfitness levels, and has any research been done into rising unemployment caused by the closure of gyms and pools that is now happening in parts of the UK?

Barclay reiterated that those sectors were part of the reason for the Chancellor’s expanded support package. Again, he could not provide any scientific evidence:

In some ways, that is slightly more of a Health question than a Treasury question, but I recognise that there is read-across from those businesses into the economy. In short, the opinion of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific officer is that those businesses do carry significantly more risk, which is why they have been harder hit in the guidance that has been issued.

What if it turned out that Whitty and Vallance were as wrong about that as they are with their astronomically mistaken ‘case’ projections?

I fully agree with the assessment of Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough):

It is not surprising that more and more Members are calling for more Government support, because the Government are forcing more and more businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, out of business. The Chief Secretary says that his priority is to help business. The best way to help businesses is to let them get on and do business. We are going bankrupt as a nation—there will not be the money to pay for the NHS or pensions. What is the Treasury doing to row back against other parts of the Government and insist that we must allow British business to operate? He did not answer the question from the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—what is the scientific evidence for pubs closing at 10 o’clock? Is he leading the fight to help Britain to stay in business?

Barclay replied:

With respect, I did answer it. I pointed to the projection given by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser at that time, the SAGE guidance and the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister has resulted in a lower infection risk. The CMO and others would recognise that this is a range of measures. My right hon. Friend says that the Government have gone too far and that there is no evidence for the curfew. The tenor of most of the questions one gets is that we have not moved far enough and should be taking more drastic actions. That speaks to the fact that this is a balanced judgment. One needs to look at the range of measures we are taking, and that is what I would refer him to.

After that, MPs debated then voted on all the new coronavirus measures. All passed, including the 10 p.m. curfew for pubs across the nation.

Matt Hancock delivered the statement which opened the debate.

He took strong exception to the Great Barrington Declaration:

Some people have set out this more relaxed approach, including those in the so-called Great Barrington declaration. I want to take this argument head on, because on the substance, the Great Barrington declaration is underpinned by two central claims and both are emphatically false. First, it says that if enough people get covid, we will reach herd immunity. That is not true. Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, such as measles, malaria, AIDS and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to covid, even if everyone caught it. Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we cannot.

Well, not all of us get flu every year, and, in the wide scheme of things, COVID-19 has a 99% survival rate.

I agree with Hancock’s second point about the impossibility of isolating older members in multi-generational households.

However, overall, Hancock really is in thrall to SAGE. They must be relishing the power they have over him:

John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) asked a simple question:

How long do the scientists think we will need these lockdowns for, and what is their exit plan?

Hancock had no real answer. The one he gave proves that lockdowns do not work. So much for SAGE advice:

We have seen the exit plan from local lockdowns. For instance, in Leicester, where we had a firm local lockdown, the case rate came right down. We lifted that and we have sadly seen it start to rise again. The case rate is determined by the amount of social mixing, and it reduces during a lockdown. In some parts of the country where the case rate has continued to rise, there is an argument for further ensuring that we do not reach the level of contact that is at the root of the virus spreading. The challenge is how to calibrate the lockdown to get the virus under control while doing the minimum damage to the economy and to education.

Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) pointed out the futility of a 10 p.m. curfew, as everyone pours out into the street and onto public transport at the same time:

The Secretary of State talks about a regulation on pubs closing at 10 o’clock, which has been in force for four weeks. There may be some undoubted positives for health, but we see some negatives with people amassing together on public transport and in the streets. Do the positives outweigh the negatives, as far as the science is concerned?

More waffle from Barclay, I’m sorry to say.

You can see some of Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth’s reply to Barclay in the video below. Ashworth says that the Government have not gone far enough, even if he opposes another full lockdown, or circuit-breaker, as it is now called.

The debate continued.

Addressing Matt Hancock, Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Southwest Wiltshire), who is a physician, cautioned him against being closed-minded and advised looking at other voices in the medical world, including those of those who say that lockdown serves little purpose and should be confined to the vulnerable only:

I support these restrictions with a heavy heart. On balance, I will be supporting the Government this evening, but I want to make just a few quick points.

I would be very careful about subscribing to the Vallance/Whitty orthodoxy that informed these regulations, while not at all examining very carefully respectable bodies of medical opinion to the contrary. I would cite particularly the Heneghan/Sikora/Gupta line. It is important that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team address those things head-on and treat them with the respect that they deserve

We need to be careful about groupthink, confirmation bias, a thin evidential basis and uncertainty masquerading as certainty. There is a huge margin of uncertainty with all this, and we all need to develop a level of humility in our attitudes towards dealing with this crisis. That is why I shall be supporting the Government this evening …

In all this, we simply do not know and we are learning all the time. We have to accept, I think, the expertise of those advising Ministers and that we have experts for a reason, but there is an alternative view. Unless we get a vaccine—goodness me, I hope we do—I think we may find that the cure is worse than the disease in terms of lives lost directly to covid, incidental lives lost to other common diseases—stroke, heart attack and particularly cancer—loss of liberty, loss of livelihood and the compete trashing of our economy. That is what is at stake. I do not envy the Secretary of State in his work.

Labour’s John Spellar (Warley) made excellent points. I agree with every one of them:

There is a huge principle to be debated here. At the heart of it is the false dichotomy posed again by the Secretary of State today between hospitality and the economy and jobs, as though hospitality were not part of the real economy and millions of jobs did not depend on it. Tell that to the workers and businesses owners in pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafes, hotels and wedding venues, theatres and cinemas, betting shops, bingo halls and casinos and gyms, all of which are facing really hard times and challenges. They are facing closures, ruin and job losses on a massive scale. At the same time, as we heard earlier, Treasury support is weakening and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only losing the cost of support but suffering a major loss of revenue.

Unfortunately, the approach seems to be driven less by deep analysis and more by the dreaded doctrine of “something must be done”. This is something; therefore we must do this irrespective of proportionality, outcome or impact. But this time it is even worse. It seems to be “something needs to be seen to be done” without any cost-benefit analysis or considering the impact on a beleaguered industry and a workforce facing mass redundancies. Accordingly, I and many other Members are unclear about the basis, either at a local or national level, of these proposals. The Chief Secretary talked earlier of anecdotes. I want a bit more than anecdotes.

Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, rightly said on Radio 4 today that a far better way than closures and curfews is to give powers to local councils to take rapid action to shut down non-compliant venues. In my authority of Sandwell, which has an enviable contact rate of 85% led by the excellent public health director Dr McNally, we have had one case linked to a hospitality venue, and that was early on in the pandemic in a pub in Smethwick. The Express & Star, our evening newspaper, investigated and found that across the Black Country, which is home to 1.25 million people, there have been just 10 such incidences of covid, again all early in the pandemic.

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State did not give an indication of how long he thinks this can go on. It could last almost indefinitely unless we develop a vaccine, an event that, as the Prime Minister candidly admitted yesterday, is uncertain and would not be 100% effective. One of the tests of an exit strategy is considering how we contain the virus if we are not able to eliminate it, as we have had to do with major diseases throughout history and as many of parts of the world still have to do today.

Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe) brought up the economic damage done and his support for the Great Barrington Declaration. He said that the Government must find a middle way:

three problems. The first is that a vaccine may not come. The second is that a vaccine may not be effective. The third is that all this is propped up on quantitative easing and ultra-cheap credit. Indeed, now we are reading in the newspapers about negative interest rates, and this is why I declared the interest. I think you have to have a peculiarly high level of economic education to believe that we can head towards £745 billion of QE and ultra-low or negative interest rates and that all this will not be a problem. I will not say any more about it. I think it will be a problem, and it is precarious indeed that the Government’s strategy is propped up on such a monetary policy

Personally, I think that privately the Government are a little more optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned, but here is the thing: even suppose the Government had vaccinated the public with a successful, safe vaccine by Easter or possibly the summer, that still leaves our economy and Government spending propped up on ultra-cheap credit. The problem with that is that the Bank of England has told us on the Treasury Committee that if inflation comes in it will have to, under its mandate, fight inflation. That would effectively mean pulling the plug on Government spending. This is precarious indeed …

For the reasons that I have given, I am convinced that the Government must find an alternative strategic plan between the Great Barrington declaration and where we are today.

All Government measures passed in the votes that night.

Labour’s mixed messages

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow cabinet are all over the shop.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Ashworth opposed a national lockdown, while saying that the Government were not going far enough with measures:

However, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced on national television that he wants a national lockdown, as Guido Fawkes points out (emphases in the original):

Why does Keir Starmer support imposing a national lockdown on areas with low Covid incidence whilst opposing regional lockdowns on areas with high Covid incidence? Whatever side of the argument you are on, surely it is clear that being on both sides of the argument at the same time makes no sense logically? Unless it is pure political opportunism…

Ashworth said, rightly that a national lockdown “would be disastrous for society… but I don’t believe anyone in the house is proposing that…” Hours later Starmer proposed precisely that…

Tiered lockdown: public money from taxpayers or private enterprise?

In closing, this is what is allegedly happening in Essex, which is just to the east of London. This is puzzling, because Essex has low positive test rates.

Adam Brooks is a publican:

Essex Council deny that money is involved. The councillor giving the following statement said that the Council is doing it for health, not financial, reasons:

Fair enough.

The leader of the Council issued this video announcement, which was not well received by Essex residents (read the replies):

Essex aside, on the subject of lockdown money, Laura Dodsworth has written a lengthy article for Spiked, ‘There’s a financial incentive for councils to lock down’.

She stands by her article:

She explains that Liverpool Council made sure they received commitment to a financial package from the Government before entering Tier 3:

Liverpool mayors Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson said that they did not agree with some aspects of the Tier 3 lockdown, but were aware that government would bring in rules ‘with or without them’. And so rather than argue forcefully against lockdown, they negotiated to secure the best financial package possible.

This policy is not without its drawbacks:

The new funding package for councils is designed to alleviate the pain of lockdown, to sugar the pill. But the structure of the funding might end up providing local authorities with the ingredients to make lockdown cake indefinitely. It is specifically intended to support more testing, including door-to-door testing, sometimes with help from the military. But more testing leads to more cases. More cases lead to more lockdowns.

the funding is also going towards enforcement of lockdown regulations and self-isolation, which there are fines for breaching. That, in turn, raises more funds – the revenue from fixed-penalty notices, whether they are issued by local police, environmental-health officers or new Covid marshals, goes into local-authority coffers. In theory, the lockdown fixed-penalty fines should be going straight back into public health (as littering fines would go towards the environment). But, in reality, revenue from fines is not always that well ring-fenced in local authorities.

Liverpool Council is nearly broke:

Back in April, Liverpool council warned it was facing bankruptcy. It’s easy to appreciate that local leaders are anxious to secure funds to deal with the ongoing lockdown crisis. I am not suggesting that councils and local politicians would make calculated decisions to push areas into lockdown. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This financial model has the potential to become a vicious circle. Seasoned disaster-planner Lucy Easthope tells me: ‘There is a tendency in reactive disaster funding to create dependency and to actively avoid thinking through the long-term harms and over-reliance [on emergency funds].’

Allegedly, London is likely to be next:

It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the months to come. I hope that the Treasury have terms and conditions attached to this funding.

The end of the road for England’s pubs?

Since the smoking ban in 2007 and the financial crisis the following year, the number of pubs decreased from 50,000 to 39,000 in the UK. That was as of 2018.

Because of the earlier lockdown this year, more have no doubt closed — for good.

The new coronavirus regulations began on Wednesday, October 14:

Below is a video of the ‘last hurrah’, as my parents’ generation would have called it, in Liverpool, before Tier 3 regulations set in.

Regardless of what one thinks of the video, according to the pie chart, when workplaces and schools/universities are factored in, according to Public Health England, hospitality accounts only for 3 per cent of coronavirus ‘case’ sources:

Not all pubs have to close, but in order to stay open, they must serve ‘a substantial meal’, as in New York City. A packet of crisps or pork scratchings will not do. The Pub Curmudgeon said that the Government have not precisely defined the term ‘substantial meal’, which could be problematic.

Meanwhile, Adam Brooks, the aforementioned publican from Essex, has given an interview to Spiked:

More to come tomorrow on how his business has fared during the coronavirus crisis.

Once again, coronavirus measures featured strongly in this week’s debates in the House of Commons.

Yesterday’s post explained that a compromise was reached over the proposed Brady Amendment and covered the subsequent debate on the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

In the end, only a handful of MPs voted against the extension. Congratulations to them and to the Liberal Democrats, all of whom voted No:

The Labour MPs were Dawn Butler, Kevan Jones, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John Spellar, Graham Stringer and Derek Twigg. I do have a particular admiration for Graham Stringer who adds lucidity in every discussion in which he participates. I’ve seen him in Select Committee hearings and he’s brilliant.

Below is a review of coronavirus debates from the other days.

Monday, September 28

Steve Baker (Con) was in rebel mode on his way to the Commons that morning:

In the afternoon, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock appeared at the despatch box for a debate on COVID-19 measures.

He received several interventions (interruptions).

Sir Edward Leigh (Con) was the first. He also mentioned Sir Graham Brady of the eponymous amendment (emphases mine below):

If the first duty of Government is to keep people safe, will the Secretary of State remember that the first duty of Parliament is to hold Government to account? I know that he wants to take public opinion with him, but will he therefore reassure us that he is also determined to take Parliament with him? In that respect, may I urge him to meet with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) and come to a compromise to ensure that, if there are further national lockdowns, Parliament will be fully involved in the process?

He agreed, but note the ‘where possible’ in his reply:

We are looking at further ways to ensure that the House can be properly involved in the process—in advance, where possible. I hope to provide the House with further details soon. I will take up the invitation to a further meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), whom I have already met to discuss this matter, to see what further progress can be made. I hope that that, for the time being, satisfies my right hon. Friend.

Mark Harper and Steve Baker, both Conservatives, hit the nail on the head.

Harper said:

To develop the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), I accept the points about scrutiny that the Secretary of State makes, but it is about not just scrutiny but the laws we are making. The laws that came in at midnight, for example, were 12 pages of laws, with lots of detail, criminal offences and duties not mentioned when they were set out in a statement last week. That includes duties on employers, directors and officers, with serious criminal penalties. We need to scrutinise the detail of the legislation before it comes into force and give our assent, and not, I am afraid, just allow the Secretary of State to put it into force by decree.

Hancock batted that away, as if it were nothing:

Of course, sometimes in this pandemic we have to move fast. Sometimes we have had to move fast, and we may need to do so again. The challenge we have in this House is how to ensure proper scrutiny while also being able, when necessary, to move fast in response to the virus. That is the challenge that collectively we all face.

Steve Baker dismissed that answer with facts but had to couch it, knowing how thin-skinned Hancock is:

I reassure my right hon. Friend that I am going to praise him later, but the Constitution Unit at University College London tweeted earlier about the regulations mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) that

this policy was briefed to the media 8 days ago. Was it really not possible to schedule proper, detailed parliamentary debate during that time, given the far-reaching consequences?”

It added:

“Given the current mood, it seems very likely MPs will ask this.”

Well, I am asking. Surely it was possible, in eight days, to have the debate that my right hon. Friend has called for.

Hancock replied that both he and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had made statements about the new laws the week before.

Labour’s John Spellar, who voted against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, pressed Hancock on the issue:

It is nice to be informed, nice to be consulted and nice to be able to scrutinise, but in the end it is about who decides. Can the Secretary of State explain why he is so against Parliament’s making the decision, even if he argues for urgency and immediacy —within two days, for example—to either confirm or revoke those regulations? Why is he against Parliament’s being the one that finally decides on this? It is quite clear that this is not even being decided in Cabinet, but just by one or two Cabinet members. Let Parliament decide.

Hancock said he hoped to find a way forward.

Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, replied on behalf of Labour.

This was an excellent debate, one worth reading in full. A few more highlights follow.

John Spellar pointed out that a vaccine would give no guarantees:

There has been much mention of the success of a vaccine, but, first, it is unclear when that is likely to be and, secondly, surely even if we have a vaccine, it will not be 100% effective.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) gave the best speech of the debate — a must-watch at just under two minutes:

He took exception to Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance’s televised presentation the week before with a graph that strained credulity. They took no questions from the press. No government minister was present, either, even though they sat in front of a No. 10 backdrop.

Swayne rightly railed about it and them:

Less than a year ago, I celebrated what I thought was the election of a sceptical and liberal Conservative Administration. Now, I am left wondering if the Prime Minister has not been abducted by Dr Strangelove and reprogrammed by the SAGE over to the dark side.

The purpose of politicians is to impose a sense of proportion on science and not to be in thrall to it. I will make myself very unpopular, but I believe that the appearance of the chiefs last week should have been a sacking offence. When they presented that graph, it was with the caveat that it was not a prediction, but nevertheless it was clear that they presented it as a plausible scenario, with its 50,000 cases per day by mid-October based on the doubling of infections by the week. Not on one day since March have there been infections on a day that were double that of the same day of the week preceding—not once. Where did this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph? It was the purpose of the fat boy in “The Pickwick Papers”:

“I wants to make your flesh creep.”

It was “project fear”. It was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they had not been terrified enough.

I have been banging on about this since March, and with every criticism I have made, I have been told that the Government were relying on the best possible science. So I was delighted by the letter one week ago today with the nuanced criticism of Professors Heneghan, Gupta and Sikora. I believe that the Government now have to answer that criticism. I am glad that the consensus in the scientific community is broken and the critics are speaking out.

I do not underestimate for one moment the horrible nature of this disease and its post-viral syndrome, but in terms of the United Kingdom’s killers, it is 24th in the league, accounting for only 1.4% of deaths. As a consequence, I believe the Government’s policy has been disproportionate. By decree, they have interfered in our private and family lives, telling us whom we may meet, when we may meet them and what we must wear when we meet them. We have the cruelty of elderly people in care homes being disoriented, unable to see the faces of their loved ones or to receive a hug. We have the tsunami of deaths that we may experience shortly as a consequence of undiagnosed cancers and heart disease, and the discontinuation of clinical trials.

He praised Sweden’s lack of lockdown and compared the Government’s warning about Christmas celebrations to Cromwell, who, as Lord Protector, also banned the holiday:

All sorts of criticisms are levelled against the Swedish Government that, on examination of the data and comparing like for like, are without foundation. I certainly hold up the Swedish model as an alternative.

We have seen the eye-watering costs that we must now all face for a generation, having closed down our economy for all those months as a consequence of the Government’s policy. We face the crushing of enterprises, the destruction of livelihoods, and unemployment among young people, all as a consequence of an overreaction. I understand that there is now some question as to whether students will be allowed to return from university at Christmas. I say most gently to the Minister that the last Administration that sought to restrain celebrations at Christmas was during the Commonwealth, when the Lord Protector was left musing in public whether, if he were to arm one in 10, that would be enough. How many marshals will be required?

I conclude by saying that the policy of the Government has been disproportionate in response to this threat. There may be a virus one day that threatens our very way of life, but this is not it, even if we are behaving as if it were.

In other news, people in England were deeply unhappy to discover that, while they are under 10 p.m. closing time for pubs and restaurants, Parliament’s bar and restaurant were allowed to stay open past that hour.

Guido Fawkes reported that a U-turn took place. The exemption was initially made because both are considered as a ‘workplace canteen’, as sittings in both the Commons and the Lords occasionally run into the night. Now, at least, alcohol will not be served after the witching hour:

Tuesday, September 29

The 10 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants in England has rankled both proprietors and the public to the extent that the Mojo Bar in Manchester has banned all MPs until the curfew is cancelled:

Guido Fawkes had more details (emphasis in purple mine):

After five days of the disastrous mandatory 10 pm closing time policy for bars, pubs, and restaurants, Mojo Bar in Manchester is taking matters into its own hands. Clearly fuming at the counterproductive curfew order imposed this week, the bar took to social media to share pictures of all MPs – declaring none of them will be served until the curfew is cancelled. Clearly the management know which strings to pull to get the attention of MPs…

Managing Director Martin Greenhow tells Guido that the eye catching policy came about “from frustration and fear”. Before the curfew the bar had bounced back pretty strongly from lockdown, back up to 85% of normal turnover. After the curfew was imposed it’s down to just 20%.

Good grief! Stop the madness.

The coronavirus restrictions in England became so complicated that ministers, including Boris, could not keep them straight any more.

Gillian Keegan, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, had a rough start in the morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today:

Guido had more (emphases in the original):

… she was unable to clarify the newly-imposed rules in the northeast on meeting other families, squirming “no, I’m sorry I can’t clarify that… no I don’t know the answer to that question”, claiming she couldn’t answer the ever-increasingly complex regulation question because she’s “not from the northeast”. Mishal Husain correctly pointed out Keegan, as a minister, couldn’t understand the new rules, what hope does the general population have of being able to stick to them…

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, also appeared on BBC radio that morning. He took issue with their ‘gotcha’ tactics:

Boris, too, got tripped up around lunchtime. He was asked to clarify Gillian Keegan’s answer on Today:

Guido reported:

Responding to a Channel 5 question, Boris said:

“Outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside and six outside, in those areas such as the North East where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of local authorities, but it’s six in a home or in hospitality but as I understand it, not six outside. That’s the situation there.”

Which is precisely the opposite of what the new restrictions say, as the Government announced last night:

“Measures will be brought into law restricting inter-household mixing in indoor settings, including pubs and restaurants”

So in indoor settings no household mixing. Outdoor can see household mixing. Something the PM got 180 degrees the wrong way round…

He quickly issued an erratum early in the afternoon:

Wednesday, September 30

In the debate on extending the Coronavirus Act 2020, another highlight was Conservative MP Charles Walker’s speech. He was on fire:

He said:

I first thank the Secretary of State for everything he has done to get us to this stage tonight, but 90 minutes to debate the renewal of an Act that has fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship between the state and citizens is not good enough. If this is the portent of the promises to come, it is not good enough. I need, at some stage, more than three minutes to discuss the fundamental hardships that are going on in my constituency—the jobs that are being lost, the opportunities that are being lost, the young people struggling to find work, to get back to university and to come back from university. Ninety minutes is an utter, utter disgrace. It is actually disrespectful to this House and it is disrespectful to colleagues.

I am sorry, Secretary of State, if I sound—actually, I am not sorry that I am angry, because a lot of people in this place are angry. We want to see this virus beaten, of course we do, but it would be nice—just nice—if this House were shown some respect.

Charles Walker is the vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee, which Sir Graham Brady chairs. It represents backbench Conservative MPs.

Walker’s righteous anger has been building since September 10:

I note that Steve Baker did not vote against the extension of the Coronavirus Act 2020, despite a bold interview days before on Sky News.

Despite that, he still has his eye on the ball. He retweeted this from Italy:

And he’s doing more interviews:

We really do need to reopen the economy in full — now.

Next week, I’ll have a wrap-up of the final debates of the Brexit-oriented Internal Market Bill.

This week, the UK government’s scientific advisers and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that new, stricter coronavirus measures would come into effect on Thursday, September 24.

On Monday morning, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance presented their latest figures, which looked as if they must have come (once again) from Prof Neil Ferguson, they are that exaggerated. You can see the graph further down in my post:

This is utter madness, reminiscent of the WMD days when Tony Blair told us that a WMD could reach our shores within 45 minutes:

Their presentation, given against a No. 10 backdrop, had the purpose of preparing the public for Boris Johnson’s announcements on Tuesday. They took no questions.

They showed graphs of where Spain and France are, with an uptick in ‘cases’. Again, that means positive test results, most of which do not require hospitalisation.

Strangely enough, the Rule of Six only came in on Monday. Let’s let it bed in for a few days, fellas, before taking more measures. They’re doing exactly what they did in March, though. On March 16, new measures came in. On March 23, we had lockdown.

The Rule of Six is a Belgian tactic that SAGE thought would work in England. As such, they recommended it to the Government.

Perhaps this is the reason the two scientists did not mention Belgium once in their presentation:

I am glad someone will be tracking the progress of the projections over the next few weeks:

On Tuesday, Boris addressed Parliament and gave a short address that evening, televised to the nation.

In short:

– Pubs and restaurants must close by 10 p.m.

– They must offer table service only.

– All retail workers in hospitality settings must wear masks, along with customers, unless they are eating or drinking.

– Fines for breaking the Rule of Six or not wearing a face covering will result in an initial fine of £200, up from £100, for a first offence.

– Indoor five-a-side football matches have been banned.

– Wedding attendance has been reduced from 30 to 15; funeral attendance remains capped at 30.

– Police are allowed to call the military to fulfil office duties and/or to guard protected sites, leaving the police more capacity to fight crime.

– The plan to return a limited number of fans to sports stadia on October 1 is now postponed indefinitely.

The Daily Mail has a comprehensive article, including Boris’s transcript, on the scathing reactions from police and business owners, particularly publicans. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber said that this could sound the death knell for commercial theatre.

The Telegraph‘s Matt has this take on Army assistance:

The chances of that happening are very low:

The sad thing is that only five per cent of COVID-19 infections occur in a hospitality environment!

The Government and SAGE know this — yet they pressed on with restrictions!

The Daily Mail reported (emphases mine):

Public Health England data reveals that of the 729 outbreaks in the week to September 13only five per cent occurred in food outlets such as restaurants and pubs – 45 per cent were in care homes, 21 per cent in schools and 18 per cent in places of work.

Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin said: ‘The curfew doesn’t even stand up to five minutes consideration by an intelligent person because if you look at the stats… there are relatively few transfers of infections in pubs.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, urged the Government to heed its own statistics because the curfew could take a sledgehammer to the industry which is already ‘on its knees’.

She said this morning: ‘People will think it’s not that significant, but it really will have a big economic impact on jobs, not just on pubs, but also for cafes and restaurants.’   

Martin Wolstencroft, head of Arch Inspirations, which runs 17 bars and restaurants in Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle, said the curfew will not make it viable to open some of his venues.

Ironically, August was the month of discount lunches in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s successful initiative, Eat Out to Help Out, which the hospitality industry welcomed.

The Government’s new restrictions will largely destroy any uplift participating restaurants received from it.

What on earth is going on?

Toby Young, who was at Oxford with Boris, says that something has changed — and not for the better. Note that Prince Charles approves of military intervention for climate change. Scary:

It’s entirely possible that these ruinous measures have no basis in scientific fact, devastating people’s livelihoods and families:

Conservative backbench MPs sounded off.

On Tuesday, Sir Desmond Swayne, who has commented both in and outside the House of Commons, tweeted:

His blog post states, in part:

Flu kills all year round – In the last weeks of July it killed 1000 of us (where Covid-19 killed only 200)- but it is seasonal: it certainly kills a lot more of us in the winter. Equally, we should stop talking about another wave of Covid-19 and instead, like flu, start expecting its annual season.

Having peaked in April Covid-19 abated over the summer. Inevitably it will get worse in winter. It may also be worse this winter than might otherwise have been the case. This is because we carried on with a number of restrictions on normal social life during the summer, reducing our ability to acquire and share herd immunity and wasting the opportunity provided by the weakest period for the virus.

My contention remains, as I have said many times over the last months, that our over-reaction to the disease has done much more lasting economic damage, and, counter-intuitively, even more damage to our health than the disease itself.

The current strategy merely kicks the can down the road. If the measures work and reduce the spread, the virus will simply reappear later.

Of course, we could be lucky and get a vaccine or a cure, or even ‘moon-shot’ daily tests to enable us to return to normality, but none of these are certain.

One day there may be a virus that threatens our whole way of life – but this isn’t it, even if we are behaving as if it were.

Sir Desmond retweeted a neurologist’s comment on the outrageous graph of projected ‘cases’ this autumn — in reality, positive tests:

Today, Sir Desmond gave an interview to the BBC about the continuing and questionable restrictions on civil liberties:

Richard Drax rightly predicted economic disaster, ruining the lives of millions:

Lucy Allan also spoke out on Twitter.

She tweeted Monday’s graph from SAGE:

She rightly opposes putting everyone on restrictions when we should be protecting those most at risk:

She retweeted an open letter from Profs Sikora, Heneghan and several other leaders in British medicine:

She also called for the precise definition of a ‘case’:

That’s probably why Whitty and Vallance didn’t take questions.

Sir Edward Leigh also had a lot to say on this week’s announcements:

He is rightly concerned about the blind faith we place in authority and the gradual erosion of civil liberties:

I couldn’t agree more:

At least 1,000 people die in the UK every day.

Below are the causes of death per day in September.

Note where COVID-19 is: second from the bottom, dwarfed by heart disease and cancer.

There were nearly twice as many suicides than deaths from the Chi-vi:

https://image.vuukle.com/21414c90-8f1a-445b-989f-74a955755b28-d1e24630-3f46-4d99-920d-a243660a26ea

Steve Baker is also concerned about the restrictions bypassing Parliament:

Wow. Sir Graham Brady could pit a load of Tory rebels against the government. Good show:

The article from The Critic says:

Unless Matt Hancock finds a workable accommodation with Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs, the government faces the prospect of defeat next Wednesday when the Coronavirus Act 2020 comes up for its six-monthly renewal in the House of Commons.

The scale of backbench unhappiness is such that according to Steve Baker, who is working alongside Sir Graham, “the magic number was exceeded with 24 hours” of his beginning to canvas support for an insurrection among fellow Conservative MPs. Victory would require Labour and SNP MPs to seize on the opportunity to inflict a humiliating defeat on the government by voting with the Tory rebels. Indications increasingly suggest that this could happen. An increasingly dispirited Whips Office, which feels ignored and disrespected by Downing Street, is especially concerned at the sight of the former ERG “Spartans” leader, Baker, at Westminster furiously tapping away on his phone – a colliery canary of trouble ahead.

The government is equally concerned that the rebellion is being led by Sir Graham Brady, whose role as chairman of the 1992 Committee makes him the most authoritative channel of backbench opinion. In a sign of how seriously Downing Street management is taking the senior shop steward’s challenge, on Monday evening the prime minister privately went to see the 1922’s executive committee.

The primary complaint is that the government is using powers granted to it under the 1984 Public Health Act and 2020 Coronavirus Act to enact previously unconscionable measures without any prior debate in the Commons. Brady has condemned ministers who “have got into the habit of ruling by decree.”

MPs were prepared to cede considerable authority to the government in March in a period of acute crisis when there appeared to be only weeks if not days to “flatten the sombrero” to save the NHS from being overwhelmed. But Boris Johnson’s admission in his statement to Parliament today that the latest curtailments (which include further restrictions on hospitality opening hours and the number of people who can congregate at weddings, funerals and other public, private and sporting functions), would likely last at least six months has alerted MPs to the reality that government by decree may last until a vaccine is approved. If, indeed, a vaccine is approved. This is a war that will not be over by Christmas.

Far from persuading potential rebel MPs that a new crisis is looming, the performance of the government’s chief medical and scientific officers, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, at their press conference yesterday has heightened consternation that the government is over-reliant on advice predicated upon worst case scenarios that is trumping competing economic and civil liberty considerations.

The likelihood of executive mission creep was foreseen back in March by David Davis and Steve Baker who pushed the government into adopting an amendment reducing from two years to six months the period in which the powers of the Coronavirus Act must be renewed by parliament. That renewal debate will now take place next Wednesday.

I remember that debate from March and also wondered if the Government were as good as their word.

Whilst they are unlikely to call for a wholesale repeal of the Coronavirus Act, Sir Graham Brady could call for a scrutiny clause appended to the Act so that every new statutory instrument connected to the legislation would have to go through Parliament first. To date, many of them have not. Therefore:

Rebels are pinning their hopes on this prospect. They may find a friend in the The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who has already made clear his intense irritation with Matt Hancock’s disregard for informing parliament first of major legal changes like the “rule of six” and for the government’s brusque imposition of restrictions in his own Chorley constituency

The appeal of such a mechanism is obvious to Tory backbenchers concerned that laws are being made without scrutiny and are difficult to repeal. But there is no in-principle reason why Opposition parties need object to such a parliamentary safeguard either. Hence the likelihood of a rebellion having the numbers to succeed next Wednesday.

I can hardly wait.

Iain Duncan Smith is also airing his views. Note what he says and compare it to the death graph above:

Brexit better be more than BRINO, otherwise that prediction about the Conservatives could come true.

Former Brexit Party MEP and owner of England’s greatest smoked salmon business, Forman’s, said:

How true.

Unfortunately, at today’s PMQs, Boris said that restrictions will continue until a vaccine is found! Dangerous.

This week was a bit of a barnstormer in the House of Commons: from Extinction Rebellion to coronavirus.

Last weekend, a man stabbed several people in Birmingham’s city centre, killing one. A stabbing also occurred in Lewisham (South London). On Monday morning, a shooting occurred in a small town in Suffolk.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) disrupted the distribution of most national newspapers’ weekend editions in England. They glued themselves to scaffolding outside some of the printing plants. Members of Extinction Rebellion also protested at a printing plant in Motherwell, Scotland. The Scottish protests were less severe.

Coronavirus testing has been problematic, with many people unable to find tests when they need them.

Big Christmas gatherings are likely to be cancelled because of new coronavirus legislation.

Grab yourself a cuppa and a sarnie. This week’s Parliamentary debates and reaction were compelling.

Monday, September 7

Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, delivered a statement about the Birmingham stabbings and the Extinction Rebellion direct action. A debate followed.

An excerpt from Malthouse’s statement follows (emphases mine below):

On Friday night, Extinction Rebellion protesters used trucks and bamboo scaffolds to block roads outside the newsprinters works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and Knowsley, near Liverpool. These presses print The Sun, The Times, The Sun on Sunday and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. The police reacted quickly on Friday night, arrested around 80 people nationally and worked throughout Saturday to clear the sites completely. In Broxbourne, approximately 100 protesters were reported in attendance. Assistance from neighbouring forces was required, with work long into the early hours to ease the disruption. Fifty one protesters were arrested for public nuisance and subsequently charged with obstruction of the highway. They were taken to three custody suites in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London. Disruption concluded by midday on Saturday. All main roads remained open, including the nearby A10. However, there was disruption to the distribution of newspapers as well as for local businesses.

In Knowsley, a group of 30 protesters were reported in attendance alongside 10 observers, one legal adviser and one police liaison individual. Thirty protesters were arrested, with disruption concluding by 10.45 the next morning. These protesters were subsequently charged with aggravated trespass and bailed to appear before magistrates at a later date. Twenty four protesters also ​attended a print works in Motherwell, Lanarkshire in Scotland. In this instance there was no disruption caused and no arrests were made.

A free press is the cornerstone of a British society. The freedom to publish without fear or favour, to inform the public, to scrutinise our institutions and to stimulate debate on events that affect each and every one of us is indispensable. The actions of Extinction Rebellion were a direct challenge to this freedom and the values of liberty and tolerance that we hold dear. Extinction Rebellion claims to be an environmental campaign group, yet that worthy cause is undermined by its tactics. Its actions show that it is not interested in purely peaceful protest, dialogue and debate. Instead, it seeks to impose its view through this kind of direct action.

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental tool of civic expression and will never be curtailed by the Government. Equally, it is unacceptable for groups such as XR to hide behind the guise of protest while committing criminal acts that prevent law-abiding citizens from going about their lives. All of us will remember the disruption caused last year as the group blocked roads and major transport routes. Police forces across the country were forced to divert resources away from tackling other crime in order to oversee those occupations. It is a terrible shame to see those counterproductive tactics revived in the midst of a pandemic, when we are only just recovering from the profound disruption of lockdown. Throughout the pandemic, our police officers have been on the streets every day working to keep the public safe and to stop the spread of coronavirus. In placing unnecessary pressure on our emergency services, the actions of the protesters are contemptuous not only of the police but of the public whom they seek to protect.

The irony is that the United Kingdom is already doing more to tackle climate change and decarbonise our economy than almost any other nation on earth. The UK is the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change by 2050. Since 2000, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. The Prime Minister has set up two Cabinet Committees focused on tackling climate change—one for strategy and another for implementation—discussing how Departments can go further and faster in meeting our legally binding 2050 net zero target. We are also hosting the next UN climate change conference, COP26, which will take place in November in Glasgow. It would be far more productive if, rather than plotting disruption and chaos, those behind Extinction Rebellion put their efforts into working with the Government to tackle climate change and build the green economy. While they persist in their current course, however, our message to those individuals is clear: if you plan to curtail our freedoms through criminal acts, be in no doubt that you will face the full force of the law. As a Government, we will not stand by and allow the livelihoods of hard-working people to be undermined by a minority using the pretence of tackling climate change to impose an extremist world view.

Extinction Rebellion’s actions have shown how the tactics of disruptive protests are changing. The Home Office has been engaging with police chiefs to understand the challenges they face and to assess how they can facilitate peaceful protest while not causing significant disruption and infringing on the rights of others with differing views. The Home Secretary and I are committed ​to learning the lessons of recent protests and ensuring that the police have the powers required to deal with the disruption caused by groups such as XR. I will keep the tools available to tackle this behaviour under constant review. As always, our thanks go to the police for their tireless efforts to respond to all manner of incidents, and particularly at this time when so many have worked so hard during the pandemic. I hope that the leaders of Extinction Rebellion will issue an apology to them for actions that have been roundly condemned by all mainstream opinion in our country.

By its actions this weekend, XR has done nothing to bolster the cause of fighting climate change. Rather, it has reminded us of the value of a free press and free expression and made us think about what more we may need to do to protect those freedoms. I commend this statement to the House.

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central), responding for Labour, gave an excellent speech. An excerpt follows:

all Members of the House will be deeply concerned about the wider rise in violent crime that we are seeing. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I am all too aware of the seriousness of this issue. I know that West Midlands police, along with David Jamieson, the PCC, is taking this very seriously, and the violence reduction unit is doing some great preventive work in the west midlands. Does the Minister accept that over the past decade we have seen knife crime rise in every police force area in England and Wales, and ​that easing lockdown restrictions poses particular challenges? Does he further accept that rising violent crime must be urgently addressed?

Turning to the matter of Extinction Rebellion, I trust that the Minister will agree with me, rather than some members of his own party, in recognising that tackling climate change is the challenge of our generation. However, we also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy, and we must do all we can to protect it. As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong. They will do nothing to tackle climate change. Those who break the law should be held to account. As the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, the actions of those who deliberately set out to break the law and stifle freedom of the press are completely unacceptable. Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counterproductive. It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change. In fact, it sets it back.

On the policing response to the incidents, can the Minister confirm whether the authorities had any intelligence that these incidents might occur?

Today in the media, new laws have been mentioned by the Home Secretary. Can the Minister confirm what aspects of our current public order laws he believes are inadequate? Will he also confirm which aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020 dealing with gatherings he believes leave gaps? Does he agree that we should not forget the many people who are concerned about climate change who wish to peacefully and lawfully protest, and that that right should be protected?

Malthouse did not answer her question about new legislation and said that the intelligence surrounding Extinction Rebellion’s actions at the printing plants was unclear.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative) suggested giving the protesters fixed-penalty notices (fines). Malthouse said that, as those were new during the coronavirus pandemic, there aren’t enough data to measure their efficacy.

An SNP MP, Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) downplayed the Extinction Rebellion incident. As SNP MPs always do, they think only of Scotland. If this doesn’t spell out the SNP’s sympathies with Marxism, I don’t know what does:

The … group perpetrated no violence—random or otherwise—nor is it a criminal gang, terrorist ​group or a deranged individual. Any attempt to portray those people as that is wrong and a dangerous precedent in a democracy. The actions carried out by Extinction Rebellion, both in Scotland and in England, were a peaceful protest. That should not be forgotten, and that remains legitimate. It is a group of young people, although not always entirely young, who care about the environment. That is a legitimate position to take. This action was not an attempt to close down free speech, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. All they were seeking to do was to disrupt the outgoing of print for a period of time. There was no cessation of the print being published. Indeed, it appeared online and at most delivery was delayed to some shops.

Malthouse replied:

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has positioned the SNP outside mainstream opinion. [Interruption.] Well, you’re all expressing consternation, and speaking, smiling and laughing. I do not know why me expressing concern is worthy of derision. In truth, the vast majority of people in this country, and all mainstream parties in this country, have expressed alarm at the tactics of Extinction Rebellion over the weekend and its stated aim of disrupting newspapers’ ability to distribute their views and opinions because they do not agree with them. One of the first things that happens in extremist states and takeovers is an attempt to grip the television station, the radio station or the newspapers. Control of information is key so we need to take care with these things. I hope he will agree with me in time.

Antony Higginbotham (Burnley, Conservative) expressed concern at the cost of the Extinction Rebellion protest:

The unacceptable actions of Extinction Rebellion show a consistent disregard for the lives and livelihoods that they disrupt. Does my hon. Friend believe we should hold Extinction Rebellion to account, not just for the significant public sector costs that rack up with the action it undertakes, but for the significant lost income that businesses across the country have suffered as a result?

Malthouse said:

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He is right that these protests are not costless. Aside from the costs to the businesses affected, there is a large overtime bill to be covered. Of all the costs, the most profound and alarming is the opportunity cost; those police officers who are spending time ungluing protesters and dismantling scaffolding are not spending time preventing knife crime, murder, rape or domestic violence. There are other much more vital activities that could be performed in the communities they serve.

Anthony Browne (South Cambridgshire, Conservative) pointed out that freer countries have fewer environmental issues:

I am a journalist and an environmentalist. I used to be environment editor of The Observer and The Times. I am currently chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment, and I have seen around the world that those countries that have a free press are far better at tackling environmental problems than those countries without a free press. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning Extinction Rebellion’s assault on the free press, and does he agree that such attacks on free speech will ultimately do more harm to the environmental cause than help it?

Malthouse responded:

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, the paradox, or even the tragedy, of the protests is that I understand that the edition of The Sun that was prevented from being distributed contained an op-ed from David Attenborough—no less—extolling the virtues of climate change action and urging Sun readers to do their bit on global warming. Ten years ago, nobody would have dreamt of that opinion appearing ​in that newspaper, and it shows how far the argument has been advanced by peaceful means. This protest runs the risk of setting the debate back rather than moving it forward.

Dr Julian Lewis, who is now Independent (having had the Conservative whip removed), pointed out the contradiction of fining anti-lockdown spokesman Piers Corbyn £10,000 when XR were free to glue themselves to scaffolding with no fine:

It is true that various brands of Corbynism are a little less popular these days, but does my hon. Friend agree that fining a climate change denier £10,000 for an anti-lockdown protest sets a benchmark which should equally apply to those who break the law in pursuit of more fashionable causes?

Malthouse replied:

As the right hon. Gentleman may know, a number of fixed penalty fines have been handed out over the past few days for all manner of contraventions of the coronavirus regulations. No doubt some may be disputed, but we shall see in the end where the courts decide.

The SNP’s Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) asked if XR would be reclassified as a criminal group:

Does the Minister understand the genuine concerns about any plans to reclassify Extinction Rebellion as a ​criminal group and the implications that this may have for peaceful protest, especially given that last year the Prime Minister’s own father addressed an Extinction Rebellion rally and said that he backed their methods?

Malthouse said that such groups are being watched and are under review.

Richard Burgon (Leeds East, Labour) claimed that direct action was part of democracy:

Direct action is a proud part of our history and democracy. Through it, the Chartists and suffragettes helped secure the right to vote and trade unions won the eight-hour working day and paid holidays, and it played a key part in securing legislation for gay rights and for women’s and racial equality. If pursued, would not the Home Secretary’s suggestion of defining Extinction Rebellion as a criminal gang be a betrayal of our proud tradition of civil liberties?

Malthouse said:

Direct action is not the same thing as a crime. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are certain crimes that he wishes to ignore, then I am afraid the Opposition are in a very difficult place. I am the Minister for policing and crime, and when, under our current law as approved through this House, somebody commits a crime, I have no choice other than to condemn it.

Lee Anderson (Ashfield, Conservative) would like for XR to be designated a criminal organisation:

The people of Ashfield see no benefit in protesters gluing their ears to the pavement, spraying red dye on our monuments or camping out in trees on Parliament Square. Extinction Rebellion is now public nuisance No. 1 because of the disruption it causes, as well as the massive cost to our emergency services when, frankly, they have better things to do. Does my hon. Friend agree that this group should be ​classified as a crime group and feel the full weight of the law if it continues to disrupt members of the public going about their daily business?

Malthouse repeated his earlier answer about such groups being under continuing review.

Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk, SNP) did not want to see XR labelled as a criminal organisation:

Whatever we think about Extinction Rebellion’s tactics, be they right or wrong, its actions were peaceful, and such civil disobedience methods have been used throughout history, so any branding of the activists as criminals is certainly not acceptable. Does not the Minister agree that two wrongs do not make a right?

Malthouse gave this wise reply:

Not all crimes are violent.

Only one MP dared to connect Marxism with XR — Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield, Conservative). Well done:

It is with regret that, since Extinction Rebellion’s inception, we have witnessed it adopt increasingly radical measures, which masquerade upon an environmentalist platform. In truth, it is a considered ruse to gain support for its ​Marxist agenda, which attacks British values predicated on freedom and pluralism. Blocking ambulances and seeking to constrain press freedom are but two examples from a plethora of behaviours that demonstrate its devious agenda.

Her Majesty’s Government were elected with a mighty mandate from the British people to restore their ancient rights and freedoms, whether threatened from Brussels or from the barricade. The fine people of my constituency of Wakefield expect us to deliver on that. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to neutralise XR’s disruptive and dangerous tactics?

Malthouse replied:

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s stentorian support. He is quite right that people want to see a sense of order in this country, and that is exactly what we will put in place and what we are beavering away to make happen across the country—in his constituency and elsewhere.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 8

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, gave a statement updating MPs on coronavirus and the situation in Bolton. New laws, he said, would apply only to Bolton.

He was economical with the truth …

Wednesday, September 9

On Wednesday morning, Steve Baker (Wycombe, Conservative), tweeted:

No one raised this topic at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock gave a morning interview (more here):

What does that even mean?

He explained his change of advice on testing to Sky News:

More on this follows below.

It was National Farmers Day, and many MPs wore ears of British wheat tied together with British wool. Labour’s Angela Rayner wasn’t the slightest bit interested:

Most of PMQs was about testing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this startling statement about daily coronavirus testing at home:

Just after PMQs, as Boris hurriedly scuttled out of the chamber, Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West, Conservative) raised a point of order about the coronavirus legislation.

I wonder if Boris knew about it in advance and got out of there as quickly as he could:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Had the Secretary of State for Health given notice of the Government’s intention to further restrict our liberty to meet with one another in his statement yesterday, at least some of us would have been able to question him about it. What remedy is there for those of us who enthusiastically support the Prime Minister, but nevertheless want to restrain the Government’s ability to govern by order without debate?

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle replied:

I thank the right hon. Member for giving me notice. I am very sympathetic to the main point he makes. I accept that decisions have been taken in a fast-moving situation, but timings for statements are known to Ministers. It is really not good enough for the Government to make decisions of this kind in a way that shows insufficient regard to the importance of major policy announcements being made first to this House and to Members of this House wherever possible. I have already sent a letter to the Secretary of State. I think the total disregard for this Chamber is not acceptable. I know that the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament as well and that he will ensure that statements should be made here first, especially as this particular Secretary of State requests statements. To then ignore the major fact that he wanted to put to the country, and not put it before this House, is not acceptable and I hope he will apologise to Members.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour Co-op) had more information:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Not only did we not get a convincing explanation yesterday from the Secretary of State on the ongoing testing fiasco, but in fact Mr Robert Peston of ITV wrote on Twitter, ahead of the Secretary of State’s statement, that the Government were planning to shift the regulations down from 30 people to six. There was no reason why the Secretary of State could not have told the House yesterday that that was the Government’s plan. Has the Secretary of State given you, Mr Speaker, notice that he is coming to the House to update MPs on that change in policy, or should we assume that Ministers do not know what they are doing from one day to the next?

Peston had tweeted this on Tuesday:

The Speaker was uncharacteristically incandescent:

What I would take on board is the fact that it was all over Twitter as this was going on. Obviously, somebody decided to tell the media rather than this House. What I would say is that I expect the Secretary of State to apologise to Members and make sure that this Chamber knows first. He was fully aware—fully aware—of what was going to be said later. Let me say that if this Minister wants to run this Chamber ragged, I can assure you now that I am sure an urgent question every day might just begin to run him ragged.

At 4 p.m., Boris gave a coronavirus press conference, announcing new coronavirus ‘marshals’ who will be appearing on our streets as of next week — so, not only in Bolton:

I agree 110% with this tweet:

Thursday, September 10

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg was unable to deliver his customary business statement to the Commons. One of his children developed coronavirus symptoms. Stuart Andrew, the Acting Leader, stood in for him:

Matt Hancock showed up to make a statement on new coronavirus regulations. He was taken to task over his confusing advice about getting a test. Earlier this year, he encouraged people to get tested. Now, with the system overwhelmed, he’s backtracked:

Guido Fawkes has quotes from Hancock documenting his about-face on the matter and concludes (emphases in the original):

Was Hancock’s advice wrong then or is it wrong now? The public will be getting pretty sick of the Department of Health’s cock-ups being the responsibility of anyone other than Hancock.

UPDATE: A government source tells Guido “The guidance is clear. If you think you have symptoms you should get a test. Today’s message is no different to that.” Apparently people in doubt about whether they have symptoms should still get a test…

Simon Dolan, a businessman who is taking the Government to court over lockdown, tweeted:

The Speaker of the House introduced the debate:

Before I call the Secretary of State, I would like to say that he and I had a conversation in a meeting last night, and I think we have some new arrangements coming forward to help the House.

That means that Hancock will be obliged to show up to present these developments to the House for debate in future.

He’s so disingenuous:

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Just to concur with what you have said, I do regard it as incredibly important to come to the House as often as possible. Sometimes these are fast-moving situations, and I will ensure that I give the House my full attention and, as I try to do, answer as many questions as fully as I can.

Excerpts follow:

… As the chief medical officer said yesterday, we must learn from the recent experience of countries such as Belgium that have successfully put in place measures to combat a similar rise in infections. So today, I would like to update the House on a number of new measures that will help us to get this virus under control and to make the rules clearer, simpler and more enforceable.

First, we are putting in place new rules on social contact … In England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of six. Nobody should meet socially in groups of more than six, and if they do, they will be breaking the law. This will apply in any setting—indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub. It replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors.

There will be some exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than six, they can still gather.

Guido Fawkes was no doubt relieved:

Hancock continued:

Places of education and work are unaffected. Covid-secure weddings, wedding receptions and funerals can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people. Organised sport and exercise is exempt.

These are not measures that we take lightly. I understand that for many they will mean changing long-awaited plans or missing out on precious moments with loved ones, but this sacrifice is vital to control the virus for the long term and save lives, and I vow that we will not keep these rules in place for any longer than we have to.

Secondly, we are putting in place stronger enforcement. Hospitality venues will be legally required to request the contact details of every party. They will have to record and retain those details for 21 days and provide them to NHS Test and Trace without delay when required. This system is working well voluntarily, with minimal friction, and it is very effective, but it is not in place in all venues. It is only fair that it is followed by all. We are supporting ​local authorities to make greater use of their powers to close venues that are breaking rules and pose a risk to public health, and fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises are covid-secure.

Our goal, as much as possible, is to protect keeping schools and businesses open, while controlling the virus …

Our ability to test and trace on a large scale is fundamental to controlling the virus, as we have discussed in the House many times. The latest data show that we are doing more testing per head than other European countries such as Germany and Spain, and we have record capacity. We have increased capacity by more than 10,000 tests a day over the last fortnight. While there have been challenges in access to tests, the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home. The average distance travelled to a test site is 6.4 miles, and 90% of people who book a test travel 22 miles or less. We already have more than 400 testing sites in operation. We added 19 last week and plan 17 more this week.

However, as capacity has increased, we have seen an even faster rise in demand, including a significant increase from people who do not have symptoms and are not eligible for a test. That takes tests away from people who need them. If you have symptoms of coronavirus or are asked by a clinician or local authority to get a test, please apply, but if you do not have symptoms and have not been asked, you are not eligible for a test.

At the same time, we are developing new types of test that are simple, quick and scalable. They use swabs or saliva and can be turned round in 90 minutes or even 20 minutes. So-called Operation Moonshot, to deploy mass testing, will allow people to lead more normal lives and reduce the need for social distancing. For instance, it could mean that theatres and sports venues could test audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result, workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning, and anyone isolating because they are a contact or quarantining after travelling abroad could be tested and released. We are piloting that approach right now and verifying the new technology, and then it can be rolled out nationwide. [Laughter.] …

This will not meet well with a great swathe of people living in England (see the replies):

Simon Dolan tweeted:

Incidentally, the wait until Monday is partly because the St Leger Festival is being run through this weekend:

As the debate progressed, MPs from both sides of the House said that their constitutents were told to drive hundreds of miles away for tests. Here are two examples:

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)

Will the Secretary of State please explain the lack of availability of home testing kits, which has dropped dramatically in my area of West Lancashire? In the absence of home testing kits, very ill pensioners are being offered tests 80 or 100 miles away. The confusing message in the assurance that he is trying to give is that there are too many getting tested, but that, if in doubt, people should get tested. How does that deal with the asymptomatic carriers or spreaders? This is a huge hidden danger. In the light of the Secretary of State’s earlier comment, my constituents would genuinely love to get with the programme, get tested where necessary and stay safe—if only the Government’s words met their actual experience of the system.

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and very much welcome the exciting progress on developing saliva testing. Outstanding progress has already been made on expanding testing capacity, and he deserves our thanks for his tireless work. Inevitably, this is not without its challenges. On Tuesday evening, hundreds of cars from across the country—and I do mean hundreds—descended on Telford’s testing site, as they were directed to do by the booking system. Tests quickly ran out, roads became blocked, people who had travelled from as far away as Cornwall, Stockport and London were turned away, and my constituents were no longer able to access tests in the area and so in turn were sent elsewhere. What assurances can he give that the error in the booking system that directed so many people to Telford has now been corrected, and does he agree that people should not be criss-crossing the country and travelling for many hours to secure a test?

Harriet Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative) asked about the infringement on civil liberties and whether the Government were moving the goalposts. I won’t bother with Hancock’s response, because he did not answer her question. He merely repeated the same old waffle:

We accepted massive restrictions on our liberty in March because we wanted to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and we achieved that—indeed, not all the capacity was used. We are now imposing more restrictions on people’s liberty. Does the Secretary of State’s strategic goal for England continue to be to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, or has he now gone further and is aiming for zero covid in England?

Friday, September 11

Unusually, the House of Commons convened on a Friday.

The Speaker of the House opened the session with this:

We meet today on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We remember all those who lost their lives due to terrorism on that day and all those who were injured, as well as those who were bereaved.

Then, Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative) spoke, concerned about the new coronavirus rules coming in on Monday, September 14:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been looking at today’s Order Paper and particularly at the remaining orders, where I had expected to see the statutory instrument that the Government must lay for the draconian new rules they are bringing in on Monday to be lawful. It does not appear to have been laid, despite the Prime Minister making an announcement about it on Wednesday and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care having made a statement yesterday. I am very concerned about the lack of opportunity for the public to see the text of these new regulations and about the Government’s continuing reluctance to give any opportunity to Members to debate this. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) asked when we could have a debate on it, and he was told that he could apply for a Backbench Business debate. That hardly fits in with the sense of urgency about all this. When my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) then raised the matter with the Secretary of State yesterday, he was told that the Secretary of State would take it away and think about it. That is not satisfactory, as we are talking about the most draconian introduction of new restrictions on our liberty, with criminal sanctions. We need to be aware of what is happening and given the opportunity to debate it.

Mr Speaker replied:

May I say that I share your disappointment? I think that we should all be informed and the country should also know what is going on. The laying of this instrument is a matter for the Government, but I would say that you know and I know that other avenues could be taken on Monday to tickle this little item out, if required. So I will leave it with you to ponder what you want to do next. The Clerk has made a note, and we will come back with further information.

MPs debated the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill.

Earlier that morning, Steve Baker was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Today. He spoke his mind about the Government’s response to coronavirus:

Baker retweeted an item from Liberty’s feed:

Good. Finally. I hope this results in a solid Left-Right grouping of credible people speaking out against this bill, hastily rushed through the Commons and the Lords in March.

Meanwhile, in Sweden:

Sweden continues to operate fairly normally. The British Government, on the other hand, follows the rest of the Western lemmings.

Thank you, Sir Edward Leigh, for speaking out against mandatory face coverings.

Yesterday’s post reported that Sir Desmond Swayne MP spoke out during Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement about masks on July 14.

On Thursday, July 16, 2020, Sir Edward Leigh MP (Conservative, Gainsborough) made a forceful statement during Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Business Statement. Leigh said that mandatory masks in shops should have merited a debate in the Commons. It is no small step, especially for a Conservative government. No true Conservative cares what other countries do in this regard. This is England:

Rees-Mogg brushed Leigh’s objections away with a reply that a debate will be held in ‘due course’, which means in September or October. Parliament’s last day before summer recess is Wednesday, July 22:

One consolation for today’s Commons schedule was the Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill. Many have closed over the past several years because local councils can no longer afford them. This bill is designed to help councils out in this regard by giving rate (property tax) relief:

Back now to masks.

Sir Edward Leigh received supportive replies to his tweet.

The first concerns Lincolnshire:

The others are more generalised:

The mask controversy extends to London, too.

The Telegraph‘s Head of Culture, Serena Davies, wrote about her and her daughter’s experience at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square: ‘How “mask rage” ruined my trip to the National Gallery’.

She thought that, as few people would be out and about, now would be a good time to take her nine-year-old daughter to see some of the most important paintings in history.

They sanitised their hands upon entry. Ms Davies asked about masks, which the Gallery ‘encourages’ but does not yet make mandatory. She and her daughter went without.

They went through rooms with Renaissance art. Davies’s daughter marvelled at seeing the paintings in person. As they continued, they stopped in front of Titian’s Poesies. Then, things took a nasty turn (emphases mine):

A tall, skinny, crow-like man wearing a black mask that seemed to cover most of his head lurched well within two metres of our periphery just as we’d sat down on a bench.

“Is there a reason for that?” he spat (into his mask).

I thought he had a problem with us sitting down. “How do you mean?” I asked.

“Masks!” he growled.

Constance and I weren’t wearing them. I’d checked with the guard on arrival, and she’d said that it was optional, if “encouraged”. I conveyed this to the man, who had no riposte and stalked off to glare at us from Perseus and Andromeda.

But the damage was done. “Why was the man so cross?” asked Constance in front of the Tintorettos. “That man was really quite nasty wasn’t he?” she said as we peered at a De Hooch.

I said some people just start off the day with a bit of horrid to get out, and the mask thing was only an excuse.

“Do you think the man might be cheered up by a yo-yo?” she asked in the shop. We bought a yo-yo – to cheer up Constance.

Poor girl:

The rooms of paintings were simply thrilling to see, and easier to enjoy than during any other point in my lifetime, yet the masked vigilante scared my child so much he ended our fun right there.

Nasty Man will get his way on July 24, at least with regard to shops.

Coronavirus has changed the way the Western world operates.

In London, commuter levels have been at unheard of lows in recent memory. On July 16, The Telegraph’s business correspondent, Allister Heath, sounded a warning: ‘The death of the commuter is an extinction-level event for London’.

This means fewer railway passengers. Until mid-March, commuter trains going in and out of the capital were jam packed. Much less so now, he says, including London Underground:

The Greater London Authority, and Transport for London, its main asset, are, in effect, bankrupt, with nearly empty Tubes meaning fare revenues are in freefall, reliant on handouts from the Government.

Heath paints us a picture of an empty capital city, even now that many attractions have reopened and people have been encouraged to return to their offices:

The private sector, for its part, is facing gargantuan structural losses: the economics of offices and retail is predicated on mass commuting and tourism. The former won’t fully come back; the latter will take a year or two. The arts, luxury, fashion, transport, hospitality, restaurant and many service industries face decimation. It’s a full-on biotic crisis: London’s economic ecosystem is suffering an immense decline in diversity. Lower-paid jobs, in particular, are being culled; the population could fall, with tens of thousands returning to Europe.

No doubt London will recover. It always does.

However, this just shows how ill-advised Matt Hancock’s decision to make masks mandatory in shops is.

We can only hope that Chancellor Rishi Sunak encourages him to reverse it in the months to come.

If people feel more comfortable with masks, they are welcome to wear them.

However, shops have gone to great expense to accommodate social distancing.

Let’s encourage common sense instead.

And, where masks are optional, let’s stop criticising each other if people choose not to wear them.

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