I support the hon. Lady’s general call for transparency, but my point about the numbers is not an assertion; it is about looking at the data and seeing how many patients are in hospital because of covid. That information is published. It is not an assertion, but a fact. Secondly, if hospital trusts do what my trust does, they put covid patients together in hospital. My trust currently has one ward full of patients. It clearly has an impact, but it is not the thing that is causing the biggest problem. The biggest problem in my trust is that it has at least three or four times the number of patients who are not able to be discharged because of inadequate social care. That is the point that I have made several times in the House.
Mindful of your admonition to be relatively brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me touch on the regulations in front of us. On the face-covering regulations, they are relatively not damaging economically. I listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), and I agree that it is disappointing that we have moved away from a model where the Government lay out the evidence and the arguments and allow people to make their own decisions. That was a big choice that the Government made last year, and I am very disappointed that they have moved away from it. Weighing against that—this was set out very clearly by the Chairman of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), a distinguished former public health Minister—is that at least those regulations have quite a tight expiry date, and they will expire in three weeks’ time. Although I do not like the move back to mandating, I am prepared on this occasion—balancing up the pressures, and because there is an expiry date—not to oppose the regulations, but I will not support them either.
On the self-isolation regulations, I am afraid to say that I am much more concerned, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, for two reasons. First, while Ministers have been clear that the regulations will be reviewed in three weeks—I will press the Minister on what we might learn in those three weeks—the regulations are not time limited; they amend another set of regulations that do not have an expiry date until March next year. Although the Minister tells me that they will not be enforced for a day longer than necessary, she must recognise that, given the events of the past few weeks and how Ministers handled, among other things, the standards measures, there has been a diminution in trust between Back Benchers and Ministers. Ministers must work hard to rebuild that trust. Having open-ended statutory instruments that do not expire for many months—when they are telling us that the measures only need to be in place for a few weeks—is not, I say respectfully to the Minister, how to build that trust.
Secondly, there is the point that my hon. Friend made. Let us remember that we are making the law, which should always be clear, precise and specific so that people know what their legal responsibilities are and what they are not. I am afraid that reference in the regulations to people who are “suspected” or “confirmed” as having the omicron variant, with no detail about what that is, is simply not good enough. I was trying to be genuinely helpful to the Minister when I intervened on her. I wanted to give her the opportunity to set out in her opening remarks—and I hope she will do so in her closing remarks—how the Government determine whether someone has the suspected omicron variant and what measures have been taken in terms of the scripts that are used by NHS Test and Trace, the information provided to people whom it contacts, the training that staff undergo, and, indeed, whether the app is to be changed to deal with the new regulatory approach. I am afraid that nothing in the regulations that I have seen gives me any confidence that those matters have been properly thought through. Despite what the Minister may or may not say at the Dispatch Box, the law should be clear in the regulations, and it simply is not. On that basis—how the regulations are drafted—I will oppose them.
Mindful of your instructions, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have only a couple more points. When I said that I was worried that the regulations would trigger a new pingdemic, it was picked up in a number of publications. Politico’s London Playbook, which is much read in the Westminster village, said that a Government insider, trying to allay concerns about a pingdemic, had argued that, because people no longer check into restaurants or pubs, they will not be contacted by NHS Test and Trace. They said that contact tracers are really only interested in catching contacts of cases coming into the country on planes. If that is true, I would suggest that the £30,000 million-odd we spend on Test and Trace is not terribly useful. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed at the Dispatch Box whether what that Government insider has said is Government policy.
It has also been reported in the Financial Times that officials in the Department of Health and Social Care are drawing up contingency plans to require masks in many indoor settings, with a possible work-from-home order over Christmas. Apparently, these plans are being worked on by officials. Will the Minister confirm whether officials are working on such contingency plans? If they are not working on them under instructions from Ministers, can she, as a Minister, instruct them to stop working on such contingency plans and focus on the Government’s actual policies?
My final point is the one that I made yesterday. Ministers have said that they will review the measures in three weeks’ time, as of yesterday. That would be 20 December, when the House will have risen for the Christmas recess—I touched on this in my intervention on the Opposition spokesman. If any of the measures are to be extended, or if further measures are to be brought in, it would be unacceptable for Ministers to do it by decree, which is effectively what the Minister at the Dispatch Box did with these two orders. They should be brought forward to this House for a debate in advance of their coming in. If we have to sit in the days running up to Christmas, so be it. Many people in this country work over the Christmas period in many industries serving the public. We are better paid than most of those people, so if we have to come here and do our jobs, working on behalf of the public, to scrutinise the laws that affect their lives, then I for one am very happy to do so. It would be a failure of the responsibilities that Ministers have if they do not seek to keep the House sitting or recall it if they wish to take those powers. Ministers are accountable to the House and to our constituents through us, and they would be wise never to forget it.