Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD) [V]
My Lords, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I start by pointing out that we are yet again debating whether to approve a statutory instrument that came into effect three weeks ago, as part of a road map that was set out months ago. At this point in the pandemic, the urgency rationale just does not hold water, so it has become either a bad habit that the Government are unable to kick or simply contempt for parliamentary scrutiny. Neither is a good sign for a healthy democracy.
Turning to the substance, it feels somewhat ironic that these regulations bring back international travel for leisure. In recent days we have witnessed chaos over last-minute changes to the green list, causing huge problems for passengers and the travel industry alike. With long queues at packed airports in Portugal as people try to purchase tickets, often at vastly overinflated prices, on planes packed to seating capacity, and with people reporting difficulties getting pre-departure tests, is this really the best we can do?
As far as I can see, the amber list is simply causing confusion as to whether or not it is okay to travel to a country for leisure. We would not want to encourage people to drive through amber at traffic lights, so why are we giving this option for travel? Is not a straightforward “Yes, you can travel there” or “No, you can’t” easier for all to understand and plan around? Can the Minister say what plans the Government have to review the effectiveness of the traffic light system and our border control measures, including verifying test results for international travel?
Like others, I am sure, I was interested to read that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is now participating in a pilot offering daily lateral flow testing for seven days as an alternative to isolation, following his trip to Portugal. It appears from press reports that other football fans receiving similar such texts from NHS Test and Trace were told to self-isolate for 10 days. Can the Minister explain the criteria to qualify for this pilot, when it was introduced and when its results will be published?
Test, trace and isolate remains a hugely important weapon in our armoury for fighting this virus. As restrictions ease, surely we should adapt our isolation support and testing strategies to incentivise isolation. From these Benches, we have called time and again for financial support to enable people on low incomes to isolate effectively. With cases now thankfully at lower levels, can the Minister say what resources are being provided, and to which local authorities, to allow the isolation pilots he referred to—he referred to payments of £500—to happen?
Much store is being placed on the announcement the Government will make on 14 June regarding step 4 of the road map, currently scheduled for 21 June. Over the weekend, some leading scientists have been calling for the easing of restrictions to be delayed. We have been repeatedly told that the Government will be driven by the data on the four tests, including the risks posed by new variants of concern, rather than simply the dates in the road map. With some regulations due to expire on 20 June, as my noble friend Lord Scriven pointed out, what is the scope for extending these regulations if the data requires it? Will we have fresh legislation? What is the contingency plan? Finally, what additional resources are being given to handle variants of concern? I hope the Minister can reassure me on these points in summing up.
Finally—I think I am in very much the same place as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on this—the stark truth is that the virus, with its inevitable mutations and variants, is not going away any time soon. Like it or not, we will have to find a way of living with Covid-19 for some time to come. That will mean changes in how we conduct our everyday lives, including how we do our business in this Chamber. This may be an inconvenient truth to some, but the alternatives are far worse. We need to get away from the current narrative that a so-called freedom day is coming fast and that everything can go back to precisely how it was pre-pandemic. We will have to learn to do things differently, and that needs a more grown-up, nuanced conversation which does not revolve around the two extremes of dropping all measures immediately or returning to lockdown. I think that is what most people want and expect.