The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020 provide for the local lockdown in Leicester and surrounding areas which came into force on 4 July 2020.
On 3 July 2020, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, laid the regulations before both Houses. The regulations were made on the same day, so that they could take effect from 4 July 2020. Both Houses must approve the regulations before 1 September to remain in force.
The House of Commons approved the regulations on 21 July 2020. The House of Lords is due to debate the instrument on 29 July 2020. This In Focus article sets out the background to the regulations and the parliamentary scrutiny of them ahead of that debate.
What is the background to the instrument?
In early July 2020, Leicester became subject to the UK’s first local lockdown following an increase in Covid-19 cases. Speaking about the situation on 29 June 2020, Matt Hancock said:
Unfortunately, while cases in most parts of the country have fallen since the peak, in Leicester they have continued to rise. The seven-day infection rate in Leicester is 135 cases per 100,000 people, which is three times higher than the rate for the next highest city. Leicester accounts for about 10 percent of all positive cases in the country over the past week, and admissions to hospital are between six and 10 per day, rather than about one a day at other trusts.
Therefore, he said that the Government could not recommend that Leicester follow the easing of national restrictions that took place on 4 July 2020. Instead, he announced that the city of Leicester and certain surrounding areas would be placed under a local lockdown. Restrictions would be put in place, including the closure of non-essential retail businesses and schools (apart from for vulnerable children and those of key workers).
What does the instrument do?
The explanatory memorandum for the instrument, which was prepared by the Department for Health and Social Care, said it provided:
A number of public health measures to be taken to reduce the public health risks posed by the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in Leicestershire, England which causes the disease Covid-19.
The explanatory memorandum’s policy background section provides further information on what is being done and why. It outlines the Government’s actions to restrict community transmission of Covid-19 in Leicester, stating:
In response to the high number of positive Covid-19 tests in Leicester in June 2020, the Government announced a local lockdown in order to limit the further spread of the disease. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020 come into force on 4 July 2020, with restrictions that apply to the protected area in Leicester and to those who live within it.
Setting out the restrictions, it says:
The instrument requires all non-essential businesses to close, except a limited number of exceptions such as garden centres and vehicle showrooms and their outdoor areas. All leisure and recreational facilities other than outdoor sports courts or amenities are also required to close, except for elite athletes to utilise for training. Food and drink establishments are not permitted to sell food and drink for consumption on the premises. The instrument requires places of worship to close other than for notable exceptions including for individual private prayer.
The instrument also prohibits anyone staying overnight in the protected area in a place other than the place where they live, or where their linked household lives, without reasonable excuse. Individuals living outside the protected area are also prohibited from staying overnight at any place within the protected area other than the place where their linked household is living, without reasonable excuse. The instrument also bans certain indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The instrument expires six months from the day they came in to force. Further detail about how the lockdown would operate can be found in the instrument itself.
What parliamentary scrutiny has there been?
The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee reported on the instrument in its 22nd Report of Session 2019–21:
In response to the high number of positive Covid-19 tests in Leicester in June 2020, the Government announced a local lockdown in order to limit the further spread of the disease. These Regulations came into force on 4 July 2020, re-imposing tighter restrictions on the protected area (as defined by the postcodes set out in Schedule 1) and on those who live within it. The instrument requires all non-essential businesses, leisure, and food and drink establishments to close (see full list in Schedule 3), with a limited number of exceptions. The instrument also prohibits anyone from staying overnight in the protected area and bans certain indoor and outdoor gatherings. The Regulations will expire six months after they came into force but while they are in force the secretary of state must review the need for the restrictions imposed by these Regulations every 14 days: the first review must be carried out by 18 July 2020.
However, the committee did not draw it to the special attention of the House.
The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments also considered the regulations, but did not raise any concerns.
The House of Commons Delegated Legislation Committee debated the regulations on 16 July 2020. Nadine Dorries, the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, explained the purpose of the regulations and the restrictions they introduced. Speaking for Labour, Liz Kendall, the Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care and MP for Leicester West, said that while her party would not oppose the regulations, she had concerns about “how these regulations and Leicester’s lockdown as a whole have been handled”. Summarising these concerns, she said:
I think ministers were too slow to act; have been too centralised in their approach; and have so far failed to provide the additional support Leicester’s businesses and public services need.
The House of Commons approved the regulations on 21 July 2020.
What is the current situation in Leicester?
On 16 July 2020, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, made a statement to the House of Commons about the local lockdown in Leicester. He reported that data showed that the 7-day infection rate in Leicester was 119 cases per 100,000 people. This compared to a 7-day infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 at the end of June when the Government first introduced the local restrictions. Commenting on the figures, he said:
These are positive indicators, especially in light of the huge increase in testing in the local area. But they still remain well above the national average, and the average for surrounding areas.
Speaking on the changes being made because of the data, Mr Hancock said that Nicholas Rushton, leader of Leicestershire City Council, had recommended that the restrictions should now only apply to the Oadby and Wigston area as well as the city of Leicester itself. He said that he had accepted this advice, and that the restrictions would be reviewed again in a fortnight.
To implement the recommended changes about areas affected, the Government made amendment regulations on 17 July 2020, which came into effect the next day. The Government also published information on these changes on its website.
Since Mr Hancock’s statement, Public Health England has published more recent figures on the rate of infection in Leicester. It found that in the week to 19 July 2020, there were just over 70 cases per 100,000 people, down by just over 35 percent on the previous week.
Image by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash.