32.One instrument relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1045), is drawn to the special attention of the House in this report (see pages 9 to 11 above).
33.These Regulations make changes to the restrictions on the protected areas throughout the north of England:
34.The North of England Regulations impose restrictions on households mixing in private dwellings and gardens for those local authorities in the protected area.
35.The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North East and North West of England) Regulations 2020 (“NENW Regulations”) impose restrictions on households mixing in all indoor settings, so would prohibit mixing in pubs and restaurants, for example, as well as in private houses (subject to some exemptions set out in the Regulations).
36.The Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) current approach is to move councils between the two sets of Regulations as the infection rate in that area fluctuates. The latest incidence rates for areas of concern are published on the Public Health England surveillance data webpage.
37.Due to rising infection rates, this instrument moves seven local authorities from the North of England regime into the stricter regime of the NENW Regulations: Halton, Sefton St Helens and Warrington Borough Councils, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Liverpool City Council, and Wirral Metropolitan District Council. It also adds two new local authorities into the NENW regime: Hartlepool Borough Council, which in specimens taken from 18 to 24 September had an incidence of 121.1 per 100,000 population, and Middlesbrough Council, which had an incidence rate over the same period of 102.5 per 100,000 population.
38.The data also suggest a stabilisation of the incidence rate in Bolton. As a result, the specific Regulations have been revoked and Bolton has been included in the general measures in the North of England Regulations. DHSC has also lifted additional business restrictions in Bolton to enable bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs to open between the hours of 5:00 and 22:00 in line with national restrictions.
39.These two instruments make changes to the temporary provisions introduced by the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (“the CIG Act”). SI 2020/1031 extends the duration of some of the temporary measures beyond their current expiry date of 30 September 2020. Specifically, the instrument extends: the relaxation of company annual general meeting (AGM) requirements to 30 December 2020; the restrictions on use of statutory demands and winding up petitions to 31 December 2020; the modifications to moratorium provisions and temporary moratorium rules to 30 March 2021; and the small supplier exemption from termination clause provisions to 30 March 2021. According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the extensions ensure that the measures continue to be available to companies which may be in financial difficulties at a time when coronavirus related restrictions remain in place, including social distancing and regional lockdowns, and while the Government are starting to wind down their financial support packages.
40.SI 2020/1033 carves-out some of the temporary moratorium provisions that would otherwise fall within scope of the extension under SI 2020/1031. Specifically, SI 2020/2033 terminates the temporary modifications to the conditions for having a moratorium which allows the supervising insolvency practitioner to disregard aspects of the company’s financial position that relate to coronavirus when considering whether the company is rescuable for the purposes of having a moratorium; and the relaxation of the conditions for extending, monitoring and terminating the moratorium on the grounds that any worsening of the company’s financial position because of coronavirus should be disregarded. As a result of these changes, the lowered threshold for obtaining a moratorium will no longer apply and, when considering whether the company is rescuable, the monitor will not be able to disregard the economic impact of coronavirus. BEIS says that these changes will ensure that the requirements for obtaining a moratorium will start to revert back to the original policy intent of the CIG Act.
41.These Regulations amend earlier instruments to extend requirements in relation to the “rule of six” to all premises where track and trace requirements apply and to introduce additional requirements on certain hospitality businesses. Specifically, the instrument ensures that requirements in relation to bookings of no more than six people, admission of parties of no more than six people, and mingling now apply in all premises subject to the track and trace requirements. The instrument imposes additional requirements on pubs, cafés, restaurants or bars, including bars in a hotel or members’ club, to take reasonable measures to stop customers from singing in groups of more than six. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed that several groups will be allowed to sing on the same premises as long as each group does not consist of more than six people. We were also told that amateur choirs, orchestras or drama groups can continue to rehearse or perform together in line with the performing arts guidance, if they can do so in a way that ensures there is no interaction between any sub-groups of six at any time.
42.The instrument also requires businesses to stop customers dancing, with the exception of couples at their wedding or civil partnership ceremony or reception. BEIS told the Committee that they alone will be permitted to dance, but not their guests. The instrument also requires these businesses to limit noise levels to 85 A-weighted decibels when measured at the source of the sound. Live music is exempt.
43.The instrument further requires either signage at all “relevant areas” where face coverings are required to inform people of the requirement to wear a face covering unless an exemption applies or there is a reasonable excuse, or other measures to be taken to ensure that people are informed of the requirement. The instrument also prohibits businesses from preventing anyone from wearing a face covering where this is required.
44.BEIS explains that fixed penalty levels for not complying with these measures are £1,000 on a first occasion, £2,000 on a second occasion and £4,000 on a third occasion. The instrument increases the fixed penalty to £10,000 for a fourth and any subsequent occasion. The instrument also makes changes so that when the level of fixed penalty notice is calculated under these Regulations, any fixed penalty notices issued under the Track and Trace Regulations and the Principal Regulations are taken into account.
45.Given the extent of the restrictions imposed by this instrument and their increasing complexity, the EM should have been clearer. It is not evident, for example, whether the statement at paragraph 7.8 that “Certain behaviours, can pose significant disease transmission risks” refers to singing and dancing and/or other behaviours or activities. As the legislation and rules introduced to deal with the pandemic become more complex and locally varied, it is essential that EMs provide a clear rationale for any restrictions that are imposed and set out how exactly the restrictions will be applied in practice. We are concerned about the growing complexity of the rules, and in particular about how this complexity may affect the public’s understanding of what is required and people’s willingness to follow new restrictions.
46.These Regulations amend earlier instruments to ensure employers can continue to access support with the costs of paying eligible Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to their employees. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) says that the European Commission has amended its definition of when a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) is in difficulty and eligible to claim State aid under the UK’s Temporary State Aid Framework. This instrument ensures that the SSP rebate scheme remains aligned with the details agreed by the UK and the Commission regarding the UK’s programmes of support and intervention during the pandemic. According to HMRC, the changes may enable some SME employers who were previously ineligible to claim, because they were already in difficulty on 31 December 2019, to make a claim for eligible costs from 29 June 2020, if they meet certain conditions. The Regulations also change how employers must correct a claim which has been previously overstated, by providing a more straightforward process for employers involving a single point of contact. The instrument also ensures that employers can claim for coronavirus related SSP for those employees who were required to shield and formed part of an extended or linked household and are therefore eligible for SSP in line with the changes made by the Department for Work and Pensions to extend eligibility.
47.These Regulations amend the original International Travel Regulations to increase the fixed penalty payable by a person who fails to self-isolate when required to on their return to England from abroad. In line with other recent changes designed to increase compliance, this instrument introduces a “laddering” system, whereby the amount payable increases for repeated breaches of the requirement. Although the fixed penalty payable for a first offence remains £1,000 from 2 October 2020, it will increase to £2,000, £4,000, then £10,000 for subsequent offences.
48.The instrument also amends the original International Travel Regulations (as above) to remove Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, Poland and Turkey from the list of exempt destinations. From 3 October, passengers arriving from those destinations will be required to self-isolate on arrival.
49.In addition, it corrects an error in Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the original Regulations which relates to the exemption of certain persons from the requirement to self-isolate.
8 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) Regulations 2020 () and Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North East and North West of England) Regulations 2020 (): both as amended.
9 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (North of England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/828 as amended).
10 as amended.
11 Public Health England, ‘Contain framework Local authority watchlist’ (1 October 2020): [accessed 30 September 2020].
12 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Bolton) Regulations 2020 ( as amended).
13 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 () (“the Principal Regulations”), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 104), as amended most recently by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2020 (), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 135).
14 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Collection of Contact Details etc and Related Requirements) Regulations 2020 () (“the Track and Trace Regulations”), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 131).
15 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Obligations of Hospitality Undertakings) (England) Regulations (), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 131).
16 Cabinet Office, Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do, (22 September 2020): [accessed 30 September 2020].
17 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) Regulations 2020 (), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 116).
18 Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Funding of Employers’ Liabilities) Regulations 2020 () and the Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Funding of Employers’ Liabilities) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 (), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 69).
19 SMEs are businesses with fewer than 250 employees and either turnover below €50 million or balance sheet total below €43 million.
20 Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2020 (), see: , Session 2019-21 (HL 104).
21 Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 ().