Third Report Contents

Instruments relating to COVID-19

12.This Committee has on several occasions raised concerns about a blurring of the distinction between legislation and guidance. Recent events have illustrated why this is a significant problem: Guidance associated with both the travel regulations and the changes to restrictions in certain areas (see below) have this week caused confusion for the public and have given rise to questions about enforcement, both of which undermine the effectiveness of the advice given. Recently, in oral evidence to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Lord President and Leader of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, stated “Law is law and guidance is guidance”—we agree. There should be a very clear distinction between the two but regret that these two examples do not follow that maxim.

Restrictions on businesses and public gatherings

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps and Other Provisions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/585)

13.These Regulations amend the “Steps Regulations”3 to implement the easing of lockdown in line with the “road map”. With effect from 17 May, they move all of England from the Step 2 area to the Step 3 area, so that the restrictions set out in Schedule 3 to the Steps Regulations now apply: for example, six people or two households may gather indoors and up to 30 people outdoors, weddings and funerals are now permitted with up to 30 attending, and all remaining outdoor entertainment and indoor hospitality may now reopen. The Steps Regulations are due to expire on 30 June 2021.

14.Schedule 3 to the Steps Regulations is also amended to increase the number of people who may attend support groups to up to 30, and to allow funeral limits to exceed 30 where the venue has capacity to meet coronavirus guidelines. Regulation 8 of the Steps Regulations is also revoked to remove the prohibition on international travel and the requirement for individuals to declare their reason for travelling abroad.

15.This instrument also amends the Face Coverings in a Relevant Place Regulations4 to provide an exemption for gatherings for specified education and training purposes in community premises. This mirrors the policy for schools and further education providers. It also extends the expiry date of certain other regulations to 20 June 2021.5

16.These national provisions came into effect on 17 May. However the Government published guidance on 21 May6 which said that to combat “the Indian variant” people living in Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside should meet outside wherever possible and travel in and out of those areas should be avoided. This change was not publicised by the Government and caused considerable confusion. All eight local health directors have since issued a joint statement contradicting it, saying that there are no restrictions on travel in or out of their areas and national conditions apply.7 It appears that this situation was in part caused by continuing confusion over the status of government guidance and in part by failures in how the advice was communicated.

Changes to business regulation and practice

Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) (Amendment) and Suspension (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/562)

Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/564)

17.These two instruments have been laid before Parliament alongside and share an Explanatory Memorandum. SI 2021/564 amends Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 which introduced emergency measures requiring residential landlords to provide extended notice periods of three months when seeking possession of either a social or privately rented property. The measures were introduced to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic, by delaying when landlords could begin possession proceedings. The measures were brought into force for an initial period of six months until 30 September 2020 and were subsequently extended until 31 March 2021, when the required notice period was also extended to six months in most cases.8 They were extended further until 31 May,9 and SI 2021/564 extends the measures for a third time until 30 September. The instrument also reduces the length of notice required from six to four months from 1 June and, in the case of non-serious rent arrears cases only, reduces it further to two months’ notice from 1 August. The instrument also reduces the threshold for what is considered ‘serious rent arrears’ from more than six months’ to four months’ rent from 1 June. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says that the changes reflect the easing of national restrictions. SI 2021/564 makes consequential changes to the notice period requirements in the prescribed form that is used for serving notice of a property let on an assured tenancy or an assured agricultural occupancy.


Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/582)

Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/589)

18.The previous International Travel regulations,10 which were due to expire on 8 June, have been amended more than 50 times. SI 2021/582 consolidates and carries forward the requirements of those Regulations and the associated SIs which required operators of commercial transport to ensure passenger compliance with them.11 In addition, from 17 May, in line with the report of the Global Travel Taskforce12 it introduces, in Schedule 1, the green list for countries from which travellers are assessed as posing a lower risk to public health. (The green, amber and red lists are referred to as categories 1, 2 and 3 respectively in the instrument.) In Schedule 3, the measures applicable to red list “high risk” arrivals remain unchanged. Amber list countries are those not listed in either Schedule 1 or 3. The same requirements for testing, completion of a Passenger Locator Form quarantine, exemptions and penalties are carried forward. The new Regulations must be reviewed on 14 June and at least every 28 days thereafter. The instrument will cease to have effect on 16 May 2022 if not revoked earlier.

19.SI 2021/589 was laid four days later to disapply the exemption for seafarers (in Schedule 11) from those working on cruise ships, who will have to enter managed self-isolation if they have been in a red list country in the previous 10 days. It also corrects errors to (amongst other things) ensure that Part 4 (operator liability) of the International Travel and Operator Liability Regulations applies as intended to maritime and rail operators.

20.We once again note that significant regulations have been laid and brought into effect over a weekend and also that they have required almost immediate correction.

21.We also note reports of confusion over whether people can take holidays in amber list countries such as France or Spain. The restrictions in this instrument impose self-isolation at home and testing on days 2 and 8 for anyone who arrives in England from one of those countries. SI 2021/585 (see above) removed all legal restrictions on leaving the UK, but the government guidance states that people should not travel to amber list countries.13 Ministers have made apparently conflicting statements about whether people are allowed to travel for leisure purposes, and now say that people should not visit most countries unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.14 Reportedly holiday companies are refusing to refund or exchange bookings to these countries,15 so the confusion over what is guidance and what is law appears to have led to financial losses for some customers .

Public services

Valuation Tribunal for England (Council Tax and Rating Appeals) (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/579)

22.This instrument confirms that a hearing for appeals made to the Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE) can be conducted in whole or in part by video link, telephone, or other means of instantaneous two-way electronic communication. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), this brings the VTE procedures in line with the arrangements in the broader tribunal system. MHCLG says that without the clarification there could be an expectation that hearings would be physical and require in-person attendance, and that the need for social distancing during the pandemic has highlighted the benefit of clarifying the options available to the VTE when deciding how to conduct a hearing. There will be no requirement for hearings to be held remotely: the VTE will continue to be able to hold in-person hearings where appropriate.

3 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/364).

4 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020) (SI 2020/791).

5 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Local Authority Enforcement Powers and Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1375) and Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 20202/592).

6 Cabinet Office, ‘(COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do: If you’re in an area where the new COVID-19 variant is spreading’ (29 March 2021): [accessed 25 May 2021].

7 ‘Covid: Government backtracks over local travel advice after confusion’, BBC (26 May 2021): [accessed 26 May 2021].

8 Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/914).

9 Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/284).

10 Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/568) as amended.

11 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Public Health Information for International Passengers) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/567) and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Pre-Departure Testing and Operator Liability) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/38).

12 DfT, Global Travel Taskforce: safe return of international travel (9 April 2021): [accessed 20 May 2021].

13 DfT, ‘Red, amber and green list rules for entering England: Amber list countries and territories’ (7 May 2021): [accessed 25 May 2021].

14 ‘Don’t holiday in amber list countries — Boris Johnson’, BBC (19 May 2021): [accessed 26 May 2021].

15 ‘Holiday firms refuse refunds for amber destinations’, BBC (18 May 2021): [accessed 26 May 2021].

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