30-31 May 2020 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Govt must follow the science when it comes to easing lockdown
  • Govt must rethink plans to shut down virtual Parliament
  • Govt must issue “crystal clear” guidance for those returning to sport
  • Ministers must explain evidence behind decision to ease lockdown
  • Foreign Secretary’s silence on Trump tweets is shameful
  • Govt decision to press on with reopening schools “deeply worrying”
  • Govt must urgently scrap Vagrancy Act as part of plan to end rough sleeping

Govt must follow the science when it comes to easing lockdown

Responding to reports that several members of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group have warned of the risk of easing the lockdown in England on Monday 1 June, Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care spokesperson Munira Wilson said:

The decision by key members of SAGE to go public with their concerns shows that Ministers are no longer following the science.

The test, trace, isolate system that we need to keep people safe is not yet fully functional. The NHSX app is delayed for an unknown period. For seven days straight the Government has been unable to provide even basic data about the number of people tested. On top of these failings, public health messaging has been badly undermined as people see it’s one rule for the Tory elite and another for everyone else.

Given this chaos, measures to lift lockdown appear premature. At every stage the Liberal Democrats have been clear that the Government must listen to the experts and follow the science. Protecting public health and tackling the spread of the virus must always be the Government’s number one priority – many are questioning whether this remains the case.

Govt must rethink plans to shut down virtual Parliament

Responding the Procedure Committee’s report recommending that a form of virtual Parliament is allowed to continue while coronavirus restrictions are in place, Wendy Chamberlain, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform, said:

The Government’s advice to the public is to work from home if possible. Parliamentary authorities have bent over backwards to ensure the House of Commons can sit remotely to help protect public health. There is no good reason not to continue to do just that.

With only 50 MPs permitted in the Commons and virtual questions no longer allowed, Jacob Rees-Mogg is setting a dangerous precedent by blocking opportunity for full scrutiny. This is especially worrying for those Members unable to travel to Westminster for coronavirus-related reasons.

What’s more, the need for socially distanced votes will slow down Parliament and waste hours of time better spent debating legislation and questioning Ministers on pressing issues. This is no way to serve our constituents and the Government must think again about shutting down virtual proceedings.

Govt must issue “crystal clear” guidance for those returning to sport

Responding to today’s COVID-19 update from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Daisy Cooper said:

Many will welcome news that sport is set to return to our screens, but this must not jeopardise public health. Guidance for all those involved must be crystal clear when it comes to checking symptoms, testing and social distancing, to minimise the risk.

More widely, many are acutely concerned that the Government is starting to ease lockdown at a time when not one part of the test, trace and isolate system which could keep people safe is actually working properly. Against this backdrop, Ministers will struggle to reassure the public that they are not relaxing the lockdown prematurely.

Ministers and scientists have made clear that, to prevent a further COVID-19 surge, people across the country will need to follow new guidance to the letter. Professor Van-Tam has explicitly confirmed that the “rules apply to all”. Boris Johnson must act now to sack Cummings and start rebuilding public trust, or risk undermining his Government’s own public health messaging at this pivotal time.

Ministers must explain evidence behind decision to ease lockdown

In response to the Foreign Secretary’s comments on The Andrew Marr Show today, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

The Foreign Secretary failed to provide a convincing explanation as to why lockdown is easing tomorrow despite the fact that the COVID-19 risk is still classified as “high”.

Ministers have a duty to explain what evidence is guiding their decisions and must do so urgently. Instead, Ministers have been wasting time attempting to defend the indefensible actions of Dominic Cummings.

Meanwhile we have witnessed a failing roll out of a test trace and isolate system that’s not yet operational. And for over a week, the Government has failed to provide core data on the number of people being tested. It’s clear there are gaping holes in the vital systems we need to keep people safe.

These failures only add to concerns that the Government has lost its grip on the crisis. Ministers must stop obfuscating and start acting, and the Prime Minister must lead from the top by sacking Cummings. This is the only way to start rebuilding public trust.

Foreign Secretary’s silence on Trump tweets is shameful

Following the Foreign Secretary’s response to questions from Andrew Marr about President Trump’s tweets on the subject of protests in the US, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

The Foreign Secretary’s cowardly failure to condemn the President’s inflammatory language demonstrates a Government incapable of standing up to Donald Trump.

The Government’s silence is shameful and indefensible. The UK Government must not only condemn Trump’s rhetoric, but must also act to build a more equal society here in the UK and abroad.

The Government should be using our special relationship with the US to condemn Trump’s dangerous and violent language and actions. We have a responsibility to do this privately and publicly.

Govt decision to press on with reopening schools “deeply worrying”

Ahead of some schools reopening to more pupils on Monday 1 June, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

Ministers have repeatedly claimed to be guided by science through this crisis, yet a number of scientists – including members of SAGE – have expressed concern about the easing of lockdown. It’s deeply worrying that plans to reopen schools tomorrow are going ahead despite the fact that the COVID-19 risk is still classified as “high”.

We all want to see children back in schools as an urgent priority. But not if this risks a new COVID-19 spike. The Government must guarantee that public health will not be put at risk as a result of a premature or rushed effort to get children back into classrooms.

The Government must also find find practical solutions to the logistical problems created by the need for social distancing in schools. That’s why the Liberal Democrats have called on Government to look into creating local spare space registers, to open up community spaces for use by schools.

Ministers must make clear to parents and teachers exactly what guidance lies behind the decision to reopen schools, and what practical support is in place for schools as they open up to more pupils tomorrow.

Govt must urgently scrap Vagrancy Act as part of plan to end rough sleeping

Following today’s announcements from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary and Dame Louise Casey relating to support for rough sleepers, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said:

After years of prevarication it took a crisis to get the Tories to house thousands who were sleeping rough at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s vital that this support continues in the months ahead, to ensure we don’t go backwards when such progress has been made.

Ministers must now show they are completely committed to tackling this issue head on.

That is why the Liberal Democrats are urging the Government to commit to scrapping the Dickensian Vagrancy Act – which unfairly criminalises people for rough sleeping – as a matter of urgency. Otherwise the law remains wholly incompatible with the plans outlined to support rough sleepers in the long term.

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  • Peter Martin 1st Jun '20 - 8:21am

    “Govt must follow the science……….”

    Just what is “the science”? Is is a meaningful concept? Everything in life is a trade off between risk and benefit. If we want to have zero road deaths we close down the road network. But……..

    I’d say scientists are now united in saying the solution, short of a vaccine, has to be in testing, testing and more testing. If necessary we’ll need to compulsorily isolate anyone who is shown to be a carrier until they are shown to be free of the virus, even if they are asymptomatic. So maybe even some compulsory testing could be required too.

    And it is all about the R value. It isn’t just a statistical abstraction. Isolating known carriers at an early stage stops them passing it on to anyone else which is just another way of saying their personal ‘r’ value is then zero. If they had passed it to three people it would be 3. The R value is just the average of the total number of ‘r’ values for everyone who is infected, and the lower they are, the lower is R too. The goal is to get R to be less than one. It doesn’t have to be zero for the infection to die out. 0.5 will do nicely.

    The testing, therefore, doesn’t have to be perfect and the testers can afford to miss a few infections. It should have been expanded and improved, rather than stopped, in March. It shouldn’t have been an either/or choice between lock-down and testing. The words “mitigation” and “containment” implied a false choice. Even a reduction from R from, say, 2 to 1.8 due to a not very good system of testing and a further reduction to 0.7 due to lock-down would have been useful. These numbers would naturally change as the testing component became more effective.

    So I’m not sure what “the scientists” were thinking about at the time!

  • David Allen 1st Jun '20 - 11:02am

    I am glad to see that Munira Wilson – alongside Wendy Chaberlian, Layla Moran and indeed Andy Burnham – has had the sense to tackle this issue robustly and treat it as a fit subject for political debate. When the Government is spectacularly mismanaging a crisis and incurring a rising death toll as a result, it’s time we saw some opposition from the Opposition parties!

    Keir Starmer has emphasised his willingness to work constructively. That’s understandable, for him. He has to overcome a legacy of destructive fantasy politics from Corbyn. The rest of us don’t face those constraints. We face an incompetent, lazy, play-it-for-laughs Prime Minister, who deserves to be hounded out of office before he does any more harm. It’s time for Opposition.

  • Peter Watson 1st Jun '20 - 12:05pm

    @Ian Sanderson (RM3) If this site had a “Like” button, then I would press it for your comment!

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