Tory peers say latest Covid policy is akin to a 'police state'

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Tory peers have rounded on the Government’s coronavirus policy, branding it “nonsensical” and akin to a “police state”.

Criticisms were raised in the Lords after Boris Johnson announced fresh restrictions banning social gatherings of more than six people in England.

Lord Robathan, a former Conservative minister, said: “I regret to say that this Government’s policy on Covid is contradictory, confusing and hugely damaging for the country.”

He said the policy was “frankly nonsensical,” adding: “Should I have the opportunity, I will vote against it.”

Health minister Lord Bethell said he welcomed Lord Robathan’s challenge but disagreed with his comments.

He said there was “enormous public support” for the Government’s response to Covid-19 and adherence to the measures introduced.

Baroness Noakes, a former frontbencher for the party, said: “As a Conservative, it grieves me that the Government is pursuing policies such as the rule of six and Covid secure marshals, which belong in a police state.”

Lady Noakes said the Government had chosen a “highly risk-averse approach” driven by guesstimates of hospitalisation and mortality rates, doubtless derived from “mutant algorithms”.

She told the minister: “In the meantime, the economy is tanking.”

Lord Bethell said it was not mutant algorithms that were sending people to hospital in France, Spain, Belgium and other European countries.

“It isn’t a desire to introduce a police state that is seeing prevalence leading to hospitalisation and leading to death in many countries in Europe,” he said.

“It is our fear that Britain is going that way that sends us to put in these regretful measures and not any desire to exert state influence.”

Former health secretary Lord Lansley said consistency of messaging was important to securing public support and adherence to restrictions.

“Over the last six months, we have consistently explained that indoor and outdoor gatherings are significantly different and the scientific evidence clearly shows much greater risk for indoor gatherings,” he said.

Lord Lansley asked the minister to explain why “the Government appears to have abandoned this important distinction in their current guidance”.

Lord Bethell said Lord Lansley was right to point out “this important change”.

Feedback from the public showed the Government’s guidance was “growing increasingly complicated and confusing the public about its terms”.

Lord Bethell added: “While the science may suggest all sorts of clever differences between one situation and another, between inside and outside, at the end of the day guidance is only effective if it is clear, understood and obeyed.

“What we have done is to clarify some of the more complex aspects of our guidance in order that it is more effective.”

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