MPs vote in favour of Covid-19 regulations which enforce rule of six

6 October 2020, 18:49 | Updated: 6 October 2020, 19:51

General view of people enjoying a night out in Soho
General view of people enjoying a night out in Soho. Picture: PA

By Megan White

MPs have voted in favour of Covid-19 regulations which enforce the rule of six in England.

MPs passed the bill by 287 votes to 17, with a majority of 270.

The regulations are already in force, with the motion offering a retrospective vote on it.

Read more: UK records 14,542 new coronavirus cases and 76 deaths

Read more: People in Nottingham urged by council not to visit other people's homes

The division list showed 12 Conservative MPs rebelled to oppose the rule of six Covid-19 regulations.

They were: Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West), Philip Davies (Shipley), Richard Drax (South Dorset), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Esther McVey (Tatton), Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle), Henry Smith (Crawley), Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West), Sir Robert Syms (Poole), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), and William Wragg (Hazel Grove).

Tellers for the noes were Conservative MPs Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) and Christopher Chope (Christchurch).

Five DUP MPs voted against the rule of six regulations for England, with the party's Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson explaining a "more joined-up approach" is needed across the UK.

He wrote on Twitter: "Last week my colleagues and I worked to encourage greater parliamentary scrutiny on the coronavirus regulations.

"Tonight we voted against the rule of six in England as we believe for consistency, Government should exclude under 13s as in NI, Scotland and Wales.

"A more joined-up approach needed."

The vote came as the UK recorded a further 14,542 new coronavirus cases - almost 2,000 more than on Monday - as the death toll rose by 76.

The new confirmed infections come just days after 16,000 cases in England were missed by the NHS Test and Trace system.

Earlier in the debate, Tory MPs questioned the "rationale" behind children not being exempt from the "rule of six" restriction.

Steve Brine (Winchester) said: "What is the rationale for children under the age of those who would have to wear masks being included in the rule of six - the rationale, not the fact that it is happening, the rationale?"

Helen Whately later replied: "The position on this is that, as I have said, a clear steer ... the need for guidance to be simple and absolutely clear for everybody, and also taking a path of on the one hand trying to enable a level of socialising for the sake of people's quality of life, while taking steps to control the virus.

"That is where we have taken the position that the rule of six achieves that balance.

"There may of course - I appreciate that colleagues may debate and would like a different position to be taken - but that is a position based on the..."

On the impact of the rule of six measures, Ms Whately said: "They have only been in place for just over three weeks and what we do know is it takes at least a couple of weeks for us to see measures take their effect because of the incubation period of the virus."

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She added: "Clearly we are keeping a very close eye on infect rates and absolute case numbers across the country."

Intervening, Tory Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) called on the Government to publish the compliance data "that it has access to so that we can all see the extent to which people are complying with the rules".

He said: "There's no point making rules if no one's following them and that's an important matter for this House to be aware of."

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, asked whether the Government had considered a "rule of eight" instead.

During the debate, he said: "Can she (health minister Helen Whately) share with us her estimate of the efficacy of the rule of six compared to that of a rule of eight had that been introduced instead.

"Is the rule of six more or less effective than a ban on household mixing?"

He added: "These rules are a massive intrusion into the liberty and private lives of the whole British people, and they're having a devastating economic effect as well which will result in big job losses and masses of business failures."

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson questioned why ministers in England have not followed colleagues in the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales and exempted children under 12 from the rule of six.

She added: "I'd like to know does she (Ms Whately) think that people in Scotland and Wales are able to follow a slightly more complex message as opposed to people in England needing a simpler message about children?"

Tory Huw Merriman said he could not vote in favour of the Government's public health motion as he fears the rule of six will "do more harm than good".

Mr Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) told MPs: "When it comes to the rule of six I do have great concerns because I do not see the evidence in terms of how this will reduce the rates of Covid.

"My biggest concern which I'd say to the Government and to the front bench is this - we are ruling by consent, we need people to come with us.

"When people look at these rules, people I speak to who have been absolutely religious devotees of lockdown, they now say I'm just not going to do this any more. And the concern is that they won't follow some of the other rules that do make sense that we should have in place."

Returning to the rule of six, Mr Merriman said: "Now I look for that evidence, but I still don't see it.

"On that basis, I am afraid that I am unable to vote for the rule of six because I just do not believe it is proportionate and that it will actually do what the Government hopes it will do, and I hope and fear that it will actually do more harm than good."