No plans to exempt children from ‘rule of six’, says Justice Secretary

13 September 2020, 12:03 | Updated: 13 September 2020, 13:23

By Ewan Somerville

The Government is not planning to exempt under-12s from the “rule of six” despite clamours from Tory backbenchers, the Justice Secretary said. 

Robert Buckland appeared to rule out excluding under-12s from the ban on gatherings of more than six people, coming into force on Monday. 

This is despite Wales exempting under-11s and Scotland exempting under-12s from their versions of the same rule. 

The tough new rule was introduced as new daily Covid-19 cases hit a three-month high this week, however young children have been found to be far less prone to the virus. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland was speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland was speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick. Picture: LBC

Mr Buckland told LBC’s Swarbrick on Sunday show: “I can see the issue and I know the Scots have taken a different view… I think our system has the merits of simplicity. 

“It’s a very clear rule now - indoors or outdoors, social events - six is enough. I think that’s the right approach.”

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Pressed on whether he would look again, the Cabinet minister told LBC: “We always keep looking at how to calibrate this and vary it and we have been very fleet-a-foot in doing that in recent months.

“But i think at the moment this has the benefits of extreme simplicity and that’s got to be a good thing for everybody.”

It comes after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove insisted the rules in England are “absolutely right” in their current form. 

Fines can be issued to anyone found flouting the rules, starting at £100, but could climb to £3,200 for repeat offenders. 

Some Conservative backbenchers have protested about the strict new curbs, urging an exemption of young children and a monthly review of the legislation. 

Read more: Boris Johnson battles backbenchers over under-12s in 'rule of six'

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On Friday, ex-minister Steve Baker said it amounted to "arbitrary powers without scrutiny" and MP Desmond Swayne said it was "outrageous" not to have a Parliamentary debate.

Former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption told LBC on Sunday morning that the rule was unenforceable and a clampdown on civil liberties. 

Sarah Pearson, 41, from Norwich, has six children, five of whom are at school and live with her at home. The rule means she would face a fine of £100 for meeting anyone outside the family, leaving them isolated.

She said the rule will "will cause tears", telling the PA news agency: "I am already the parent being strict and saying we play outside and no to sleepovers when others are doing them. And we are being careful. It's another thing that separates them from friends."

Ministers are particularly concerned about the number of positive cases among young people aged 17 to 21. 

The Government said that as of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 3,497 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, slightly lower than the 3,539 cases recorded on Friday.