Matt Hancock bats away calls for young children to be exempt from ‘Rule of Six’

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Matt Hancock today batted away furiour Tory demands for young children to be exempted from the ‘Rule of Six’ to save Christmas. 

The Health Secretary was repeatedly pressed on the ‘unfair and inflexible’ restrictions as he made a statement in the Commons this afternoon.

Senior Conservatives lined up to urge the government to copy the Scottish and Welsh administrations, which have said that children aged under 12 do not count towards the limit on gatherings.

But while Mr Hancock insisted he understood the ‘impact’ the rules were having, he said ‘simplicity’ was crucial for them to be effective.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was repeatedly pressed on the 'unfair and inflexible' Covid restrictions as he made a statement in the Commons this afternoon

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was repeatedly pressed on the ‘unfair and inflexible’ Covid restrictions as he made a statement in the Commons this afternoon

Huw Merriman

Stephen Crabb

Speaking in the Commons, Tory ex-minister Stephen Crabb (right) said it was important the rules had ‘high levels of public support’, while fellow Conservative Huw Merriman (left) said people did not understand them

Boris Johnson (pictured in Whitehall today) has insisted the 'Rule of Six' is needed to control the flare-up in coronavirus cases

Boris Johnson (pictured in Whitehall today) has insisted the ‘Rule of Six’ is needed to control the flare-up in coronavirus cases

The clashes came amid confusion over the details of the rules, with Priti Patel warning that two families stopping for a chat after accidentally bumping into each other in the street would be breaking the law.

Speaking in the Commons, Tory ex-minister Stephen Crabb said it was important the rules had ‘high levels of public support’.

‘To that end, I encourage him to keep an open mind about the ”’Rule of Six’ that is in place in Wales and Scotland and the exemption of small children,’ he said.

Tory former minister Chris Grayling said: ‘If you are lucky or unlucky enough to have four very young children, under these rules you’re not actually allowed to meet another household at all.

‘And I do hope that the Government will keep the rules under careful review and to look at every way possible of making them as fair as possible for every family.’

Mr Hancock replied: ‘Yes, I do understand, I do understand the point that he is making and we do understand the impact that these rules that we have to put in place have.

‘It is the same around the world that the rules that needed to be put in place to deal with the pandemic are not pleasant ones or ones that anybody would want to have enforced, but they are unfortunately necessary to save lives.’

Fellow Conservative Huw Merriman said: ‘Many of my constituents are struggling to understand why they can play five-a-side football but two connected families of five each cannot meet.

‘Can I ask the Secretary of State whether he will look at flexibility when local rates permit and also excluding under-12s? Christmas is just around the corner, I know he has to think about the health of the nation but I really would urge some flexibility on the part of the Government.’

Mr Hancock said children do transmit the virus and the rule in place is ‘as simple as possible’ considering the risks, adding: ‘We do take an approach that’s different in different areas according to the extent of cases locally and that’s a very important part of one of the tools in our armoury.’

Earlier, Ms Patel warned that two families bumping into each other on the street would be breaking the ‘Rule of Six’ – as she vowed to snitch on her own neighbours if they flout the new law.

The Home Secretary said more than half-a-dozen people stopping to chat after accidentally meeting up would constitute ‘mingling’.

Lawyers questioned whether that was the case – but No10 offered backing, saying: ‘You can expect the police to ask you to disperse.’ 

Defending the measures today, Ms Patel also would report any behaviour she believed was ‘inappropriate’ and risked spreading the virus. 

The comments came as police complained that they have been left in the dark on how to enforce the tough restrictions, with no guidance and widespread anger among the public.

A major row was sparked as the new law came into force, banning ‘mingling’ by groups of more than six people. 

It bans people from ‘mingling’ in groups of more than six, with those who flout the rules facing thousands of pounds in fines.  

Home Secretary Priti Patel (left) told Sky News she would report any behaviour she believed was 'inappropriate' and risked spreading the virus

Home Secretary Priti Patel (left) told Sky News she would report any behaviour she believed was ‘inappropriate’ and risked spreading the virus

…but it’s still OK to go grouse shooting in groups of up to 30 

Ministers have given the green light for grouse shooting to be included on a list of sports that are exempt from the new coronavirus restrictions.

Other physical activities that are allowed in groups of up to 30 include hunting with guns, paintball and team sports such as football, hockey and netball. 

Sailing, angling and polo are also allowed.

The guidance warns the public not to gather in groups of more than six before or after the activity, and to maintain social distancing wherever possible.

The Government last night faced criticism from opponents of hunting, but was praised by those who had warned that a ban would impact the rural economy.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said well-organised shooting and hunting meets posed ‘no serious risk’ to the spread of the disease, as organisers are able to implement social distancing outdoors.

‘Both hunting and shooting are intrinsic parts of the countryside, both economically and socially,’ he said, adding: ‘Many areas of the countryside have suffered economically during the lockdown.’

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In a round of interviews this morning, Ms Patel was asked if she personally would report her own neighbours. 

‘I’m rarely at home but if I saw something that I thought was inappropriate then, quite frankly, I would call the police,’ she told Sky News.

She added: ‘It’s not dobbing in neighbours, it’s all about us taking personal responsibility.’

Ms Patel said it was a ‘personal choice’ on whether to report breaches, but if there was a ‘big party taking place’ it would be ‘right to call the police’.

‘Anyone that is effectively defying the rules, they will be helping to spread coronavirus,’ she said.

‘That is not a good thing and obviously we all have a role to play.

‘We’re all taking personal responsibility, we all have to be conscientious to one another.’

Asked if two families of four stopping for a chat on the way to the park constituted ‘mingling’, Ms Patel told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It is mingling.

‘I think it is absolutely mingling.

‘You have got to put this in the context of coronavirus and keeping distance, wearing masks.

‘The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people’s health at risk.’

Ms Patel added: ‘Mingling is people coming together. That is my definition of mingling.’

However, MPs and police have voiced concerns about the restrictions on civil liberties, and warned that the restrictions are ‘confusing’.

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, was asked whether ‘more guidance’ was needed as he appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

he responded: ‘Maybe we should have ‘guidance’, because we haven’t had any yet.’

Mr Apter said he understood the Government faced a ‘very fast-moving’ and complicated situation.

‘But my colleagues who are on the front line trying to interpret this law, trying to educate and work with the public, are now being accused of asking (people) to snitch on their neighbours.’

He also said the community needed to manage its expectations of police in enforcing the new rule.

‘We do not have loads of extra police officers. We’re already trying to manage increasing demand. We’re not going to be able to attend every call.’ 

A group of young people soak up the sunshine on Primrose Hill in London yesterday

A group of young people soak up the sunshine on Primrose Hill in London yesterday

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