Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    My Lords, these regulations relate to, among other things, masks. Common sense has always suggested that, since Covid is transmitted by droplets, wearing masks will to some degree reduce its transmission. However, we have not been led by common sense but by the science. Your Lordships will recall that for the first two or three months of the crisis, we were told that there was no scientific evidence suggesting we should wear masks; indeed, they would be unhelpful because they encourage people to be overconfident and to touch their eyes and face. In May, we were told that they would do no harm and might be useful. In June, we were advised but not required to wear them. In July, wearing them in shops was made compulsory. In August, that was extended to other places. In September, regulations made it a punishable offence to prevent people wearing face masks. The latest regulation imposes a fine of up to £10,000 for anyone who even fails to tell their customers to wear a mask.

    Throughout this journey, from discouraging the wearing of masks to hefty punishments for not encouraging their use, we have been told that we are being led by the science. My aim is not to discredit science—I studied it at Cambridge and revere the scientific method. Nor do I mind having to wear a mask over my face; but I do mind having the wool pulled over my eyes. The simple truth is that the reason we were initially told we should not wear masks was that there was a shortage of masks and the scientists, civil servants and politicians felt they should be reserved for medical staff. I hope we will learn from this extraordinary saga that when the common sense conflicts with “the science”, we should subject that scientific advice to rigorous scrutiny, and when we are told there is no evidence for something, we should not conclude that there is evidence against it.