The College of Policing has published guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as to what constitutes a reasonable excuse for leaving your home and it can be found at the Police College Website.
It is certainly much closer to the regulations themselves which I published in this column previously and can still be found at my own blog The Regulations
Of course, ultimately, only a court will determine what really is a reasonable interpretation of the regulations -should anyone wish to challenge an on-the-spot fine levied against them.
Nevertheless, the interpretation in this new CPS guidance is welcome. It clarifies that you can drive a somewhere to take exercise (the exercise should take longer than the drive) and it puts paid to that nonsense with park benches being cordoned-off to prevent walkers sitting down.
Constituents complain to me about any number of the aspects of the regulations.
Why are potentially solitary pastimes like angling and golf prohibited?
Why, if supermarkets can function with proper social distancing, cannot garden centres also open on the same basis?
So, the questions go on.
I can’t answer them because, astonishingly, these regulations which confine us to our homes were never approved, scrutinised and debated in Parliament.
The Government made the regulations under existing powers, not requiring parliamentary approval, empowered by the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act, passed -appropriately enough in view of George Orwell’s classic title, in 1984.
I hope that, as Parliament resumes this week, we will be able to seek opportunities to debate and question the regulations along with a stack of other issues, including the plan for lifting them, But I can’t be certain.
I’ve been a whip both in opposition and in government. Indeed, I have been the Government Pairing Whip, whose responsibility is to get government supporting MPs to Westminster and, as far as possible, to keep them there in order to secure Government legislation in the division lobbies.
I am surprised therefore, to now be in receipt of a communication from my own whip telling me to stay at home and that instead we will have a virtual Parliament online.
Hold on, before we can have a virtual Parliament we first have to debate the details and decide proceed with it, which means that -if it is to be done democratically- MPs must be physically there to do it.
There are any number of issues quite unresolved.
‘Parliament’ derives from the French ‘Parler’: To speak. It is all about debate and conversation both inside and outside the chamber of the House of Commons. In the chamber a minister might triumph or equally ‘lose the House’ in the unique chemistry of that place.
It is outside the Chamber however, that the real challenges to ministers and their policies are hatched. It is in the tea room, smoking room, and in committee corridors that rebellions are hatched, and spines are stiffened amongst like-minded colleagues against the blandishments and threats of the whips.
Will this real practice of democracy thrive with MPs hundreds of miles apart and in proceedings confined to their Zoom ‘thumbnail’ in a grid on a computer screen, muted until their given allocation.
I fear that a virtual Parliament, might turn out to be virtually no Parliament at all