Rule of six is damaging, Welby tells Prime Minister

Stop controlling people’s lives from Westminster

Archbishop warns central control of virus response will harm elderly and vulnerable

The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday signalled his deep concern over the Government’s “rule of six” restrictions and their impact on family life.

Urging ministers to stop controlling people’s lives from Westminster, the Most Rev Justin Welby warns that living with coronavirus over the winter months “will only be sustainable – or even endurable – if we challenge our addiction to centralisation and go back to an age-old principle: only do centrally what must be done centrally”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Archbishop urges the Government to follow the clergy’s centuries-old commitment to “localism” rather than “determining the daily details of our lives”.

A source close to the Archbishop said he was “deeply concerned about Christmas and the impact of the rule of six on the vulnerable, the needy, the poor and the elderly”.

“He is concerned about families being kept apart and the knock-on effect that has, particularly on people who are on their own,” the source added.

It follows mounting criticism of the ban on gatherings of seven or more amid fears it will “cancel Christmas” by outlawing family get-togethers.

‘Let’s place our trust in the local, and make sure it is resourced, trained, informed and empowered’

Indicating a preference for localised action, Archbishop Welby says: “We are not immune to the temptation to pull more decisions into the centre, to feel that ‘something is being done’.

“But it is a temptation that should be resisted. Often that ‘something’ might not be as effective as what could be done locally. Scotland and Wales have shown that local public health is the best qualified to deal with local outbreaks. Local government, schools and voluntary agencies – including churches – can communicate well, act swiftly and measure risk and consequences on the ground.”

Writing with the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, Archbishop Welby adds: “Let’s place our trust in the local, and make sure it is resourced, trained, informed and empowered.”

The intervention came as Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, warned that families would be breaking the new rules if they “mingle” in the street.

Meanwhile, seven councils in the North East urged the Government to give them more powers to reduce pub and restaurant opening hours and limit the number of people allowed to meet outside their homes.

Asked if it was a breach of the new law if two families of four stopped to chat to each other on their way to a park, Ms Patel said: “It’s mingling, I think it is absolutely mingling.”

It prompted Lord Scriven, the Lib Dem peer, to tell the Lords that: “For the first time since the 1300s mingling is an offence under English law.”

Ms Patel said she would report gatherings of more than six people to the police, but the Police Federation of England and Wales called for guidance over enforcement of the measures.

John Apter, the Police Federation chairman, said officers on the front line were “trying to interpret” the rules, which came into effect on Monday. He said: “Maybe we should have guidance, because we haven’t had any yet … 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.”

Tory grandee Lord Dobbs suggested Boris Johnson’s “Covid marshals” could become “busybodies, score settlers and simply social gunslingers”.

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, insisted he was “keeping an open mind” about the possibility of relaxing the rule to exclude children, which would bring England into line with Scotland and Wales.