Earlier posts, here and here, considered communal worship on Remembrance Sunday as addressed in the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s Guidance Local authority preparations for Remembrance Sunday. Initially, the MHCLG Guidance was at odds with Part 5 of the Westminster Government’s guidance, New National Restrictions from 5 November, but after a revision on 6 November 2020, these issues have been resolved (and reflected in our posts), it now reads:
Remembrance Sunday services are traditionally part of communal worship. From 5 November, places of worship are not permitted to open for communal worship. Celebrants may, however, enter places of worship to broadcast services to their communities and will be able to incorporate Remembrance services as part of this when they do so.”
With the publication of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England)(No. 4) Regulations 2020, SI 2020/1200 and the associated Explanatory Memorandum, it is now possible to clarify a number of issues which have arisen – subject to any modification of SI 2020/1200 following its debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday 5 November. The Explanatory Memorandum notes:
“In keeping with the commitment made by the Secretary of State to the House of Commons on 30 September (Hansard cols. 288-289), the intention is that this instrument will be debated in the Commons after it has been made, and before it has come into force.”
The MHCLG issued Local authority preparations for Remembrance Sunday, which was last updated on 3 November 2020. The document is directed at the organization of Remembrance Sunday events:
“Local authorities in England and faith leaders can organise outdoor Remembrance Sunday events at a public war memorial or cenotaph, if you complete a COVID-19 risk assessment and take all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the virus. Where necessary, you should engage with neighbouring businesses, transport operators and local transport authorities to assess any risks to the local area of increased visitors from other locations and apply additional mitigations if needed”.
It states that local events should be adapted to reflect the same principles as the Remembrance Sunday event at the National Cenotaph, which will be adjusted this year to ensure the event is as safe as possible. Importantly, the event should:
- be outdoors;
- be short and focussed on wreath laying;
- any small, military bands should observe social distancing;
- numbers are to be kept to a minimum, focussing attendance on those wishing to lay wreaths; and
- take reasonable steps to minimise wider public viewing.
Although “[m]embers of the public are legally permitted to stop and watch the event as spectators…event organisers should take reasonable steps to discourage the public from attending events…”. “There may be “limited communal singing [outdoors and a few minutes, or less] involving the national anthem and one additional song…if additional mitigations are put in place”.
None of these criteria suggests that there is a requirement for any religious content, or involvement of anyone – such as parishioners – who does not have specific links to the event. “Communal worship”, listed at the end of the Guidance, does not appear to be an essential part of the “event”, and this sets the context for the analysis of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England)(No. 4) Regulations 2020.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020
This instrument revokes the following Regulations, each of which contained exceptions in relation to indoor gatherings for certain Remembrance Day activities —
- the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Medium) (England) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/1103), other than Schedule 3* to those Regulations;
- the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (High) (England) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/1104), other than Schedule 3* to those Regulations;
- the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Very High)
(England) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/1105), other than Schedule 3* to those
[*Schedule 3 to these three sets of Regulations refers to Consequential amendments, and Transitional and saving provisions]. These Exceptions are carried over to Regulation 11(18) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020,
Exception 14: Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day
(18) Exception 14 is that—
(a) the gathering takes place—
(i) outdoors in a place which is not a private dwelling to commemorate Remembrance Sunday, or
(ii) in Westminster Abbey on 11th November 2020 to commemorate Armistice Day and the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Soldier;
(b) the persons attending the gathering are limited to
(i) persons there as part of their work,
(ii) persons providing voluntary services in connection with the event,
(iii) members of the armed forces,
(iv) veterans of the armed forces or their representatives or carers, and
(v) spectators who participate in the gathering alone or only with members of their household, linked household or their linked childcare household, and
(c) the gathering organiser or manager takes the required precautions in relation to the gathering (see regulation 14).
Other restrictions on gatherings
Regulation 5: Restrictions on leaving home sets out a restriction on people leaving the place where they are living without reasonable excuse. Exceptions listed in Regulation 6: Exceptions: leaving home “for necessary purposes” include: to attend a place of worship; and to attend an event commemorating Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day. However, under Regulation 18: Further restrictions and closures,
(7) A person who is responsible for a place of worship must ensure that the place of worship is closed, except for uses permitted in paragraph (8) and regulation 11(18).
(8) A place of worship may be used—
(a) for funerals,
(b) for commemorative events celebrating the life of a person who has died,
(c) to broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or as part of a radio or television broadcast,
(d) to provide essential voluntary services or urgent public support services (including the provision of food banks or other support for the homeless or vulnerable people, blood donation sessions or support in an emergency),
(e) for childcare provided by a person registered under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006,
(f) for individual prayer, and for these purposes, “individual prayer” means prayer by individuals which does not form part of communal worship, or
(g) to host any gathering which is permitted under regulation 8 or 9.
The Church of England FAQ “Can we still hold a Remembrance Day Service” [here, and scroll down to Life Events] states:
“Yes, services outdoors are possible if they can be staged in a safe and legal way, which includes undertaking a risk assessment. Please see the Government’s guidance for Local Authorities on Remembrance Sunday for more details. Limited communal singing, involving the national anthem and one additional song, is permitted.
Please be aware there are likely to be many people unable to attend these services physically who would like participate or be offered the chance to remember at home, so additional resources online and in paper format are encouraged.
Communal worship in churches is not permitted at this time but the minister can incorporate Remembrance Sunday into their broadcast services from church buildings.”
With regard to Test and Trace, the Local Authority guidance states
“Event organisers must take reasonable steps to record the contact details of those attending (including those present in a working capacity, and members of the public who stop to spectate)…the legal requirement on recording contact details does not extend to places of worship, however it is strongly advised that recording is put in place where possible.”
The new provisions were neatly summarized by Russell Sandberg in his A Holy Mess? Religious Worship, Funerals and Weddings under the Latest (English) Lockdown Regulations in which he said: “[u]nder the Regulations, places of worship can provide essential secular voluntary services but communal worship is not essential”.
Update, 10 November 2020
Changes were made to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 through The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions)(England) (No. 4) (Amendment) Regulations 2020: made at 2.00pm on 9 November 2020; laid before Parliament at 4.30pm on 9 November 2020; and come into force on 10 November 2020.
From SI 2020/1200 and the associated Explanatory Memorandum, it appears that there was always an intention for a general provision to permit attendance at outside events commemorating Armistice Day, and the omission of “Armistice Day” after “Remembrance Sunday” in regulation 6, at paragraph (2)(f), and in regulation 11, at paragraph (18)(a)(i), was a drafting error.