Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended the 10pm curfew, arguing reducing social contact was preferable to allowing “hundreds of thousands of deaths”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Hancock was responding to criticism from Tory MP Philip Davies, who accused him of presiding over a “nanny state” with the curfew policy.

Davies said: “Is the Secretary of State aware of the damage the arbitrary 10pm curfew is doing to pubs, restaurants, bowling alleys and casinos? Is he aware of the jobs that are being lost, all just to see people congregating on the streets instead and shop staff getting more abuse?

“When will the Secretary of State start acting like a Conservative with a belief in individual responsibility and abandon this arbitrary, nanny state, socialist approach which is serving no purpose at all apart from the further collapse of the economy and erode our freedoms?”

Hancock said he profoundly disagreed with Davies, saying he believed in “individual responsibility and the promotion of freedom, subject to not harming others”.

The Health Secretary said: “The scientific advice is that the people who are closer together are more likely to spread the virus, and later at night social distancing becomes harder.

“We’ve all seen the pictures of people leaving pubs at 10 o’clock but otherwise they would have been inside the establishments and we all know that outside is safer, or they’d be leaving later.

“Of course, we keep this under review and of course we’re constantly looking at how we can improve these policies, but I think we’ve got to look at both sides of the evidence to try to get this right.”