Statement Following Coronavirus Act Vote

Coronavirus Act 2020

Today in Parliament there was a review of the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020. There has been growing unease in Parliament and amongst many people in our country, about the Government’s use of the powers under the Act, without timely and effective Parliamentary scrutiny. It is many weeks after the regulations are implemented before they are discussed by MPs, and Ministers questioned in committee.

These powers were given to the Government just before the national lockdown and the suspension of Parliament. However, Parliament resumed in June. There is no excuse for not giving Parliament time to debate and vote upon secondary legislation, that gives government powers to tackle this pandemic, were it is reasonable to do so.

That is the first reason why I would not support the continuation of the Act in its present form.

The second reason why I could not support the renewal of the powers the Act provides is because I do not trust this Government’s ability to use these powers without proper scrutiny.  I accept it would not be easy for any government having to deal with this unprecedented national emergency caused by Coronavirus. However, I believe this Prime Minister and his government have demonstrated a staggering level of incompetence. The constant changing of restrictions or advice without clear explanation at times; or providing the evidence or supporting data for them just leads to more confusion. I believe it results in fewer people taking notice of the precautions most people judge sensible to take. Even the Prime Minister when questioned about the regulations yesterday was confused.

Of course, we can expect to see mistakes made, we all get things wrong at times. However, the list of U turns and changes is quite staggering, and I remind you of just a few:

Wearing of face masks;

The return of primary school pupils to school;

Free school meals;

Process for awarding exam results;

Encouraging people to eat out and then not;

To get a test or not and who has priority;

Work from home, don’t work from, work from home;

Travel corridor chaos;

Lack of evidence for imposing a 10 pm curfew on pubs and restaurants.

There was, of course, the shameful treatment of care homes and the difficulty they encountered in being able to get hold of the Personal Protective Equipment in the early stages of the pandemic. They were not given any priority by the Government;

The debacle over Test and Trace is well documented and continues to this day to be falling well short of what is required. It is also the case that local authorities are not receiving the quality of data that would help; but other countries have got it right.

Local Authorities such as Halton, are not receiving the funding they require from government to deal with the costs of responding to the Coronavirus epidemic, including providing more help to local businesses and keeping people in jobs.

This leads me on to the damage being done to the economy by the Coronavirus pandemic. There is a balance to be struck between safeguarding the health of people and projecting jobs and the economy. Already, we know that over 2000 more people were out of work at the end of August in my constituency than in March. Unemployment amongst younger people has nearly doubled. Every day I am contacted by local businesses who are in dire straits and will not survive unless the government provides more help and puts in place a coherent strategy for recovery. Pubs and restaurants for example, are finding it difficult, not knowing whether regulations will change resulting in them closing again. Loss of a job and livelihood also has an impact on health.

We also know, that during the lockdown many people with serious illnesses including cancer and coronary symptoms, were badly affected – with a drop in referrals and some treatment cancelled. The full effect of this is still not known.

Finally, there is also the matter of civil liberties – the imposition of regulations which have not received timely parliamentary scrutiny, does raise concerns. Especially as new regulations can put people out of work, restrict families from meeting each other and restrict their movement.  Constituents have told me that it does seem at times the Government is “treating people like children, rather than letting us use our common sense.”  I recognise that some members of our community are not following simple guidelines such as social distancing, and not wearing masks where they should, and they are able to do so. This should not mean the great majority have to endure further restrictions.

The fact remains that the Government could have allowed more time for debate and voting on regulatory changes, but it has failed to do so. Even the debate on the Act today was limited to one and a half hours despite the Government having the power to allow more time. Many MPs were not able to speak because of this.

These are some of the reasons why I supported amendments to the Coronavirus Act which would have given Parliament more time to debate and vote on regulations in future. Unfortunately, they were ruled out of order by the Speaker, after taking advice, because Parliamentary rules did not allow amendments to be taken.

I voted against the Act today.

You will have seen speculation in the press about further local restrictions being imposed on Halton, Merseyside and Warrington. I demanded a meeting with the Health Minister today along with other local MPs.  I raised several concerns and issues and asked for evidence and data on the impact of Covid-19 on our area.

I was assured that a decision has not yet been taken on the further local restrictions we may face but it is likely to be decided tomorrow. If, I and other local MPs, hadn’t demanded the meeting we would not have been informed again.  This is another example of this government bypassing local input from MPs.  

Look after each other. Please remember to:

Wash your hands regularly.

Wear a face covering where you are required, including in all shops and on public transport.

Keep a 2-metre distance wherever you can.

Derek Twigg MP for Halton