I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents regarding the emergency legislation relating to the Government's response to coronavirus, or the Coronavirus Act.
I would like to reassure you that of course all the measures in the Coronavirus Act are temporary, and proportionate to the threat we face. We are a democratic country, and it is important that they will only be used when strictly necessary, and will only be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation. As I’m sure you well know, we will review the Act on a six monthly basis to ensure that the measures remain appropriate. Sadly, it is now clear that the virus will be with us for some time, and it is vital that we are able to take necessary steps to save lives.
The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that sufficient staff are available, and deployed where they are most needed, as well as supporting members of the public, containing and slowing the virus, and managing the deceased with respect and dignity.
I know that many of you wrote to me about the Brady amendment which would mean Parliament debated every change to legislation. The Speaker chose not to select any amendments, and explained why: “any amendment to the motion before the House risks giving rise to uncertainty about the decision the House has taken. This then risks decisions that are rightly the responsibility of Parliament ultimately being determined by the courts. Lack of clarity in such important matters risks undermining the rule of law.” In short, amendments to the process would risk making the legislation less clear and less certain in a situation where we will need clarity and urgent action:
Despite this, I welcomed the announcement from the Health Secretary that the Government would seek to offer Parliament additional scrutiny, offering MPs a vote on changes to regulations wherever that is possible, on England- or UK-wide measures before they come into place. I want to be clear here that whilst I agree that it is vital for actions to be taken as swiftly as possible in the fight against coronavirus, I also strongly believe it is important that Parliament has additional opportunities to thoroughly examine new measures before they are put in place wherever that can be achieved.
I do appreciate further concerns about the power conferred by the Coronavirus Act relating to people who may be infectious. I am grateful for the vast majority of my constituents have been working extremely hard, and making many sacrifices, to comply with relevant public health advice. This provision simply seeks to ensure that isolation measures can be enforced if necessary. In practice, this power would take the form of a public health officer or police officer returning people to places that they have been required to stay. For example, if someone has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and required to self-isolate for 14 days, and then is found out and about during that time, they would be returned home. Equally, the Act empowers police and immigration officers to make sure that individuals attend testing or treatment facilities as required.
If someone with the virus was recklessly mixing with vulnerable people and refusing to stop, I would want and expect something to be done about it. For less clear cut breaches, I would want the police to exercise their discretion and appeal to people's sense of reason and responsibility to society. It is also important that measures like this are kept under close review by Parliament and remain temporary.
I know that the overwhelming majority of people are following guidance and obeying self-isolation instructions. However, we must be prepared to enforce these measures, to ensure that the small number of people who do not comply are not putting lives at risk by their behaviour.
I do hope you find this information useful; I will continue to monitor this issue and scrutinise the steps the Government is taking closely.
Thank you again for those who took the time to raise this with me and share their views.