Parliament not given enough of a say on Covid laws, conclude MPs
The cross-party Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has revealed “concerns” about Parliament’s lack of ability to scrutinise and amend emergency provisions in the Coronavirus Act over the last two years.
In a new analysis published today, the committee criticised the ‘take it or leave it’ nature of the six-monthly votes to renew the Act – which meant MPs were unable to object to individual powers and voting down the Act was the only option.
The report also states the government should not have issued guidance for Covid-19 restrictions which overrules legislation as it avoids parliamentary scrutiny and leads to confusion amongst the public and law enforcement.
MPs recommend that the “necessity and proportionality” of each of the powers in the Coronavirus Act be assessed as part of the UK Covid-19 inquiry. The report calls on the government to provide more detail on the timetable for the public inquiry, stressing it should be done in a “timely manner” to “avoid institutional knowledge being lost”.
The report finds that the draft Pandemic Flu Bill, which the Coronavirus Act was based on, was never made public and received no scrutiny. MPs recommend new draft legislation be drawn up in preparation for future emergencies and given to Parliament to scrutinise ahead of use.
The chair of PACAC William Wragg MP said: “It is unsatisfactory that since the Coronavirus Act was passed, in just three sitting days in March 2020, Parliament has been unable to substantively debate its provisions as was promised during its passage.
“Strong and broad powers such as those in the Act must be accompanied by equally robust parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms, particularly in a rapidly evolving public health emergency.
“The impact of the provisions in the Act on people should be a key part of any lessons learnt exercise. I welcome the government’s announcement on the UK Covid-19 inquiry but urge it to allow for evidence sooner rather than later, before memories fade and key learning is lost.
“We have been forward looking in our recommendations in the hope that the government will heed our concerns in robustly planning for future emergencies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.”