A conservative rebellion against coronavirus laws is expected to be thwarted this week amid mounting anger over fines and rules introduced with minimal notice and a lack of parliamentary oversight.
New measures for England went into effect on Monday, including a ban on mass singing in pubs, a £ 1,000 fine for falsely signaling that a person should be quarantined and a £ 4,000 fine for the first time for people deemed “reckless” for having been in contact with large numbers. people when they should isolate themselves, for example by going to an office. They were published on Sunday evening, a few hours before they went into effect.
Nearly 2 million people in the north-east of England also face fines of up to £ 6,400 if mingling with other households inside in a significant extension of the government’s foreclosure powers. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, it will be illegal for residents of any part of the UK to meet people they don’t live with in pubs, bars or restaurants.
The 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England was of growing concern, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham saying people were rushing to buy alcohol in stores after the last orders of the weekend indicating that the measure “did more harm than good”. Last week, the rule was dismissed by a government science adviser as “insignificant” and likely to have “very little impact on the epidemic”.
Downing Street dismissed the criticism, saying the crowds were localized and brief, and the 10pm cutoff worked well.
More than 50 Tory MPs and other all-party parliamentarians were due to rebel in the Commons on Wednesday, voting for an amendment to the law establishing certain restrictions on coronaviruses, which would give them a vote on future changes.
But on Monday night, constitutional experts said Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle would likely not allow a vote on the amendment. There were signs, however, ministers could make concessions, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg held a meeting with key rebels including Steve Baker.
In other developments on Monday:
- England’s children’s commissioner said ministers should consider exempting children under 12 from the six-person limit for gatherings and local bans on mixing households.
- Former England and Wales Chief Justice Lord Thomas told the Guardian that further parliamentary scrutiny of emergency coronavirus legislation was needed because vital freedoms were ‘restricted’.
A former police chief predicted that the police force would pay only “very superficial” attention to the enforcement of the new Covid-19 laws.
The coronavirus law, which passed unopposed in March, gave ministers extensive emergency powers to enforce lockdowns, but requires a vote by MPs after six months to remain in effect.
An amendment to the vote this week, tabled by MP Sir Graham Brady and said to be supported by far more than the 50 Tories who have so far signed it, would dictate that any new restrictions must first be approved by MPs .
Downing Street is vehemently opposed, saying ministers must be able to act quickly in response to the pandemic. But with Labor indicating it would support the Brady Amendment, it looked set to overcome Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority.
However, constitutionalists said they believe the unusual circumstances of Wednesday’s vote – which do not create new legislation, merely giving the choice of whether or not to keep an existing law – mean Hoyle will likely not allow any amendments. .
“The law clearly sees voting as a yes / no question,” said Dr Hannah White, deputy director of the Institute for Government think tank. “He’s not considering, ‘yes, but’. Just for these reasons, what Parliament meant with this part of the coronavirus law, the President would probably be right to say, “I am not going to choose an amendment to this one. “”
A government source reportedly told Sky News: “The Brady Amendment is now clear [is] out of reach and will therefore not be voted on. “
Some 59 MPs, including 52 Conservatives, have so far signed the amendment, but Brady, chair of the influential 1992 committee of Conservative backbenchers, told The Guardian that a “significant number” of his colleagues would also support him.
Brady said he still hopes Hoyle selects him on Wednesday. “Obviously the House of Commons would like to debate it and, given that the clerks have said the amendment will be within scope, there is no reason why the Speaker could not select it, although this be entirely up to him to decide. , ” he said.
Another Tory supporting the amendment, Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely said if he believes ministers are trying to keep Covid rules as simple as possible, Parliament should be used as “a common sense filter ”.
He said: “If a government makes mistakes, members of Parliament can point it out, even if it is a bill where we support the principles. We’re here to do a careful review, and that’s an important principle, in principle. Parliamentary review makes for better laws and better government. “
Speaking during a House of Commons debate on the coronavirus on Monday, Hancock said he was “looking for other ways to ensure that the House can be properly involved in the process in advance when it does. is possible, ”and hoped to speak to Brady soon. Later, Baker he told me he and other MPs had met Hancock and Rees-Mogg for “cordial and constructive” talks.
One of the concerns has been the late notification of new rules. Not for the first time, regulations setting out the full set of new penalties for people who do not self-isolate when the NHS testing and traceability system asks them to do so only late Sunday, hours before their Coming into force.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said there was a risk of undue complexity: “Cutting up and changing the rules is confusing when clarity is vital in a pandemic. People want to follow the rules, but you have to make it clear to them what they are. “
Speaking to the Guardian, Lord Thomas, who was Lord Chief Justice from 2013 to 2017, said: “The rule of law demands proper scrutiny and accountability for actions enacted by a government under delegated authority. It is a duty that parliament must fulfill, especially when important freedoms are restricted. “
His comments follow a complaint from Lady Hale, a former Supreme Court president, that Parliament has “given up” control over its constitutional role by subjecting the legislation to effective scrutiny at the start of the lockdown. She called the regulations “draconian” and said it was “no wonder the police were as confused as the public as to what was law and what was not.”
A former police chief told The Guardian that overburdened forces are unlikely to devote many resources to enforcing the new rules. Sir Peter Fahy, former Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable, said: “As far as the 10pm shutdowns go you are dealing with very drunk people. [and] are difficult to deal with, and now, on top of that, the police have to keep an eye on the people who are supposed to be isolating themselves. It will only be a very superficial look, I imagine.