Coronavirus: Ministers treat Parliament with ‘contempt’, says President Hoyle

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Media captionThe President calls on the government to start “rebuilding confidence” after accusing it of “despising” the House.

The government is treating parliament with “contempt” by rushing to new powers to fight coronavirus without debate, the mayor said.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he could not give MPs a vote to have more say on the emergency powers renewal later.

But it was not a decision he had “taken lightly” – and he issued a stern warning to the government to give MPs a chance to debate future policy changes.

His decision puts an end to the prospect of a conservative backbench rebellion.

Dozens of Tory MPs backed an amendment by Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, calling for the introduction of future regulations affecting the whole of England only if Parliament has the opportunity to debate and vote in advance.

In a statement ahead of PM’s Questions, Sir Lindsay said he was unable to select any amendments ahead of a vote on the renewal of powers to avoid “undermining the rule of law”.

MPs are due to vote on a motion that will extend the coronavirus law, the emergency law passed in March, which grants extended powers to authorities to tackle Covid, such as closing schools and halting gatherings in mass.

Sir Lindsay said any amendment to this motion risked creating uncertainty about the legality of the law, and could potentially call it into question.

But many of the coronavirus measures introduced since March, such as the mandatory wearing of face masks in stores and the ‘rule of six’ limit on gatherings, were introduced through regulations linked to a law. older.

These regulations – called statutory instruments – must be approved by Parliament but are often not debated.

Sir Lindsay told MPs: “The way the government has exercised its legislative powers during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory.

“Too often, important regulatory texts were published hours before they entered into force and some explanations as to why important measures entered into force before they could be tabled in this House are not convincing and show utter contempt for the House. ”

He said he “now counted on the government to restore confidence with the House and not to treat it with the contempt it has shown”.

He encouraged MPs to table more urgent questions and motions to challenge ministers and have them come to the House of Commons to explain their actions.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said ‘all is not well between Downing Street and Conservative Party backbenchers’ but a compromise between the two sides is expected to be announced shortly by the secretary to Health Matt Hancock in the Commons.

Speaking to Politics Live on BBC Two, she said it was “fascinating” that the President encouraged urgent questions and debate on the Covid-19 restrictions, especially since Sir Lindsay Hoyle is not an “activist speaker” in the manner of his predecessor John Bercow was.

A source from Whitehall told the BBC that there had been a “constructive dialogue” between the government and potential rebels on how to handle future regulations related to Covid, and that “both sides recognize the need to balance proper parliamentary scrutiny with the government’s ability to act quickly. when it’s necessary “.

Sir Graham, who chaired the influential Conservative MPs committee of 1922, said he remained hopeful the government would make concessions.

‘Good compromise’

In a statement, he said: “The President has set out the reasons for not choosing amendments, but he also made it clear that he expects the government to ensure proper and timely parliamentary scrutiny. .

“I hope the government responds appropriately this afternoon. ”

Conservative MP Steve Baker, one of those who wanted more control over the powers of government, said he was happy with the Speaker’s ruling.

“Mr Speaker’s decision is entirely reasonable and his statement will reassure all Members backing Sir Graham.

“I hope and hope to arrive soon at a good compromise with the government so that we can move forward as a team. “

Vote later

The Commons will vote on whether to renew the coronavirus legislation passed at the start of the pandemic in March, which gives the government extended powers to act but must be extended every six months.

At least 16.6 million people in the UK – around one in four – are subject to local lockdowns – and a growing number of MPs have expressed concern that the measures are disproportionate, although they often have been requested by local leaders.

MPs are concerned recent interventions – including Wednesday’s tightening of restrictions on separated households in the north-east of England mixing indoors in public places – were announced without warning or debate.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats have said they will vote against extending the coronavirus law because of the power it has given ministers to “curtail the rights” of caregivers.

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