The government is right to provide a firm response to the coronavirus pandemic, so as to decrease its impact on British life. However, whilst some measures are appropriate, it would be wrong to strip Parliament of its vital role of scrutiny.
The proposed emergency coronavirus Bill (details here) does exactly this, as the government (supported also by Labour, which does anything but oppose) plans to push it through Parliament without any debate, and with no vote in the Commons. This sets a dangerous precedent for future governments, allowing them to pass ‘emergency’ bills (regardless of what they set forth) whenever they deem it to be necessary.
As the Director of the civil liberties organisation Liberty has commented, ‘the changes [the government] are suggesting are not tweaks, they are a drastic reimagining of state powers’.
Indeed, not only is the process of the implementation of this Bill dubious, but many of the aspects of it are too. For instance, the Bill shall: remove the need for juries in inquests; allow for only one doctor (instead of two) to give permission for the detaining of people under mental health laws; and allow for the detainment of people who may be infected with COVID-19.
Of course, some of the suggested measures are appropriate, and we should take the threat posed by coronavirus very seriously. However, we should not throw out the important processes of the institution of Parliament. A debate, and a vote is needed.
Peter Hitchens offers a good rule of thumb:
‘As with all such powers, imagine them in the hands of the politician you dislike and mistrust the most, then ask yourself if any politician should have them.’
These powers are set to be in motion for the time the virus lasts, yet history teaches us such measures often extend their supposed times of need (see, for example, the continuation of National Identity cards way after the end of World War Two).
Do what you can to oppose this silly, unjustified ramrodding of the Bill, without scrutiny. Write to your MP, for example – before it is too late.
Photo by U.S. Department of State – available HERE.