- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- British politician (born 1967)
MPs voted on Thursday by 484 votes to 76 in favour of keeping emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act in place until September.
The division list showed that 35 Conservative MPs voted against the legislation. The lockdown-sceptic Conservative backbenchers were expected to vote against the coronavirus laws extension , while Labour backed the plans.
The laws give the government wide-ranging powers unlike others seen before - from shutting down pubs, through to detaining individuals deemed at risk as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Britons will also face a £5,000 fine if they leave the UK without a reasonable excuse under the new legislation for restrictions.
MPs also approved the regulations underpinning the steps to ease restrictions from 29 March as laid out in Boris Johnson’s COVID-19 roadmap out of lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had earlier urged MPs to extend the “essential” emergency coronavirus powers but said some of the rules could be suspended.
He told the Commons: “Although this Act remains essential and there are elements of it which we are seeking the renewal of, we’ve always said that we would only retain powers as long as they are necessary.
“They are exceptional powers and they are approved by this House for the use in the most extremis situations and must be seen in this light.
“And because of the progress we have made, we are now able to expire and suspend a whole raft of measures within this Act, just as we expired provisions after the last review six months ago.”
The Health Secretary was challenged over whether emergency measures contained within the Coronavirus Act 2020 will still be needed in six months given Boris Johnson’s road map to lift all restrictions in England from June 21.
Mr Hancock said he “cannot answer” whether the Government will be “retiring” the legislation in October or whether it will be rolled on.
But this prompted concerns from MPs who pressed for the Government to move quicker given the success of the vaccine programme.
Mark Harper, Pauline Latham, William Wragg, Steve Baker and Charles Walker, were among the Tory MPs who voted against the legislation.
Mr Harper, a former Conservative minister, said the provisions in the legislation should be expired “at the earliest possible opportunity”.
“The controversial parts, the police powers to detain potentially infectious persons which have (been) used unlawfully on a number of occasions, it says in (Mr Hancock’s) letter, in the one-year review of the Act, that those are intended to be long-term powers – and he has also just suggested that these provisions might be rolled forward a further six months,” said Mr Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservative backbench MPs.
“That is why so many of us are worried. These are extraordinary provisions, not for normal times, and they should be expired at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Sir Charles Walker surprised MPs with a long speech during the debate in which he promised to walk the streets of London with a pint of milk as an “act of defiance”.
If you missed it, here is the full-fat Sir Charles Walker 'Milk Protest' speech. Drink in its calcium-rich goodness, absolutely glorious. Part 1: pic.twitter.com/83130VkGsE
— Alain Tolhurst (@Alain_Tolhurst) March 25, 2021
Sir Charles told the Commons: “As sure as eggs are eggs, we will be back here in six months at the end of September being asked to renew this legislation again. It is inevitable and anyone who thinks it’s not inevitable is deluding themselves.
“But this afternoon, I’m not here to talk about eggs, I want to talk about milk because in the remaining days of this lockdown, I am going to allow myself an act of defiance, my own protest that others may join me in. I am going to protest about the price of milk.
“Now I’m not sure whether I think the price is too high or the price is too low, I shall come to that decision later.”
He said others may choose to “walk around London with a pint of milk on their person” to protest losing a job or business or to demonstrate against the “roaring back of a mental health demon brought on by lockdown”.
During the debate, Ms Latham expressed concerns that the Government is “moving the goalposts” when it comes to lifting restrictions.
The MP for Mid Derbyshire told the Commons: “There have been some remarkable successes in this pandemic but there have been some errors and my view is that we have been moving the goalposts. I think they started at Wembley and they are now nearly at Derby County – and I am extremely worried that if we are not careful, they’ll be up in Scotland.”
Fellow Conservative MP Chris Green, added: “I just wonder whether the European Football Championships which will be held later this year, and the Prime Minister’s offer to hold it in the United Kingdom, will actually be used in a sense as a showcase of the Covid certification certificates to show how effective they can be.
“And is this the reason that schedule 22 has been maintained – for that control of people in those sort of events? And will it then be restricted just to those events or could it possibly be widened out further – pubs of course, restaurants, but could it be including public transport, places of work or places of education.
“We have to have these concerns, I am not sure this debate has yet been had and I am not sure these concerns have been decisively ruled out.”