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MPs recommend laws are prepared now for future emergencies

In a critical report this week on the 2020 Coronavirus Act, MPs have recommended that the government should prepare for future emergencies with a draft legislation – and give to parliament to examine ahead of use.

The process was criticised by the cross-party Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee because the act was passed two years ago, with a minimal parliamentary sitting time of just three days. However, the ‘take it or leave it’ nature of six-monthly votes to resume the act meant that MPs could not object to individual powers.

It discovered that the draft Pandemic Flu Bill, on which the Coronavirus Act was based, never made public knowledge and did not receive any parliamentary inspection.

The report also states that the government should have avoided issuing advice for Covid-19 restrictions which revoke legislation as it bypasses parliamentary scrutiny and results in confusion amongst the public and law enforcement.

While understanding the government’s keynote that it is not possible to project what a future emergency may entail, it pushes the government ‘to look again at the possibility of introducing a piece or range of draft legislation to allow for prior scrutiny of plans before an emergency occurs’. 

William Wragg MP, the committee chair, stated: ‘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 report suggests that the proportionality and necessity of each of the powers in the Coronavirus Act be evaluated as part of the upcoming public inquiry. It requested the government to provide further detail on the timetable for the inquiry, emphasising it should be completed in a ‘timely manner’.

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