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Amendment 1

Part of Coronavirus Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 12:15 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour 12:15 pm, 25th March 2020

My Lords, the objectives of my noble friend’s amendment are clearly correct. It proposes that we should keep under review the operation of the powers that are granted in key areas of the Bill because, as she rightly said, they could be extremely damaging and possibly catastrophic in certain sectors of society.

I have two concerns that I would like to probe. First, what my noble friend has done is select one of the many very serious areas that are affected by the Bill. My noble friend Lady McDonagh just raised another to do with protective equipment. We could go into the arrangements for mental health in the Bill, which are extremely serious. We might want to keep under review—I believe we should—the arrangements regarding testing, because it looks increasingly clear that only if we can move towards some form of mass testing will we be able to get this crisis under control. My noble friend has selected just one area but, if there is to be a review of this kind, it needs to look at the operations of the Act at large.

I also have a bigger concern. What my noble friend seeks to do—perfectly understandably, because Parliament will not be sitting for the next month and, as I understand it, will sit only intermittently after that—is set up a body that would do what is surely our job as parliamentarians, namely to keep under review the exercise of the powers that we as Parliament are granting. This goes to the heart of a wider issue. It is proposed that Parliament will not sit in any form for the next month. We will be in complete recess. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—there will not be provision for any committees to sit formally, not just in person but online or by using what is not even 21st-century technology but rather 20th-century technology to hold meetings.

Surely the right approach, which will be vital as we conduct our affairs in the weeks and possibly months ahead, is that we should keep under review both this crisis and the powers we are granting. When it is not possible to do this by meeting, we should do so electronically. We should do this regularly and in all the principal areas in which we, of necessity, are granting to the Government wholly exceptional powers that could have a very big social impact. I believe it is our duty to keep these under review.