Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Amendment 13

Part of Coronavirus Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 25th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 2:30 pm, 25th March 2020

My Lords, my amendment is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is also in favour. It is pretty self-explanatory and should not cause the Government any problems in accepting it. Indeed, the Minister, in replying just now, talked about getting advice from scientists on what was necessary.

The Minister has made a declaration that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, but the amendment would provide further reassurance. According to the long title, the Bill is to:

“Make provision in connection with coronavirus; and for connected purposes.”

That is quite wide. There are references to a test of necessity—or, variously, necessity and proportionality—in some provisions in the Bill but not in others. There is no consistency, for instance, even between Schedules 21 and 22.

Our Constitution Committee, which I thank for its report, says at paragraph 16 that

“there may be a need to resolve difficult legal questions concerning the proportionality and necessity of restrictions and directions, and of their compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998”,

and by “resolve” it means in the courts. It would obviously be preferable to front-load those tests by requiring the Government to observe them in exercising all their powers under the Bill, which is what this umbrella amendment would provide, rather than load up the courts.

In parallel with these tests, the Delegated Powers Committee report, which I thank the committee for, drew attention to the absence in some clauses of a reference to the coronavirus crisis as justification. That mainly concerns postponement of elections, but not exclusively. I am therefore doing precisely what the committee suggests in paragraph 9 of its report—I have given the Minister notice of these requests: I

“seek an explanation from the Minister about why these powers are not, on the face of each individual clause, explicitly linked to coronavirus”,

and

“look to the Minister to provide an ironclad assurance that the powers contained in the Bill will be exercisable in relation to the coronavirus outbreak only and in no other circumstances.”

Lastly, will the Minister clarify the situation with regulations? The ones issued last Saturday under the Public Health Act, on premises, are not abolished by the Bill, but the February ones, on persons, are. In a reply during Second Reading yesterday, the Minister said that the powers to enforce the Prime Minister’s instructions regarding essential travel and gatherings

“will be introduced by regulations under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.”—[Official Report, 24/3/20; col. 1733.]

But I have learned from tweets by journalists that those will be introduced tomorrow, when we are not here. As I asked at Second Reading yesterday, how will these regulations mesh with the Bill and with regulations to be made under it? I beg to move.