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Amendment 13

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

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Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 2:30 pm, 25th March 2020

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and all those who have signed up to this amendment have made incredibly important points that the Government utterly confirms. I reassure the Committee that this Bill is very clearly focused on the present danger of SARS-CoV and the Covid-19 disease. If there is any other virus—and even if this virus mutates— we will need a new Act or at least to amend this one.

The Government are 100% committed to protecting and respecting human rights. We have a long-standing tradition of ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically and of fulfilling our human rights commitments. That will not change. We have strong human rights protections, with a comprehensive and well-established constitutional and legal system. The Human Rights Act 1998 gives further effect in UK law to the rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. Nothing in this Bill contradicts that.

I reassure a number of speakers—including but not limited to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy—that there is nothing in this Act that allows the Government to breach or disapply the Human Rights Act or the Equality Act. The Bill itself is fully compliant with the Human Rights Act and the Government have certified this on the face of the Bill— in fact, I signed it myself in accordance with Section 19. Pursuant to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act, every exercise of power by a public authority under this Bill is already required to be compliant with the Human Rights Act. I further reassure the House that, at all times, this Government will act with proportionality.

I am advised by legal counsel that the amendment is potentially both unnecessary and unhelpful. If we accept it, it might imply that the Human Rights Act and Equality Act do not apply in this way in other Bills or Acts that do not feature this sort of provision. For that reason, I suggest that the amendment should be withdrawn.