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Government backs down and gives MPs vote every 6 months on emergency coronavirus powers

The emergency coronavirus powers will have to be renewed by Parliament every six months (PA)

3 min read

The Government has given in to calls from its own MPs to allow Parliament to have a vote on keeping sweeping powers to deal with coronavirus in place every six months.

An amendment will be made to the emergency legislation on tackling Covid-19 when it is debated in the Commons on Monday afternoon, according to Downing Street sources.

The bill gives police the power to detain suspected carriers of the virus for a month, while also relaxing care standards so local authorities can prioritise resources.

Under the original plans the new law would be debated for just one day, but would then be on the statute book for two years, with ministers having the power to lengthen that timetable by six months.

It led to an outcry from Tory backbenchers, who say that was nowhere near enough scrutiny for such sweeping proposals, which allow for unprecedented changes in how the country functions, from the NHS and education, to crime, immigration and the economy.

Ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis had tabled an amendment calling for the powers to run out after just a year, saying: "There is nobody who can scrutinise a 300-page bill in one day.

"The Government itself will have made mistakes, it’s a fact of life. We need an absolute, brick-wall stop on this legislation at 12 months."

One of his Conservative colleagues Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, had also expressed concerns - but told PoliticsHome this new change to the legislation was “totally reasonable”.

He said of the six-month 'sunset clause': “Look, I'm not happy with any of it, but that's an entirely reasonable way to go.”

Mr Tugendhat confirmed he was heading in to Parliament to help scrutinise the bill in the chamber, which the Government hopes can be passed though all stages in the Commons today, and without the need for any formal votes by MPs.

It will then head to the House of Lords tomorrow, with the expectation it can get Royal Assent and become law on Wednesday, and give authorities those increased powers by the end of the week.


Labour had also been calling for a six-month renewal on the proposals, with the party's leader Jeremy Corbyn having written to the Prime Minister about the matter last week.

And, responding to the change made by the Government,  Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti said on Monday: "Two years is a very long time for exceptional draconian powers, however necessary. 

“That is why Labour tabled an amendment last week, seeking parliamentary votes on the renewal or revocation of these emergency powers at six-monthly intervals.

“Indeed many of us would prefer even more frequent reviews, but given the particular challenges of this crisis, we are glad that the Government seems to have moved some way towards the compromise offered by Labour in the constitutional and public interest.”

She added: “We need the Government to explain the differences between their amendment and ours and give assurances that there will not be loopholes to the six-monthly review - especially in England which has only the Westminster parliament to hold executive power to account - and give people the financial support they need to get through this crisis.”

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