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Thu, 29 October 2020

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A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown

A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown
5 min read

The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.

Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I've seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it's quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we're demanding of people.

“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those - then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”

Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.

He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.

Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people's quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”

Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.

With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.

A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation. 

Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”

He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chane to debate, amend and vote on them.

As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children, or have a month-long sunset clause.

Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it, and they’ve continued.

"There is a drift within government to a more presidential-type of government."

Clarke's call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.

He told the Commons: "Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations - and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing - I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made."

Mr Hancock replied: "He's absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”

Another former minister - Sir Edward Leigh - said public consent for lockdowns is "draining away".

Addressing the House of Commons, he said: "The trouble with authoritarianism is that's profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.

"If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse."

Mr Hancock said in his reply: "As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others."

But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: "Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he'll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?"

Mr Hancock replied: "Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures... that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”

The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”

He added: "And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?"

Mr Hancock replied: "Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I'm very sorry that I wasn't able to come on Friday for Friday's decision but the House wasn't sitting."

He added: "The more scrutiny the better is my attitude."

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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