Coronavirus Act Sept 2020

I know that many of my constituents have been concerned about the Coronavirus Act, it’s impact on democracy and the lack of scrutiny.

It’s shocking but unsurprising that despite being 18 on the list to speak in the debate on the Renewal of the Coronavirus Emergency Powers, I had no chance to represent the views of my constituents. In fact, only nine backbenchers had the opportunity to take part in a 90 minute debate. It’s no wonder that the public have questioned the democratic basis of the Coronavirus Act.

This isn’t a party-political issue, it’s about how best to deal with an international health crisis. In March, the country was faced with an unprecedented situation that warranted extraordinary measures. But it has been 7 months since then and there needs to be room for much more scrutiny. The Government’s handling of the crisis has been a shambles.

We’ve not been given evidence to support the measures being imposed, there’s no explanation for the rule of 6 or the 10pm curfew. There has been lack of consistency in the enforcement of measures. It hard not to be sceptical about the Government’s motives following a summer of U-turns, with new restrictions imposed at a moment’s notice and a complete failure to deliver a proper test, track and trace system.

I understand many people are concerned about Schedule 21 which gives powers to the police, immigration officers and public health officials to detain “potentially infectious” members of the public. I want to know what safeguards are in place to prevent these powers being misused.

The largest concern with the Act is that it could be used as a backdoor to cut services and support for some of the most vulnerable in our society. Disability Rights UK along with 150 other organisations have signed a statement asking the Government to withdraw sections of the Act relating to disabled people and restore their rights. The Care Act easements would mean local authorities would no longer be legally required to provide support to those with additional care needs or to support new cases. This would also weaken the duty to meet children’s educational requirements. While the easements in adult social care haven’t been used yet, is it worth risking cuts to services that are already stretched too thin?

The Government deliberately constructed a very narrow motion and short debate in order to prevent Members of Parliament having the opportunity to amend the provisions. We were offered a simple yes or no vote. I totally disassociate myself from those who dismiss the virus or regard it as a conspiracy, and I recognise the need for restrictions to curb the spread and protect the vulnerable. That’s why I couldn’t vote against these powers despite my reservations.

I don’t underestimate the huge difficulties we are facing and the risk of more lives being lost. This is why I believe the Prime Minister needs a Joint Coordinating Council to help our country combat Covid-19. Even his hero Churchill recognised the value of a coalition in a time of national crisis. I say to the Prime Minister- enough is enough, time to change tack. We want a coherent strategy to deal with the virus and we want to preserve our democratic rights or freedom.

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Steve McCabe

Steve McCabe is the Labour MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak, and has been an MP continuously since 1 May 1997.

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