Coronavirus: Government promises to hold votes ‘wherever possible’ on nationwide measures after Tory rebellion

Ashley Cowburn
·2-min read

Matt Hancock has unveiled a government concession giving MPs a say in “significant national measures” to tackle coronavirus, including holding votes wherever possible.

In response to mounting frustration over the introduction of new Covid-19 rules and a lack of parliamentary oversight, the health secretary said had listened to concerns raised by dozens of backbench Conservatives.

“I believe in the sovereignty of Parliament – and I believe in the wisdom of this House as the cockpit of the nation,” he said.

Mr Hancock told MPs: “I therefore propose that we change the approach to bringing in urgent measures. Today I can confirm that for significant national measures with affecting the whole of England or UK-wide we will consult parliament.

“Wherever possible we will hold votes before such regulations come into force.”

However, he added: "But of course responding to the virus means that the government must act with speed when required and we cannot hold up urgent regulations which are needed to control the virus and save lives.”

Watch: Speaker says Government has shown 'total disregard' for Parliament

It follows a dramatic intervention from Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who accused Boris Johnson’s government of treating parliament with “contempt” for pushing through sweeping restrictions in a “totally unsatisfactory” way.

“All too often, important statutory instruments have been published a matter of hours before they come into force and some explanations as to why important measures have come into effect before they can be laid before this House has been unconvincing and shows a total disregard for the House,” he said.

However, the Commons speaker said he could not accept an amendment – supported by dozens of Tory backbenchers – attempting to force ministers to give MPs a greater role before the imposition of future Covid-19 rules in England.

Sir Lindsay said that procedural rules meant he could not permit a debate and vote on the proposals and instead MPs will be presented with a straight choice between approving a further six months to the Coronavirus Act, or striking it out altogether.

His ruling meant that Mr Johnson avoided a potentially embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons on Wednesday over the emergency powers which were passed after the outbreak of the pandemic in March.

In response to the Commons speaker’s criticism, a No 10 spokesperson earlier insisted the prime minister and Mr Hancock we’re examining ways to involve MPs in the process of introducing regulations. However, they also added it “does remain vital we can move quickly to stop the virus spreading”.

Watch: People in England face £10,000 fines for not self-isolating