WITHIN hours of TCW publishing my petition asking for a referendum on the Coronavirus Act yesterday, I received the government’s response to it and their argument in defence of continuing it through the next six months:
‘The Coronavirus Act has proved to be both necessary and highly successful in enabling governments across the UK to support people, and the public services they rely on, whilst combatting [sic] the pandemic.
‘The Coronavirus Act (“the Act”) contains provisions which have enabled support to be given throughout the pandemic to individuals and businesses, and which have enabled public services such as the NHS to continue to function. The Act will continue to do this into the recovery period. Any Regulations made under this Act are subject to Parliamentary and/or judicial oversight. The Government does not plan to hold a referendum on the Act.
‘The Act helped set the foundation of the Government’s approach to combating the pandemic and has enabled action in five keys [sic] areas:
• increasing the available health and social care workforce
• easing and reacting to the burden on frontline staff
• supporting people
• containing and slowing the virus
• managing the deceased with respect and dignity.
‘Since its inception, the Act has ensured that the NHS had the capacity to deal with the peak of the virus by allowing the temporary registration of over 14,000 temporary nurses, other healthcare professionals and social workers.
‘It has also protected critical societal functions and ensured that they were still able to continue, such as providing courts with the ability to use video technology. Currently, these powers allow over 14,000 hearings per week to take place using remote technology across 3,200 virtual court rooms.
‘The Act has meant that we have been able to put in place effective support packages such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for people and businesses. As at 16 August 2021, there have been 11.6million unique jobs supported by the CJRS since its inception, with 1.3million employers making a claim, totalling £68.5billion in claims. SEISS also continued until the end of September 2021, with a fifth and final grant. As of 15 August 2021, £27.1billion has been paid in SEISS grants in total. 2.9million individuals had received a grant and 9.9million total grants had been claimed.
‘The Act has always sought to balance the need to be able to respond effectively to the pandemic with a commitment to maintain powers for the shortest possible time, expire provisions which are no longer proportionate and thoroughly review those powers that are in force. There is a high level of Parliamentary scrutiny built into the Act which includes a six-monthly Parliamentary review of the Act, which culminates in a debate and renewal vote on the temporary provisions in the House of Commons.
‘Debates and renewal votes took place in September 2020 and March 2021. On both occasions, Parliament debated the Act in detail and voted to renew the remaining temporary provisions. In addition, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care reports to Parliament every two months on the status of the non-devolved provisions in the Act.
‘There is provision also for the suspension of powers, which can then be revived again if should they be needed. Temporary powers in the Act can also be expired earlier than the automatic sunset date.
‘Following the third six-monthly review in September 2021, if Parliament agrees, 50% of the temporary, non-devolved provisions in the Act will have been expired. The remaining temporary provisions will sunset on 25 March 2022, as per section 89(1) of the Act. In the spring, the Government will review this legislation and the other remaining regulations and measures and decide whether any need to remain in place.
‘Most of the legal restrictions that were put in place during the pandemic made use of powers under the 1984 Public Health Act, rather than the Coronavirus Act 2020. These were deployed only where necessary and lifted as soon as possible. Although not experienced on this scale in this country for many years, nonetheless these approaches to containing the spread of a deadly contagious disease are neither novel nor unique, and in fact represent standard practice (as set out, for example, in the pandemic flu plan that pre-dated this pandemic).
‘The bulk of legal restrictions were lifted when we moved to Step 4 of the Government’s roadmap on 19 July 2021 and were replaced by guidance to help people understand how they themselves can best manage their risks from Covid-19. All remaining businesses were able to reopen, which was an enormous boost to the country.
‘As with other forms of medical treatment, vaccination requires the patient’s informed consent. Covid-19 vaccination is no exception to this.
‘Department of Health and Social Care’
It is very important that sceptics challenge each and every one of the claims made above in defence of the Act by the government above. We will welcome your rebuttals both below the line and to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Government no doubt will be making the very same arguments in the Parliamentary debate on Tuesday (October 19). That is why we need to prime MPs on the weakness and fallaciousness of their case, point by point. Unless we pull their ‘reasoning’ apart, MPs will vote for a further six-month renewal of the Act.
If you write as soon as possible to your MP and the national newspapers on the fallaciousness of the Government’s defence, we’ll get the full benefit of TCW readers’ acuity, logic, knowledge and powers of debate ranged against the Government.
There clearly is not much time and this critical analysis by an Oxford Faculty of Law postgraduate student may help focus readers’ thoughts. What shines out from this article is that the ‘conditions’ and extent of infection that were seen to justify the Act at the time simply no longer exist, indeed if they ever did.
Also as an aid, when the Act came up for renewal last March, TCW provided a pro forma letter to send to MPs, which you can find here. It sets out clearly why it is so dangerous to have its remaining powers on the Statute Book.