Gale's View -The Coronavirus Act
September 26th 2020
“Repeal the draconian and sweeping powers of the Coronavirus Act and replace them with a response to the pandemic that keeps me safe and respects my human rights” demands the latest round-robin to arrive in our in-boxes. This missive then adds that “we are all prepared to adapt and change in the face of unprecedented challenge but we cannot tear up our rights indefinitely”.
Quite who “we all” are is not made clear but it has become abundantly plain since the arrival of Covid 19 that “we all” are not, unfortunately, prepared to adapt and change when to do so has a serious impact upon our own “right” to do as we please at the risk of exposing others to potentially fatal infection. And to some extent that is why “we all” are now facing the second potential wave of a pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, placed a near-intolerable burden upon our National Health, Care and Social Services, cost tens of thousands of jobs, destroyed otherwise healthy small and large businesses alike and been funded at eye-watering levels of expenditure that our grandchildren will probably still be repaying through their taxes.
I have spent since March 23rd, almost without a break and largely working in isolation, responding to in excess (my computer tells me) of fifteen thousand e-mails and hundreds of telephone calls in an endeavour to assist the many constituents who have faced and continue to face life-changing effects upon their physical, mental and economic health. I have, I think, a reasonable grasp of the suffering – and that is absolutely the right word – to which many of those that I represent have been subjected. I do not want to find that because appropriate action is not or cannot be taken in short order all of that national sacrifice in blood and treasure has been squandered in vain.
The Government`s handling of the pandemic has not been without fault. With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight there are things that could have been done differently, faster and more efficiently but we were starting from a point of no experience and having to improvise response in the light of specialist advice as we went along. That is why the Coronavirus Act was steamrollered through parliament at breakneck speed and without great scrutiny before both Houses went into lockdown. Had that not happened then many of the actions that have been taken since to support the physical and economic health of the population would not have been possible or lawful. The emergency powers were necessary at the time.
All that said, the Coronavirus Act is not perfect. Setting aside the complaints of those who believe that their “human rights” are more important than their social responsibilities it is, I think, now appropriate that a greater degree of parliamentary scrutiny is applied and parliamentary votes cast as and when the further exercise of local, regional or national controls is exercised. It is for that reason that while I believe that Government must have the ability, as in the case of a declaration of war, to act swiftly and effectively, I am supporting Sir Graham Brady`s amendment to the legislation that is designed to ensure that No.10 and No.11 will have to heed the will of Parliament and not to take a “Downing Street Knows Best” view of people`s liberties in the future.
There is an almost impossible balance to be struck between the protection of the physical health of the nation and the survival of the economy, of homes and employment, of education and recreation, of the enterprises that pay for all of these vital assets and of our natural desire to get on and enjoy our family and our social lives. We have shown during much of the past year that most people are prepared to make sacrifices in the public interest and also that most people (but not “we all”) will go along with restrictions upon daily activities provided that they can see that they are necessary and working. The time has come now, as we do face the prospect of a winter of grave difficulty, for Parliament to reassert its right to have the final say over how and what direction the battle against the pandemic takes. It would be fine irony, would it not, if we were to “take back control from Brussels” only to see it handed to other unelected bureaucrats at home.