The Government is side-lining Parliament when it is needed most

Posted on 03 Jun 2020

The Government are rushing through new powers and tabling contentious legislation, including the Immigration Bill, at a time of limited oversight

During the coronavirus crisis, Members of Parliament have been able to heed public health advice and work from home by remote voting.

But this has now ended. A bid to continue this arrangement so that MPs who might be shielding or who have caring responsibilities could continue to hold the Government to account while protecting themselves and their loved ones was defeated. It was defeated by the sitting Government who ordered its MPs to vote against this bid.

By doing this they have made it harder for all MPs to represent us. They effectively asked for there to be less scrutiny at a time when this has never been more critical.

Scrapping remote voting will mean up to a third of MPs may be unable to attend votes and parliamentary debates will be under-populated.

At the start of the crisis, the Government said it would not table any contentious legislation while it could not be subject to full and rigorous scrutiny. Instead, it has used this opportunity to bring forward a raft of highly contentious legislation including an Immigration Bill, an Armed Forces Bill that threatens to erode accountability for war crimes committed by British soldiers and a new Counter-Terrorism Bill.

It’s worth noting that the decision to end remote voting was preceded by the Government’s introduction of new regulations for changing the lockdown.

The one time any of the lockdown regulations were debated by both Houses of Parliament, they were replaced on the very day those debates finished.

These new powers, released on Sunday afternoon, took many by surprise. They have been widely mocked for their inconsistencies, but these inconsistencies reveal their danger: if we don’t know what’s illegal, any one of us could be criminalised. And we weren’t even given 24-hours’ notice.

Up to this point, police powers during the lockdown haven’t been felt evenly. We predicted that giving the police broad powers to enforce confused Government rules and advice would lead to their disproportionate use against people of colour. And we were right as Liberty Investigates demonstrated. The new powers – restricting gatherings both in public and private – create new risks for people who are already subject to over-policing.

These are the dangers of rushing through sweeping new powers, but the Government has repeatedly shut down chances to address this. We have now been subject to three different versions of regulations to police the lockdown, all of which were made through emergency powers. The one time any of the lockdown regulations were debated by both Houses of Parliament, they were replaced on the very day those debates finished.

At a time when scrutiny is need more than ever, the Government has done all it can to limit that scrutiny. Exercising extraordinary powers while limiting oversight is a move that should worry us all.

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