POLITICS
30/09/2020 15:35 BST | Updated 30/09/2020 16:07 BST

MPs Will Get A Vote On Any National Lockdown, Matt Hancock Announces

Health secretary confirms the Commons will get an effective veto "wherever possible" in concession to Tory rebels.

MPs will be able to vote on any national coronavirus lockdown measures before they come into force, Matt Hancock has announced in a concession to backbench Tory rebels.

The health secretary said that for “significant national measures” that affect all of England or the whole UK, MPs will be able to vote on them in advance “wherever possible”.

But Hancock stressed the concession to dozens of Tory rebels could not create a situation in which urgent new restrictions were held up by parliamentary procedure.

It came after Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle accused Boris Johnson of treating parliament with “contempt” for the way he has handled the imposition of new restrictions.

Hancock announcements came following talks with Tory rebels, who were angry at what they saw as a government ruling “by decree” on Covid-19, and had the numbers to defeat the government.

In a debate on renewing the Coronavirus Act 2020’s emergency powers, the health secretary told the Commons: “For significant national measures affecting the whole of England, or UK-wide, we will consult parliament. Wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations came into force.

“But of course responding to the virus means 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.

“I am sure that no member of this House would want to limit the government’s ability to take emergency action in the national interest, as we did in March.”

Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the powerful 1922 backbench Tory committee and had been leading the rebellion, thanked Hancock “for being prepared to listen”.

“As he said, members on both sides of the House understand the importance of ministers having the freedom to act quickly when it’s necessary," Brady said.

“But we are grateful that he and other members of the government have understood the importance of proper scrutiny in this place and the benefits that that can bring to better government as well.”

Another would-be rebel, Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, urged Hancock to set out exactly what MPs would get to vote on.

He said: “Some of the measures that have come into force so far have been quite significant covering large parts of the country and millions of people.

“I accept there’s a judgment to be made here, could he say a little more about where that line will be drawn on what’s brought to this House in advance?”

The health secretary said the government has made a “clear commitment” to the process it will follow, adding: “I hope over the weeks to come we will demonstrate through our actions and what we bring forward that we are true to this commitment, which essentially will become a new convention.”

Hancock also announced that modifications to mental health legislation meaning a person can be detained under the opinion of just one doctor, rather than two, will be removed from the Coronavirus Act.

He told MPs: “These were always powers of last resort and I was not persuaded, even in the peak, that they were necessary because our mental health services have shown incredible resilience and ingenuity.

“So I’ve decided that these powers are no longer required in England and will not remain part of the Act and will bring forward the necessary secondary legislation to sunset these provisions.”