LONDON (Reuters) – British health minister Matt Hancock offered lawmakers more say over the introduction of any new coronavirus restrictions, bowing to criticism of what many see as the government’s high-handed approach.
Just hours after parliamentary speaker Lyndsay Hoyle accused the government of a “total disregard” for parliament when bringing in new measures Hancock moved on Wednesday to head off a rebellion in Conservative ranks.
A defeat in parliament would have dented Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s authority at a time when he is already under fire over his response to the growing pandemic.
“Today I can confirm to the House (of Commons) that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide we will consult parliament. Wherever possible we will hold votes before such regulations come into force,” Hancock told parliament.
“But of course responding to the virus means that the government must act at speed when required and we cannot hold up urgent regulations which are needed to control the virus and save lives.”
His words seemed to ease the concerns of many lawmakers who had been unhappy about extending the Coronavirus Act, which hands government sweeping powers to introduce restrictions to try to step the spread of COVID-19.
Earlier, several from Johnson’s own Conservative Party had accused the government of using the powers in the Act to govern by diktat.
The depth of anger was underlined when the parliamentary Speaker reprimanded the government for disregarding parliament with its COVID-19 measures, saying ministers had shown “contempt” for lawmakers.
“The way in which the government has exercised its powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory,” Hoyle told parliament.
“The government must make greater efforts to prepare measures more quickly, so that this House can debate and decide upon the most significant measures at the earliest possible point.”
(Reporting by William James, writing by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Stephen Addison)
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