Coronavirus Act 2020

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Coronavirus Act 2020
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to make provision in connection with coronavirus; and for connected purposes.
Citation2020 c. 7
Introduced byMatt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Commons)
James Bethell, 5th Baron Bethell (Lords)
Territorial extentEngland and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland (varies by provision)[1]
Dates
Royal assent25 March 2020
Commencement25 March 2020[a]
Other legislation
Relates toCivil Contingencies Act 2004
Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020
Status: Amended
History of passage through Parliament
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended

The Coronavirus Act 2020 (c. 7) is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that grants the government emergency powers to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. The act allows the government the discretionary power to limit or suspend public gatherings, to detain individuals suspected to be infected by COVID-19, and to intervene or relax regulations in a range of sectors to limit transmission of the disease, ease the burden on public health services, and assist healthcare workers and the economically affected. Areas covered by the act include the National Health Service, social care, schools, police, Border Force, local councils, funerals and courts. The act was introduced to Parliament on 19 March 2020, and passed the House of Commons without a vote on 23 March, and the House of Lords on 25 March. The act subsequently received royal assent on 25 March 2020.[2]

The act has a two-year time limit that may be shortened or lengthened by six months at ministerial discretion.[3] Several of the act's provisions were revoked early, on 17 July 2021.

Politicians from several parties demanded closer parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation while it was being debated in Parliament.[4] Advocacy groups such as Liberty and Disability Rights UK likewise called for closer examination of the act and raised concerns over its effects on human rights during and after the pandemic.[5]

Legislative history[edit]

The act was introduced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, on 19 March 2020,[6] and passed all remaining stages of consideration in the House of Commons on 23 March without a vote.[7] It received all stages of consideration in the House of Lords on 25 March,[8] and subsequently received royal assent on 25 March 2020.

Conservative MP and former Brexit Secretary David Davis tabled an amendment on 21 March to restrict the time limit of the bill to a "brick-wall stop" of one year, threatening a backbench rebellion.[9] Conceding to concerns from both Conservative and Labour MPs over infrequent parliamentary scrutiny, on 23 March the government itself amended the bill to require parliamentary renewal of its powers every six months.[10]

The Scottish Parliament agreed a Legislative Consent Motion on 24 March 2020 for the act to apply to Scotland, and subsequently passed the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 to regulate the devolved response to the Coronavirus pandemic.[11]

On 25 March 2021, MPs voted by 484 to 76 to extend the emergency coronavirus powers for another six months.[12]

Provisions[edit]

The provisions of the Coronavirus Act, which are time-limited for two years, enable the government to restrict or prohibit public gatherings, control or suspend public transport, order businesses such as shops and restaurants to close, temporarily detain people suspected of COVID-19 infection, suspend the operation of ports and airports, temporarily close educational institutions and childcare premises, enrol medical students and retired healthcare workers in the health services, relax regulations to ease the burden on healthcare services, and assume control of death management in particular local areas.[13][14][15][16][17] The government stated that these powers may be "switched on and off" according to the medical advice it receives.[18]

The act also provides for measures to combat the economic effects of the pandemic. It includes the power to halt the eviction of tenants, protect emergency volunteers from becoming unemployed, and provide special insurance cover for healthcare staff taking on additional responsibilities.[18] The government will reimburse the cost of statutory sick pay for employees affected by COVID-19 to employers, and supermarkets will be required to report supply chain disruptions to the government.[19]

The act formally postpones the local elections originally scheduled for May 2020 and grants the UK and relevant devolved governments the power to postpone any other election, local referendum, or recall petition until 6 May 2021. Local councillors, elected mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners originally due for election in 2020 will serve three-year terms after their election in 2021, rather than the normal four years, in order to maintain the normal election cycle.[20]

Time limit and renewal[edit]

The act has a two-year time limit which may be shortened or lengthened by six months at ministerial discretion.[3] Following a government amendment, the act is additionally subject to parliamentary renewal every six months;[10] it would originally have been returned to Parliament for debate one year after its enactment.[3]

Periodic review[edit]

Section 88 of the act enables national authorities to suspend (and later revive, if appropriate) many of the act's provisions, and section 97 requires the Secretary of State to publish, every two months, a report on the status of the non-devolved provisions. On 7 May 2020, the Department of Health & Social Care published a table showing the status of each provision, including those not at that time in force.[21] This was followed on 29 May by the first two-monthly report, which gave for provisions not yet in force a brief explanation of the reason, and for those in force an outline of the extent to which the provision has been used.[22] Further reports followed every two months.[23]

Evolution[edit]

By September 2020, the provisions addressing potential staff shortages in mental health services had not been used in England, and had only been commenced in part in Wales. An instrument to remove these provisions was laid before Parliament on 21 October and came into force on 9 December 2020.[24]

As part of the one-year review in March 2021, the government stated its intention to revoke twelve sections of the act and suspend three provisions.[25] Changes were subsequently made via statutory instrument.[26][27]

Expiry[edit]

Several sections of the act were revoked early, on 17 July 2021, by The Coronavirus Act (Early Expiry) Regulations 2021, SI 2021/856.[28] Further expiries came into force on 9 December 2021, bringing the number of expired provisions to 20.[29]

Reception[edit]

BBC News reported on 19 March 2020 that there was general agreement in Parliament on the measures contained in the act, but some MPs had raised criticisms of their extended duration.[18] Conservative backbencher Steve Baker reluctantly supported the bill but said that it was ushering in a "dystopian society" and urged the government not to allow the measures to continue "one moment longer" than necessary.[30] Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 18 March requesting that MPs be granted a vote to renew the bill every six months,[31] while Labour MP Chris Bryant argued that the bill should be subject to renewal every 30 days.[32] The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, also requested that the bill be subject to more frequent parliamentary scrutiny.[31]

Commentator Ian Dunt labelled the act the "most extensive encroachment on British civil liberties ... ever seen outside of wartime".[33] The human rights pressure group Liberty called for closer scrutiny of the bill, raising concerns that significant restrictions on civil liberties could remain in place beyond the end of the pandemic,[34] and Disability Rights UK also raised serious concerns about the implications of the Coronavirus Bill on human rights, especially the rights of vulnerable groups, including disabled people.[35]

Lord Sumption in a podcast aired on 10 September 2020 pointed out that the "lockdown and the quarantine rules and most of the other regulations have been made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984", not the Coronavirus Act 2020.[36]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to sections 87–88 of the Act, the Act as a whole commenced on the day it was passed, but various of its specific provisions come into force according to government discretion; national authorities may suspend and revive provisions of the Act.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Section 100 of the Act
  2. ^ "Coronavirus Act 2020 receives Royal Assent | Cambridge Network". www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Cowie, Graeme (25 March 2020). "Coronavirus Bill: Amended time limits and post-legislative review". House of Commons Library. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  4. ^ "The coronavirus crackdown sets a dangerous precedent". www.spectator.co.uk. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  5. ^ Fouzder, Monidipa (10 September 2020). "Civil liberties group campaigns to scrap Coronavirus Act". Law Gazette. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  6. ^ "Coronavirus Bill 2019-21". www.parliament.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  7. ^ Morrison, Sean (24 March 2020). "Emergency coronavirus legislation clears Commons as strict lockdown measures introduced across UK". The Evening Standard. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  8. ^ "Lords debates emergency Covid-19 legislation". www.parliament.uk. 24 March 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  9. ^ Schofield, Kevin (21 March 2020). "Boris Johnson faces Commons rebellion over coronavirus emergency powers bill". PoliticsHome. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  10. ^ a b Cowburn, Ashley (23 March 2020). "Coronavirus: MPs will review new emergency measures every six months after government relents to pressure". The Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  11. ^ "New coronavirus powers will be brought in immediately, MSPs told". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  12. ^ "MPs agree to extend Covid powers until September". BBC News. 25 March 2021. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  13. ^ O'Donoghue, Daniel (18 March 2020). "Coronavirus: What new powers will Boris Johnson have under emergency virus legislation?". The Press and Journal. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Coronavirus: Emergency laws will give powers to close airports and detain and quarantine people". Sky News. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  15. ^ "Government to get right to force people into self-isolation under emergency laws". i. 17 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  16. ^ Walker, Peter (17 March 2020). "Retired and student medics may be called in to tackle Covid-19 in UK". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  17. ^ "Police allowed to detain infected people under emergency coronavirus laws". The Independent. 17 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  18. ^ a b c "Coronavirus: Emergency legislation set out". BBC News. 19 March 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  19. ^ Davies, Gareth (20 March 2020). "UK coronavirus lockdown plans: What the Government advice means for you". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 20 March 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020. Require supermarkets to give the Government information on whether there will be disruptions to their supply chains; Allow employers to claim for the cost of statutory sick pay from the Government where an employee has coronavirus
  20. ^ Johnston, Neil (19 March 2020). "Coronavirus Bill: Elections" (PDF). House of Commons Library. pp. 3–5. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  21. ^ "Coronavirus Act 2020: status table". GOV.UK. 7 May 2020. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  22. ^ "Two monthly report on the status of the non-devolved provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020" (PDF). GOV.UK. Department of Health & Social Care. 29 May 2020. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Coronavirus Act reports". GOV.UK. Department of Health and Social Care. Retrieved 28 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ "Timeline: Coronavirus Act 2020 (Expiry of Mental Health Provisions) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  25. ^ "Coronavirus Act one-year report: March 2021". GOV.UK. 22 March 2021. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Coronavirus Act report: May 2021". GOV.UK. 27 May 2021. Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  27. ^ Search results at legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  28. ^ "The Coronavirus Act (Early Expiry) Regulations 2021". Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  29. ^ "Coronavirus Act 2020: status". GOV.UK. Department of Health and Social Care. 22 December 2021. Retrieved 10 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. ^ Diver, Tony; Bowman, Verity; Davies, Gareth; Gartner, Annelies (22 March 2020). "Coronavirus: Boris Johnson announces three-week UK lockdown". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2020 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  31. ^ a b Cowburn, Ashley (19 March 2020). "Coronavirus: Labour demands Boris Johnson give MPs votes every six months on emergency powers". The Independent. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  32. ^ Bryant, Chris (19 March 2020). "Some powers in the Coronavirus Bill are draconian and impinge on people's liberty". PoliticsHome. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  33. ^ Dunt, Ian (18 March 2020). "Coronavirus bill: The biggest expansion in executive power we've seen in our lifetime". Politics.co.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  34. ^ "Liberty calls for continuous scrutiny of Coronavirus Bill". Liberty. 19 March 2020. Archived from the original on 20 March 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  35. ^ "Suspension of the Care Act - act immediately | Disability Rights UK". www.disabilityrightsuk.org. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  36. ^ Pearson, Allison; Halligan, Liam (10 September 2020). "Planet Normal: Use of fear has brought about 'the greatest invasion of personal liberty in our history' –Lord Sumption". Telegraph Media Group Limited.

External links[edit]