Coronavirus Act: Rights and freedoms must be restored

Responding to the results of the vote on the Coronavirus Act extension, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey MP commented:

“This vote hands Conservative Ministers a blank cheque to use draconian powers they don’t need. I am proud that Liberal Democrats voted against it.“

We continue to support all necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus and keep people safe, but none of them rely on the Coronavirus Act. The Prime Minister even had to resort to lies to persuade MPs to back him today.

“Despite all their talk about freedom, the Conservatives have shown they have no intention of restoring people’s civil liberties once the need for restrictions has ended.

“Liberal Democrats will remain vigilant to stop the Government abusing these powers, and to make sure that everyone’s rights and freedoms are fully restored once this crisis is over.”

Noes to Editor The full text of the speech by Ed Davey MP is below. 

Madam Deputy Speaker, Renewing the Coronavirus Act is about extra powers for Ministers.
Powers which have serious implications for people’s freedoms, but are not crucial to help the fight against Covid. So of course Liberal Democrats will vote against this Bill tonight. 

We have supported any necessary powers to keep people safe throughout this crisis. Indeed, a year ago we supported the original Coronavirus Bill, albeit with a very heavy heart.  But while we’ve sometimes had to accept that such public health actions were needed to preserve people’s liberty to survive this pandemic, we have always sounded a liberal warning. A year ago, in the debate, I said about this Bill: the powers must be used only when absolutely necessary during this emergency, and not for a moment longer. The experience of the last year shows that many of these powers the Government still wants to keep have proved totally unnecessary – including the extraordinary powers for police and immigration officers to detain innocent people, potentially indefinitely. The Govt itself says such powers haven’t been used once in the whole of the pandemic. Yet they’re still asking MPs to renew them for another six months. And these unnecessary powers are causing enormous confusion for police and prosecutors. The Crown Prosecution Service’s review reveals that, as of the end of February, 252 people had been incorrectly charged under this Act – with not a single person correctly charged. Now I do welcome that Ministers at last accept that a few of the provisions should expire – especially the reduction in people’s rights to care. I warned at the second reading last year that these were some of the most alarming provisions in the Bill and we called on the Government to remove them last September. We showed that they were illegal under international law. So I’m glad they’ve gone. But the Government still seems determined to keep most of these unnecessary, draconian powers. Indeed, what’s disturbing, Ministers are now resorting to desperate, false arguments to persuade MPs to vote for this motion. Ministers said voting it down would end furlough. It won’t. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said it was needed for people to carry on volunteering in the NHS. That’s not true. This is fake news, and this House shouldn’t fall for it. Now there are some parts of the Act that are needed, but that’s not justification for renewing all these sweeping and intrusive powers for another six months. Not least because there’s an alternative. Liberty has published a Protect Everyone Bill to replace the Coronavirus Act. It contains the laws necessary to protect both public health and human rights. That’s the law we should be debating, as our amendment calls for. Conservative Ministers are asking for a blank cheque for another six months. So I really hope that Conservative backbenchers, and indeed Labour and SNP colleagues and others across the House, will do what the Liberal Democrats are going to do, and that’s not support this Bill. We will vote against this motion. And I hope Conservative Ministers go away and think again, and put liberty first.

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