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Covid: Hancock pressured to give MPs say over lockdown rules

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has come under pressure to give MPs a say over coronavirus lockdown restrictions, before they come into force.

An ex-Tory chief whip said involving MPs would lead to "better decisions".

Mr Hancock promised the government was "looking at further ways the House can be properly involved in the process in advance where possible".

On Wednesday MPs will be asked to renew emergency powers, originally passed in March, to tackle the pandemic.

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During a parliamentary debate on coronavirus, Mr Hancock was asked by several Conservative MPs if he would allow Parliament more scrutiny over new lockdown rules.

A former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said: "I think actually ministers coming to Parliament, marshalling the arguments and laying out the evidence means that we get better decisions that are likely to be more effective in dealing with the virus and protecting our economy."

Another former cabinet minister Chris Grayling also urged the government to allow MPs more scrutiny telling the health secretary: "We know he wants to do the right thing, we want to help him do the right thing."

Labour's John Spellar said "it's nice to be consulted" but added "in the end it's about who decides".

"Why is he so against Parliament making the decision?" he asked.

Mr Hancock insisted that MPs had been given plenty of opportunities to scrutinise the government, pointing out that he answered questions in the House of Commons "several times a week".

He also said he was aiming to provide MPs with the opportunity to question the government's scientific advisers more regularly, access to local data and daily calls with ministers.

"We're looking at further ways to ensure the House can be properly involved in the process in advance where possible," he added.

One critic of the government's approach, Conservative MP Steve Baker, said he expected "a satisfactory agreement" would be reached following a meeting between MPs and Mr Hancock, Chief Whip Mark Spencer and Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg.

And BBC Newsnight political editor Nick Watt said: "It looks like the two sides may well be moving towards some sort of deal that could avoid a government defeat."

image copyrightEPA
image captionPolice patrolling the streets following the introduction of a curfew for pubs

The debate comes two days before MPs will be asked to renew the Coronavirus Act.

The law granted the government a number of emergency powers to respond to the pandemic, including powers to postpone local elections and close down pubs.

The powers are time-limited and can only be extended with the House of Commons' approval.

However MP Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, has tabled an amendment that would "as far as is reasonably practicable" give MPs more of a say over future changes to regulations.

He is supported by around Conservative 50 MPs - and opposition parties including Labour and the Liberal Democrats have hinted they would also vote for the amendment.

However, BBC parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy says the initial steer is that it is unlikely the Speaker would select Sir Graham's amendment, meaning it would not be put to a vote.

But, he says, the Speaker does consider the breadth of support for an amendment, including its level of cross-party appeal, so support from Labour figures would influence his decision.

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