AMs grant consent to “draconian” emergency Coronavirus Bill

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

Yesterday, with just 12 AMs in attendance the Senedd debated a consent motion (pdf) on the UK’s emergency Coronavirus Bill – which was summarised here.

Extraordinary measures for extraordinary times

Running through the list of restrictions and public health measures taken (or due to be available via the Bill) to slow the spread of Covid-19 the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said the Bill included “extraordinary measures for the extraordinary times that we face”.

Chair of the Constitutional Affairs & Justice Committee, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), noted that the situation was so serious a threat to security or life that emergency powers were justified. That said, he raised the prospect of associated problems causing issues such as a failure to address low incomes during the quarantine period.

Several AMs welcomed the agreement in London that the powers would be reviewed and renewed every six months by the UK Parliament instead of remaining in place for the full two years.

“I reflect now on when I stood for election to this Senedd in 2016 and all I was hoping for was that my life experiences would bring something to this institution and that I could do my little bit to make life for my constituents….just that little bit better. Not once did it cross my mind that less than four years later I’d be in this Chamber debating legislation that would give emergency powers to our Government in the face of a public health emergency. But here we are. And the speed at which this has moved has been quite frightening.”
– Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)

Several AMs also acknowledged the “draconian” nature of the Bill; Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said he was a champion of individual freedoms but given the situation the powers were necessary. He said it was essential that the number of volunteers able to fill gaps in health and social care was maximised as much as possible using clauses and powers in the Bill.

Welsh Government “should provide regular updates” on the use of emergency powers

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) noted the impact the Bill’s provisions would have on certain groups, including the disabled and their care, as well as expanded powers concerning those with mental illness:

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) was under no doubt that the government needed the powers in the Bill following the mass flouting of public health advice to stay home last weekend, leading to behaviour which has put communities in danger. Given that, with the breadth of the powers at their disposal, he wasn’t the only AM to call for the Welsh Government to regularly update AMs on their use. He also criticised the pre-existing civil contingencies powers as being inadequate.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) said that if governments were going to “have the power to stop me seeing my father or my sons” then proof was needed that those powers were necessary.

Some of those powers on mental health, disabilities – both Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) and Neil McEvoy AM (WNP, South Wales Central) raising concerns that it could lead to an unacceptable level of care – and suspending DBS checks may lead to unintended consequences; Suzy Davies used an example of teachers who’ve been struck off being allowed back into the workforce.

In the end, the LCM was approved unanimously.

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