161 The Government intends to ask Parliament to expedite the parliamentary progress of this Bill. In its report, Fast-track legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguard1, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution recommended that the Government should provide more information as to why a piece of legislation should be fast-tracked2.
Why is fast-tracking necessary?
162 The Bill is emergency legislation. Some provisions will come into force on Royal Assent and others may need to come into force quickly after that in order to respond to developing circumstances. On 11th March 2020 the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic. It is crucial that this legislation comes into force as soon as possible in order to put appropriate safeguards in place to manage the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.
What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?
163 All of the provisions in the Bill are aimed at enabling the Government to respond to an emergency situation and to manage the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore important that the entire Bill be fast-tracked.
What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?
164 In order for the measures included in the Bill to be effective in managing the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic, Royal Assent needs to be secured as soon as possible. The Government will therefore ask Parliament to pass the Bill as soon as possible before it goes into recess on 31st March 2020. Given the need to draft and then pass this legislation at pace, it has not been possible to give Parliament more time to scrutinise the Bill.
To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?
165 With the need to pass the legislation as soon as possible to manage a Covid-19 pandemic, it has not been possible to give interested parties and outside groups an opportunity to influence this Bill. The Government has been taking expert advice from the Chief Medical Officers and the deputy Chief Medical officers throughout its response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Does the Bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why does the government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
166 The Bill is designed to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and will expire after two years with the exception of the provisions relating to the power to award indemnity payments, various transitional provisions to deal with the sunset of the substantive provisions and the technical provisions in the Bill (clause 89). To provide flexibility, clause 90, allows for the application of the Act to be extended (or shortened) by way of regulations made by a Minister of the Crown. The regulations must not extend the period that the Act is in force for more than 6 months at a time. It is important to have this extension mechanism since the health and welfare implications of letting the provisions expire when Covid-19 is still spreading could be serious and at this time the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic is not known. It will also be possible to extent some provisions of the Bill while letting others sunset – so if some measures are no longer necessary as the pandemic get less severe these could be sunset while the provisions that are still being relied on could be retained. This is to ensure that measures are only in place as long as is necessary to manage the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic.
Are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why does the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
167 A debate is to be held in both Houses about the status report that will be produced in accordance with clause 97 one-year after Royal Assent of the Bill. This debate will need to be held if the substantive operational period of the Bill which is defined in clause 97 is on-going. This means that if any of the non-devolved clauses that are due to be sunset under clause 89 are still in force after one-year the debate will go ahead.
Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question?
168 Yes. The Bill consists of measures that modify existing legislation during a Covid-19 pandemic and also introduces new measures which are not found in other pieces of legislation. These measures are required during exceptional circumstances to help the UK manage the effects of the pandemic.
Has the relevant parliamentary committee been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?
169 Given the need to pass legislation at pace, the relevant committees have been engaged via letter.