The Coronavirus crisis is a national emergency and emergency powers are clearly necessary to keep individuals and communities safe from the virus.
However, these are exceptional powers for exceptional times, and they must not be allowed to become the new normal.
Many of the powers in this Bill have serious implications for civil liberties and human rights, including extra powers for police and immigration officers to detain people. Liberal Democrats will remain vigilant to ensure that any restrictions on civil liberties are only temporary, and that our rights and freedoms are fully restored once this crisis is over.
We are working with the Government and other opposition parties in Parliament to pass the necessary emergency legislation, while ensuring that these powers are temporary, proportionate and do not restrict civil liberties any further than necessary.
These are the amendments we have tabled ahead of this unprecedented Bill.
Currently, this legislation would hand the Government far-reaching powers for a full two years.
Liberal Democrats have serious concerns about this, and so have introduced an amendment that would cut this down to three months, unless Parliament renews it for a further three months at a time (up to a maximum of two years).
It is vital we get the Brexit negotiations right. This requires far more time and resources than the Government has to spare now, with its priority rightly being the coronavirus emergency.
Lots of small and medium-sized businesses were already worried about Brexit disruption before coronavirus hit. If the Government can’t secure a Free Trade Agreement in time, we will face yet another economic shock, just as our country is emerging from coronavirus, in the form of a no-deal Brexit. That must not happen.
We only have until the end of June to agree an extension to the transition period beyond the end of the year, which is why we have tabled an amendment requiring the Government to seek this extension now.
Our amendment would also require the Government to seek continued UK membership of the EU Early Warning System, a scheme that monitors pandemics.
There are serious concerns about the safeguarding of older people, working age adults and children who rely on social care given the powers in the Coronavirus Bill to relax social care provisions.
Liberal Democrats have submitted two amendments to ensure care standards are not reduced any more than absolutely necessary during this crisis. These would place a duty on Local Authorities to continue to meet an adult’s needs for care and support as long as it has resources available to do so and would require the Govt to publish a comprehensive report within 10 days of the passage of the Act, outlining how it will guarantee provisions for social care while this Act is in force.
Each day that we fail to take action to protect the self-employed, millions of people get closer to irreparable damage to their livelihoods.
Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment to create a Self-Employed Income Guarantee, with the Government guaranteeing self-employed people 80% of their average incomes over the last three years, up to a cap of £35,000.
It is the Government’s duty to do everything in its power to protect those facing destitution as a result of this pandemic. Those most in need must be given financial security.
We are calling for a Citizen’s Income: an increased benefit of £150 per week for a single person and £260 per week for couples. This should act as the minimum income guaranteed to all UK adults.
Our amendment would also ensure that people get their first payment on day one, without it being clawed back, and would abolish benefit sanctions for 12 months.
Statutory Sick Pay
The current draft of the Coronavirus Bill suspends the three “waiting days” before people can get Statutory Sick Pay. That is welcome, but at £94.25 a week, Statutory Sick Pay isn’t enough to make up for people’s lost income.
Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment that would increase Statutory Sick Pay from £94.25 a week to £220 a week.
Now that schools are closing their doors, Ministers must take urgent action to minimise disruption to learning and protect vulnerable children.
We have submitted an amendment that would place a duty on schools and colleges to provide teaching and resources, both to pupils who remain at school and those who are stuck at home.
This amendment would also ensure that the Government pays schools and colleges whatever it costs to get pupils and staff the equipment and resources they need for learning to continue.
Liberal Democrats will continue to hold the Government to account to ensure it does not abuse the trust given to it with these temporary powers.