Dear Prime Minister,
Thank you for the coronavirus briefings on Privy Council terms that myself and Shadow Cabinet colleagues have had from officials and experts, and for the meeting that Jonathan Ashworth and Shami Chakrabarti had with Matt Hancock and Michael Ellis to discuss emergency legislation.
I am now writing to request a meeting with you to discuss the crisis and for urgent sight of the draft legislation so that the Opposition, in the public interest can feed in proposals or amendments in advance of the parliamentary process – which we understand needs to be truncated owing to urgency.
In recent weeks, we have sought to avoid fuelling public panic and to support the vital work of officials and health and scientific advisers. We are committed to ensuring we fully contribute to the collective effort to protect public health.
However, this crisis demands political as well as scientific judgements and clearer public communication based on greater transparency of scientific and behavioural evidence and modelling than has been provided to date.
The public are rightly seeking a much higher level of explanation and transparency as to the course of action being taken, including whether more far-reaching measures, as taken in other comparable states, could be necessary.
While Department of Health officials were not able to share draft legislation last Thursday, we understand that Matt Hancock and Michael Ellis were able to give the following assurances as to constitutional safeguards that will be provided:
– The Bill will come under cover of a Ministerial statement of ECHR compatibility under section 19, HRA.
– The legislation will contain provision for specific powers to be “turned on and off” subject to necessity and proportionality as the situation develops. It will have to be renewed in Parliament after one year and contain an absolute sunset of two years.
– It will avoid broad Henry VIII-type powers to amend primary legislation (such as in the Civil Contingency Act), instead adopting a purpose-specific approach relating to each anticipated need.
Of course, the most vulnerable in our society are at most risk. Any legislation introduced should be rigorously tested by an equality impact assessment and include a financial care package for those groups who are forced into self-isolation and during a period of illness and self-isolation.
Our view is, that in the light of the scale of the crisis, the government should bring forward a package of emergency financial security measures to give people the security and confidence they need to follow public health advice as part of our collective national endeavour, including:
– There must be full sick pay and lost earnings protection from day one for all workers including insecure workers, low paid workers, and the self-employed, during self-isolation and illness, with consideration given to government funding of sick pay compensation in order to share the burdens with business (and not just in relation to SMEs and for a temporary 14-day period, which is the current government position).
– Statutory sick pay should be raised in line with the amounts paid in other European countries with similar economies.
– Rent and mortgage payment deferment options should be made available, so that landlords cannot evict tenants, and mortgage companies cannot take action against mortgagees in these circumstances. The government should work with banks and other mortgage lenders to offer mortgage payment holidays.
– The government should remove the requirement to present for Universal Credit interviews in all cases, immediately suspend sanctions and the claimant agreement, and immediately and sharply reduce the wait time of five weeks for the first payment.
– Support must be given for local authorities working with foodbanks in the purchase and distribution of food stocks.
There are of course a number of other important issues facing the country as a result of the spread of coronavirus, including the impact on our public services, that I look forward to discussing further with you.
I look forward to your early response.
With best wishes,
Leader of the Opposition