Labour calls for transparency on Covid rules as MPs back ‘rule of six’

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

Justin Madders has called for transparency from the government on coronavirus restrictions introduced during the pandemic as MPs retrospectively back the ‘rule of six’ by 287 to 17 votes.

Contributing to the debate ahead of the vote in parliament this evening, the shadow health minister said Labour welcomes the “intention behind the rule of six as a simple, easily understood message”.

But he added: “The timeline of these regulations has been the perfect demonstration of the lack of strategy, lack of transparency and the lack of accountability that has been the hallmark of this government.

“Following media briefings the night before, an announcement was made by the Prime Minister on the rule of six – not to this place, as it should have been… I call that a discourtesy to this place.”

Madders told MPs that as well as showing a lack of respect to parliament, it demonstrated a lack of confidence in the measures being proposed, for scrutiny and for thought on the practicalities of enforcing the new rules.

The rule of six, which makes social gatherings of more than six people unlawful, was introduced in mid-September after a spike in the number of Covid cases across the country.

The shadow minister asked the government this evening: “How can we expect anyone to possibly adhere to the minutia of these regulations if they only appear for the first time a quarter of an hour before they become law?”

He repeated Labour’s offer to the government for MPs to meet and debate coronavirus restrictions in parliament at short notice, before they are introduced, to ensure that “democracy still functions”.

Madders concluded his remarks by saying: “To take people with us, we need more transparency. We need to see the evidence behind the restrictions that are being introduced.”

MPs voted to renew the emergency powers granted to the government under the Coronavirus Act in March, which introduced extraordinary measures in the pandemic, at the end of last month.

In an attempt to prevent a full-scale rebellion within the Tories, Matt Hancock said MPs would have a say on national restrictions and “votes wherever possible”, resulting in retrospective votes such as the one this evening.

The vote tonight follows growing unrest on the Tory backbenchers over several of the restrictions, and MPs will be also asked to vote retrospectively on the measures introduced in the North of England on Wednesday evening.

The Tory rebels are led by Steve Baker, who argued ahead of the vote: “Consensus among Conservative MPs seems to be around two points – that children should be excluded from the rule of six and that the 10pm curfew is not justified by evidence.

“I wouldn’t expect to win a vote on either issue. The reality is we need to persuade the government on all these matters.”

Commenting on the rule of six, Keir Starmer said: “There are of course arguments about whether it should be six or a different number, I think clarity and simplicity is really important here, and therefore we will support the rule of six tonight.”

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