Legal footing for national unlocking set out ahead of vote

23 Mar 2021 12:10 PM

The government has set out regulations that will pave the way to the easing of all restrictions from 21 June.

The government yesterday set out regulations which will pave the way to the easing of all restrictions from 21 June, and plans proposals to maintain support for the most vulnerable, businesses and public services.

Government support packages such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme have been rapidly rolled out under the Coronavirus Act, providing income for many families and a life-line to thousands of businesses throughout the pandemic.

Thanks to the extraordinary success of the UK’s historic vaccination programme, with over half of all adults now vaccinated, and the commitment of the public in playing their part, infection and hospitalisation rates have fallen significantly.

The regulations set out yesterday mean from 29 March outdoor gatherings of either 6 people or 2 households will be allowed including in private gardens.

The government has been clear that the roadmap out of lockdown is cautious, but irreversible. It sets out which measures must continue in order to protect the hard-won progress and ensure the nation can meet the 4 tests which will allow further unlocking to take place. A full review will be conducted in advance of moving to step 2 of the roadmap which will be 12 April.

Alongside the roadmap regulations, the government yesterday published a review of the Coronavirus Act ahead of a vote in Parliament, which sets out 15 measures which will be expired or suspended after Easter recess as they are no longer essential to the national response to COVID-19.

It explains which measures of the Act will be retained and how they will help to support businesses and individuals, shore up capacity in the health and care service and ensure delivery of essential public services.

The Act ensured the NHS had the capacity to deal with the peak of the virus by allowing the temporary registration of nurses and other healthcare professionals. It provided courts with the ability to use video technology and it allowed the government to put in place support packages such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, which have provided a source of income for families and a lifeline for many businesses. It has also enabled businesses to access loan schemes, which have provided over £72 billion of support to businesses with over 1.5 million loans approved.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday said:

We are today setting out the legal foundations which, if agreed by Parliament, will deliver the roadmap out of lockdown.

These measures have been vital to reducing infections, hospital admissions and deaths across the country, and thanks to people’s commitment and support, we have made strong progress.

We are rightly ending as many national measures as safely as possible, while maintaining those which remain necessary and proportionate to help reduce and control infections further as we cautiously but irreversibly ease restrictions and our historic vaccination programme continues apace.

The regulations laid yesterday will be voted on by Parliament this Thursday, and if approved, will replace the ‘all tiers’ regulations which were made to enact the tier system at the end of last year.

The temporary measures within the Coronavirus Act require a renewal vote every 6 months as part of the government’s commitment to properly scrutinising coronavirus legislation. The powers in the Act have been thoroughly reviewed and those that are no longer necessary will be expired, and only the most important and proportionate measures will be maintained.

Keeping the Act in place will continue to provide important support to individuals, businesses and allow essential public services to function. The Act enables the furlough scheme, virtual court hearings and the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to continue as long as they are needed, to support those most in need during this challenging time.

When this legislation was brought to Parliament, the government was clear that it would only retain these powers for as long as necessary to allow us to respond to the pandemic effectively. Because of the welcome progress in our fight against this virus, the government is now able to expire and suspend a raft of measures within the Act.

While the vote will provide the legal basis for the act to remain in place for a further 6 months, the entire Act and all its provisions are reviewed in a report laid every 2 months. The roadmap regulations must also undergo statutory review every 35 days.

Background information

A total of 12 provisions will be removed completely from the Coronavirus Act. This is in addition to the mental health powers that were removed in December for England:

In addition, the following 3 provisions will also be suspended:

Coronavirus Act: one-year report

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021


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