Published: 17:36, 24 March 2020
| Updated: 19:16, 24 March 2020
A Kent MP has urged the government to ensure emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic is not used for other purposes.
The government has set out plans that will give the police and other authorities wide-ranging powers to tackle the spread of the infection.
He pressed health secretary Matt Hancock for an assurance the legislation would not be used for other potentially malicious purposes.
“Over the last few weeks the world has changed in a much more radical sense than many of us have appreciated and the powers that lie within this Bill, even over six months are likely to change; and are going to be exercised in different ways.
"Can he assure me that, not only he but, other ministers exercising these powers will be looking at them reasonably in keeping with the coronavirus issue only; making sure they are limited to the purpose for which they are intended; because these could, in other circumstances, be used in a particularly malicious fashion.”
Mr Hancock responded: “This Bill is for the coronavirus emergency; although the world has changed in ways many of us could not have imagined, every measure taken by the government has been part of the action plan that we published three weeks ago and is only for the corona-crisis issue.”
The emergency laws are extensive and cover a whole range of issues – including the ability of the police to detain, for a month, those suspected of having the virus.
Meanwhile, Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark took the government to task during a debate over the lack of testing being carried out.
The former business minister questioned why testing was not being carried out as much as it was in other countries.
He asked for an explanation on why fewer tests were being carried out in the UK.
“Can he explain, given the fact the development of this test was by this country, why it is so much less available than in other countries,” the MP asked.
"Every measure taken by the government has been part of the action plan."
Mr Hancock replied: “We have done more testing here than in other countries; there are some countries which are ahead of us; we have tested more than France and America but not as much as Italy. It is something we are putting a huge amount of effort into. We are increasingly using private companies to do the testing.”
Earlier, Mr Clark said the government needed to do more to help the self-employed businesses face the challenge of the coronavirus, arguing there needed to be a comparable set of measures to help the self-employed.
The emergency powers will be limited to two years.
More by this authorPaul Francis