Legal footing for national unlocking set out ahead of vote

The government has set out regulations that will pave the way to the easing of all restrictions from 21st June 2021.

  • New ‘roadmap regulations’ set out before the next phase of easements take place on 29th March 2021
  • One-year review of Coronavirus Act proposes measures to expire or suspend. Measures to continue are essential and proportionate – to deliver the roadmap and maintain the necessary tools to continue to fight this virus and support families and the economy through it
  • Comes ahead of Parliament vote on both the roadmap and Coronavirus Act on Thursday 25th March 2021

The government has set out regulations which will pave the way to the easing of all restrictions from 21st June 2021, 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 rolled out under the Coronavirus Act, providing income for many families and a life-line to thousands of businesses throughout the pandemic.

Due to the success of the UK’s historic vaccination programme, with over half of all adults vaccinated, and the infection and hospitalisation rates having fallen significantly.

The regulations mean that from 29th March 2021 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 12th April 2021.

The government has also published a review of the Coronavirus Act ahead of a vote in Parliament, this sets out 15 measures which will be expired or suspended after Easter 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 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 will be voted on by Parliament , 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.

Further 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:

  • Sections 8 to 9 (applies to UK): emergency volunteers. These provisions were intended to come into force should the delivery of health services be at risk as a result of the pandemic. Despite the significant workforce pressure in health and social care, other measures such as NHS Professionals, other agency and bank staff and the Bring Back Staff (BBS) scheme have been more appropriate to address the need for trained clinical staff. As such, these powers have not yet come into force
  • Section 15 (applies to England and Wales and will be expired for England): Care Act easements (DHSC). Some duties to local authorities are relaxed under this section, allowing them to streamline assessment and charge for care retrospectively. There is strong stakeholder support to remove this provision. Eight local authorities in England have used the powers but the power has not been used since 29 June 2020
  • Section 24 (applies to UK) (Home Office): extension of time limits for retention of fingerprints and DNA profiles, allowing them to be held for an additional 6 months beyond normal deadlines. This power cannot be extended beyond the point the regulations expire in March without primary legislation.
  • Sections 25 to 29 (applies to UK) (Defra): requiring information from businesses and persons involved in the food supply chain. Gives the power to require information such as food supply disruption if there is refusal to provide it voluntarily. The information has been provided voluntarily and is not needed
  • Section 71 (applies to UK) (HMT): signatures of Treasury Commissioners; allows a single Commissioner of HMT to sign instruments and act on behalf of Commissioners, instead of requiring a signature from all Commissioners.
  • Section 79 (applies to England) (MHCLG): extension of Business Improvement Districts (BID) arrangements. BIDs, local business partnerships established by voting, have now successfully completed ballots and 43 are due to introduce ballots before the expiry in March 2021
  • Section 84 (applies to England) (MHCLG): postponement of General Synod elections. Allows the Queen to postpone the dissolution of the General Synod of the Church of England and so to postpone elections to the General Synod

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

  • Section 22 (applies to UK): appointment of temporary Judicial Commissioners (JCs)
  • Section 23 (applies to UK): time limits in relation to, for example, urgent warrants under Investigatory Powers Act
  • Section 58/schedule 2, part 2 (applies to UK and will be suspended in England): allows directions to be issued under part 2 if it was believed death management was not being organised correctly

PAYadvice.UK 22/3/2021

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