Labour has tabled a motion calling on the government to publish its internal review of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that lessons can be learned to protect the lifting of health restrictions on June 21st.
Ahead of the final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, which was delivered last week and sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session, the opposition party has tabled a ‘humble address’.
Commenting ahead of the vote in parliament on Wednesday, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Learning the lessons of the past year is crucial to our success of containing the Indian variant.
“Boris Johnson promised us an irreversible roadmap to normality. With the spread of the B1617.2 variant threatening to hold us back we need urgent action from Ministers to contain this variant.
“That starts with surge vaccination in hot spot areas for all; surge testing backed up by sick pay and support for isolation and ventilation help for building and premises. Ministers must do all they can now to meet their June 21st target.”
As of Monday, 2,323 cases of B1617.2 had been confirmed, up from 1,313 on Thursday last week, with 483 of those in the outbreaks in Bolton and Blackburn. There are now 86 local authorities with five or more confirmed cases.
Government ministers are facing renewed questions over why they did not place India on the red list of countries, from where arrivals must quarantine in a hotel for ten days and non-UK national visitors are banned completely.
The government added India to the red list on April 23rd, six days before the B1617.2 variant was put under investigation, but a closely related variant was placed under investigation on April 1st, weeks before travel was restricted.
Following an update from Matt Hancock on the response to the spread of the Indian variant of Covid in the UK on Monday, Ashworth declared that government policy had left the borders “about as secure as a sieve” throughout the crisis.
The Shadow Health Secretary described the delay in adding India to the red list as a “catastrophic misstep” and highlighted warnings from public health experts that vaccines would be less effective at reducing the variant’s transmission.
“I entirely appreciate that when questioned he won’t be able to give a cast-iron assurance about opening up on June 21st, and I’m not going to try and push him into a corner,” he told MPs. “But we do need a plan now to contain this variant.”
Ashworth also criticised the decision to cut government aid spending during the global health crisis and told MPs that the spread of the Indian variant, or B1617.2, in the UK is a reminder that “we are not safe until everyone is safe”.
A humble address is a message to the Queen used to, among other things, call for Secretaries of State to publish papers. Although Erskine May does not say it is binding on government, the consensus from previous debates is that they are.
The unusual approach, frequently exercised until about the middle of the 19th century, effectively transforms usually non-binding motions from the opposition into a binding resolution of the House.
The mechanism was used by Labour successfully during the Brexit negotiations to force ministers to publish the internal assessments of the impact of the UK leaving the EU after the then Speaker John Bercow accepted that it was binding.
Below is the full text of the motion tabled by Labour.
At end add “but respectfully regrets that the government has provided insufficient information for its proposals properly to be scrutinised; and therefore beg leave that she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the following papers be laid before parliament: the lessons learned review of the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic and the plan to fix social care that the Prime Minister announced on 24th July 2019 had been prepared”.
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