Gill Furniss MP Labour Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
Since March, we have all had to make unprecedented personal sacrifices in order to curb the spread of coronavirus. For months we were unable to see our friends and loved ones, and even now we face restrictions on our day-to-day lives. This week the Coronavirus Act, which gives the government its authority to impose such restrictions, returned to Parliament for consideration. I wanted to update constituents on my thoughts about the Government’s response to coronavirus and explain what the next legislative steps are.
Back in March at the height of the pandemic, the Government introduced the Coronavirus Act which gave it the emergency powers necessary to implement restrictions on daily life in Britain. This was absolutely necessary to slow the spread of the virus and save lives, but it gave the Government powers far beyond anything else we have ever seen in peacetime. A six month limit on these powers was introduced put in place and this week the Act was brought back to Parliament for an extension.
We are all too aware of the unfortunate uptick of new cases and sadly we are seeing a rise in people dying after a positive coronavirus test. I abstained on this vote and I want to explain why I did so. Firstly, I want to be clear that I will always act in the best interests of Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and the country. We must take action to protect our NHS and prevent the horrific numbers of deaths we saw earlier this year recurring this Winter. Therefore I could not oppose the Act and the important measures that are in place because of it.
However, I also have serious concerns about the Government acting without consultation with Parliament. The Speaker rightly told the Government his dissatisfaction that key announcements were being made outside of the Commons. The opposition has been clear, and I fully support this message, we will act in the national interest. We will support the Government where we believe that is necessary, but we will not shy away from criticising their approach. We have seen this in action with u-turn after u-turn over the previous six months.
Whilst the new restrictions announced by the Prime Minister in the last couple of weeks are necessary, they were by no means inevitable. The Government has had 6 months to develop a functioning testing system and yet people are still left unable to get a test or asked to travel hundreds of miles for one. This falls far short of the ‘world beating system’ we were promised. We need to ensure that people aren’t missing work, and children aren’t missing school, for any longer than they need to be. The Government has clearly got a big issue with testing capacity and they need to be open about the reasons for this rather than continuing to bury their head in the sand.
The British people have done everything asked of them, but the Government has not. A country like ours should not have one of the highest death rates in the world, or one of the worst recessions. I want to see a fully functional test, track and trace system operating so that we can isolate cases of coronavirus. That is the key for getting our economy back up and running and getting us back to doing the things we enjoy.