The Prime Minister has been urged to remember we “live in a democracy not a dictatorship”, as Tory MPs called for greater debate about Covid-19 restrictions.
One former Tory minister warned public consent for lockdowns is “draining away” while the chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers called for greater “debate and scrutiny” of Government decisions.
Following a Commons statement on Covid-19, Sir Edward Leigh said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.
“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”
Responding, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”
Tory MP Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) said: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said Covid-19 needed to be balanced with other health needs.
He added: “Does (Mr Hancock) agree with me that balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?
“And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”
Mr Hancock responded: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible.
“I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”
He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”
Tory former cabinet minister Chris Grayling said he does not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.
He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”
Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour does not want another lockdown nor a “circuit break”, but it would understand if one becomes necessary.
He added: “I agree we are at a perilous moment, the exponential growth of the virus cannot be ignored.
“This virus takes lives and leaves many with long-term debilitating conditions.
“Every reasonable action must be taken to save lives, minimise harm and keep our children in school.
“That means a suppression strategy to drive infections down.”
The Labour frontbencher said people have “done everything they were asked to do” by the Government and ministers were supposed to have fixed the test, trace and isolate system, adding: “None of us want to see another lockdown or circuit break but we understand if one becomes necessary.
“But test, trace and isolate should have been fixed.
“That failure has left us vulnerable and exposed.
“Now we must act with speed to save lives and minimise harm.”
Mr Hancock replied: “He and I agree that the strategy to suppress the virus whilst protecting the economy and education is the right one, and I think that in so doing it’s important to act fast so as not to have to act bigger later.”