‘We’ve never seen a bill like this. The powers it is going to give the state are unprecedented. It is the most extensive encroachment on British civil liberties we have ever seen outside of wartime.
Let’s get the obvious out the way. The government is going to need many of these powers. Most – and perhaps even all of them – can be justified in their own right, given what we’re facing.
But that means it is more, not less, important to scrutinise what is going on.
Many people will not like this. Just as during a terror attack, they will want firm responses and become irritated with those who ask questions of them. That makes it doubly important to do so.
The opposition, in so far as it currently exists, is supporting the bill and Jeremy Corbyn is anyway incapable of proper forensic scrutiny. That makes it triply important.
Yesterday the government published some guidance on what the coronavirus bill will contain. That’s all we have for now. We’ll get a better look when the bill reaches parliament in the next few days. No.10 expects it to get royal assent by the end of the month. It’s being forced through quickly, for obvious reasons.
It makes for very challenging reading. It gives you an indication of how bad the government thinks things could get.
Indemnity will be provided for clinical negligence liabilities arising from NHS efforts to deal with the virus. That suggests an awareness of how grim things could become if the health service starts to buckle under the strain.
There are also provisions for local government to take control of the death management process in their area if the number of deaths becomes too high for the current system to handle. That would involve local authorities managing and streamlining the work of funeral directors, mortuary owners and crematorium owners.
This is not a normal bill. It is not taking place in normal circumstances.
Nevertheless, the powers are extraordinary. “The bill will enable the police and immigration officers to detain a person, for a limited period, who is, or may be, infectious and to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment,” the notes read.’