Labour MPs have expressed concern at the possibility of sweeping emergency powers to tackle coronavirus being put into force for two years without a Commons vote, with some saying such measures should face regular review.
The comments will place pressure on the Labour leadership over how to respond to emergency legislation expected to be tabled on Thursday, amid speculation that the party will allow it to pass in the Commons without any vote being held.
The laws, some details of which were announced on Tuesday evening, include medical-related measures such as allowing recently retired or nearly qualified nurses, midwives or paramedics to work in the NHS, with protection given against negligence claims.
Other proposals are more broad, such as giving powers to police or immigration officers to detain people suspected of carrying the virus and “to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment” for an unspecified period.
Other measures would allow ministers to ban gatherings or events and make it easier for people to be detained in mental hospitals, and for longer periods.
The powers, which ministers say would be used only if necessary, would be put in place for two years, with no provision mentioned so far for them to be reviewed in the interim.
Clive Lewis, the Norwich South MP and shadow Treasury minister, told the Guardian that the idea of the legislation being passed without a vote “does concern me a great deal – but so too does hundreds of fellow MPs hording through the lobbies together in close proximity”.
MPs should be able to scrutinise legislation and vote remotely during the coronavirus crisis, Lewis said. “Hence, this situation should not mean a compete breakdown of our democracy, which is what seems to be in offer. Of course there needs to be a balance and the executive given certain extra powers. But those powers need scrutiny, review and regular renewal.”
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, tweeted: “I can tell you now, this is the greatest emergency we’ve faced for many years, but I’m not voting for draconian emergency measures that last two years unless they require regular renewal by parliament. The civil contingencies bill requires renewal every 28 days.”
Another Labour MP said they did not mind the legislation being passed without a vote “in the circumstances, but I’m very uneasy about the lack of checks and balances and think the bill needs to be strengthened”.