Covid: Unblock logjam for new laws, senior MPs urge ministerson February 19, 2021 at 12:52 am

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Commons select committee chiefs want laws held up during the pandemic to be put back on the agenda.

Prime Minister's Questions

image copyrightUK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Crucial government policies have been held up too long by the Covid crisis, ministers have been told.

Senior MPs say new laws, including on post-Brexit environmental standards and sentencing reform, should be put back on the agenda.

It comes after debating time for non-Covid topics was scaled back to make way for emergency laws and statements.

But select committee chairs said it was time for delayed bills to return.

The demand has been made by the powerful cross-party liaison committee, which includes the heads of each Commons select committee.

In a letter to Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, the committee’s chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin said the pandemic had “understandably impacted” time for new bills.

“But now that this is closer to being under control, we would urge the government to deliver on its commitments to and demands from select committees on other vitally important legislation,” he added.

The Conservative MP called on the government – which sets time for almost all new laws – to give “due priority” to certain bills over the next year.

He added that this legislation, whose next stage in Parliament has yet to be set by the government, included:

  • a new law to toughen up jail terms for the worst cases of animal cruelty, introduced in the Commons last February
  • a new Employment Bill, which is expected to ensure workers receive tips in full, among other measures
  • a draft Sentencing Bill to increase sentences for violent criminals, announced at the December 2019 Queen’s Speech

Sir Bernard added that the reintroduction of the Environment Bill should be a “government priority,” to fill a “gap” in regulations since the UK left the Brexit transition period.

Campaigners have reacted angrily to repeated delays to the legislation, which was first launched back in July 2018 and sets new targets for protecting nature.

He said he was also keen for MPs to hold initial debates on draft government bills for reforming the rental market and overhauling England’s planning system.

He also called on ministers to publish legislation to ban “gay conversion therapy” and on tougher sentences for dangerous driving, where they have promised action but legislation has not yet been published.

And he added that bills put forward by MPs, including one on regulating forensic science, were unlikely to pass before the current session ends.

This is because Friday sittings – when this type of bill is usually debated – have been suspended in a bid to reduce the risk of Covid to MPs and their staff.

The government will set out its legislative priority for the forthcoming parliamentary session, expected to begin in the spring, in the next Queen’s Speech.

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