Steve Baker was one of the last MPs to speak in the Commons Coronavirus Bill debate last night. His voice quivered as he said the words “Libertarian though I may be, this is the right thing to do but, my goodness, we ought not to allow this situation to endure one moment longer than is absolutely necessary to save lives and preserve jobs.”
Baker’s powerful speech drove home what a heavy moment it is for a Government to strip its citizens of their liberty. It should be required watching.
Read along in full below:
“I stand first with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely). We cannot neglect his constituents on the Island. I fear that this issue has gone on for far too long, and I want to say sorry to him that we did not weigh in behind him sooner. This issue has just got to be dealt with, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister knows that.
Secondly, I would like to pay tribute to hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). She has done an absolutely fantastic job in the last 24 hours. It has been a real privilege to work with her to secure what I think is a fantastic result. At a time like this, matters of the hereafter are close to everybody’s thoughts. They sometimes say that there are no atheists in a foxhole. I certainly would not want to stand by and see my constituents cremated against their wishes, and nor, indeed, would I want to see people buried against their wishes. I really want to congratulate her; she has done a fantastic job, and she has done it in a wonderful cross-party spirit, which has done a lot to reinvigorate my faith in this place and in what we can achieve together when we put our constituents first. Well done to her.
I will pay particular attention to amendments 1 and 6 and Government new clause 19, which relate to the expiry of these powers. When I got into politics, it was with the purpose of enlarging liberty under parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. When I look at this Pandora’s box of enlargement, discretion and extensions of power, I can only say what a dreadful, dreadful thing it is to have had to sit here in silence and nod it through because it is the right thing to do.
My goodness, between this and the Prime Minister’s announcement tonight, what have we ushered in? I am not a good enough historian to put into context the scale of the infringement of our liberties that has been implemented today through the Prime Minister’s announcement and this enormously complicated Bill, which we are enacting with only two hours to think about amendments.
I could speak for the time I have available several times over just on the provisions relating to the retention of DNA, which we addressed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. [Interruption.] I see from the expression on the face of the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), that she understands the anguish—she probably knows it better than any of us—that we are all going through in passing this Bill.
Let me be the first to say that tonight, through this Bill, we are implementing at least a dystopian society. Some will call it totalitarian, which is not quite fair, but it is at least dystopian. The Bill implements a command society under the imperative of saving hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of jobs, and it is worth doing.
By God, I hope the Prime Minister has a clear conscience tonight and sleeps with a good heart, because he deserves to do so. Libertarian though I may be, this is the right thing to do but, my goodness, we ought not to allow this situation to endure one moment longer than is absolutely necessary to save lives and preserve jobs.
Although I welcome new clause 19 to give us a six-month review, I urge upon my hon. and right hon. Friends and the Prime Minister the sunsetting of this Act, as it will no doubt become, at one year, because there is time to bring forward further primary legislation. If, come the late autumn, it is clear that this epidemic, this pandemic, continues—God help us if that is true, because I fear for the economy and the currency—there certainly will be time to bring forward further primary legislation and to properly scrutinise provisions to carry forward this enormous range of powers.
Every time I dip into the Bill, I find some objectionable power. There is not enough time to scrutinise the Bill, but I can glance at it—I am doing it now—and see objectionable powers. There would be time to have several days of scrutiny on a proper piece of legislation easily in time for March or April 2021.
I implore my right hon. Friend, for goodness’ sake, let us not allow this dystopia to endure one moment longer than is strictly necessary.