Lindsay Hoyle has reprimanded the government for a “total disregard” of parliament over the failure to announce new nationwide coronavirus restrictions in the House of Commons.
In a furious statement, the speaker urged Matt Hancock to apologise after changes to guidance on social gatherings in England was first briefed to the media on Tuesday evening – despite the health secretary earlier appearing in the chamber.
The new rule, which will come into effect next week, restricts the number of people who can legally gather in one house from 30 to six people both indoors and outdoors. The police will be given the powers to impose fines for those who flout the curbs on social freedoms.
After prime minister’s questions, Mr Hoyle said he accepted decisions have been taken in a “fast moving” environment as minister seek to combat a rise in Covid-19 infections, but lashed out at the failure to announce significant changes to guidance in the chamber.
He said: “It’s really not good enough for the government to make decisions of this kind in the way in which show insufficient regard for the importance of major policy announcements being made first to this House and members of this House wherever possible.
“Can I say to him I’ve already sent a letter to the secretary of state. I think the total disregard for this chamber is not acceptable.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also criticised a government briefing to ITV’s Robert Peston, who posted on social media that new restrictions were forthcoming before any official announcement.
“There was no reason why the secretary of state could not have told the House yesterday this was the government’s plan.”
Addressing the speaker, he went on: “Has he given you notice that he’s coming the the House to update MPs on this change in policy or should we assume that ministers don’t know what they are doing from one day to the next?”
Visibly frustrated, speaker Hoyle replied: "I expect the secretary of state [Mr Hancock] to apologise to members and make sure that this chamber knows first of when he was fully aware of what was going to be said later.
"And let me say, if this minister wants to run this chamber ragged I can assure you now I'm sure a UQ [urgent question] every day might just begin to run him ragged."
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