Legislative Responses to COVID-19: The UK Parliament

In response to COVID-19, the UK Parliament is currently considering two bills. They are the Coronavirus Bill and the Contingencies Fund Bill.

The Coronavirus Bill

As of March 24, the Bill had passed in the House of Commons and was being debated in the House of Lords.

According to the House of Commons’ Explanatory Notes on the Bill, the purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to respond to an emergency situation and manage the effects of a covid-19 pandemic. A severe pandemic could infect up to 80% of the population leading to a reduced workforce, increased pressure on health services and death management processes.

The Bill contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts.

The Bill aims to support Government in the following:

  • Increasing the available health and social care workforce
  • Easing the burden on frontline staff
  • Containing and slowing the virus
  • Managing the deceased with respect and dignity
  • Supporting people

The Bill is required as part of a concerted effort across the whole of the UK to tackle the covid-19 outbreak. The intention is that it will enable the right people from public bodies across the UK to take appropriate actions at the right times to manage the effects of the outbreak.

You can read the House of Lords Explanatory Notes on the Bill.

You can watch the Plenary Video of the House of Commons debate on the Bill.

The Contingencies Fund Bill

As of March 24, the House of Commons was debating this Bill.

According to the House of Commons’ Explanatory Notes, the purpose of the Bill is to increase, only until the end of the financial year ending on 31st March 2021 ,the limit set on the capital of the Contingencies Fund by section 1(1) of the Contingencies Fund Act 1974.

The limit set by the 1974 Act is 2% of the total authorised Supply expenditure (i.e. the total of all authorised departmental net cash requirements) in the preceding financial year. This currently amounts to approximately £10.7bnfor 2020-21.

It is necessary to increase that percentage to 50% until the end of 2020-21 due to the covid-19 virus outbreak. This would have the effect that the limit would be increased to approximately £266bn for 2020-21.

The purpose of the Contingencies Fund is to make “advances in respect of urgent services in anticipation of the provision made or to be made by Parliament for those services becoming available, or for making advances in anticipation of the realisation of receipts in connection with any services for which provision is so made or to be made, or for making temporary advances to any government department for the provision of any necessary working cash balances in connection with any such services” (see section 3(1) of the 1946 Act).


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