Heading off revolt, UK hands lawmakers more say on coronavirus

By William James and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government defused a rebellion on Wednesday over its sweeping powers to introduce coronavirus restrictions, promising angry lawmakers more say over the introduction over any new national measures.

Just hours after lower house Speaker Lindsay Hoyle accused the government of a "total disregard" for parliament when bringing in new measures to try to curb the spreading virus, health minister Matt Hancock moved to head off a rebellion in Conservative ranks.

A defeat in parliament would have dented Johnson's authority at a time when he is already under fire over his response to the growing pandemic.

But after the government offered its olive branch to parliament, lawmakers passed the extension of the Coronavirus Act, which hands the government emergency powers to introduce restrictions, voting 330 to 24 in favour.

"Today I can confirm to the House (of Commons) that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide we will consult parliament, wherever possible we will hold votes before such regulations come into force," Hancock told parliament.

"But of course responding to the virus means that the government must act at speed when required and we cannot hold up urgent regulations which are needed to control the virus and save lives."

His words seemed to ease the concerns of many lawmakers who had been unhappy about extending the Coronavirus Act, saying it allowed government to rule by diktat.

The depth of anger was underlined when Speaker Hoyle reprimanded Johnson's government for disregarding parliament with its COVID-19 measures, saying ministers had shown "contempt" for lawmakers.

"The way in which the government has exercised its powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory," Hoyle told parliament.

"The government must make greater efforts to prepare measures more quickly, so that this House can debate and decide upon the most significant measures at the earliest possible point."

(Editing by Stephen Addison)