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A ban on groups of more than six people gathering in homes, parks, pubs and restaurants in England is being imposed from Monday after a spike in coronavirus infections. However, the announcement has sparked the fury of House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. He launched a raging rant against Health Secretary Matt Hancock for not notifying Parliament about the policy change before it was published publicly.
He told the minister: “It’s really not good enough for the Government to make decisions of this kind in a way which shows insufficient regard for the importance of major policy announcements being made first to this House and members of this House wherever possible.
“It was all over Twitter before we knew.
“As this was going on, someone had obviously decided to tell the media rather than tell this House.
“What I would say is that I expect the Secretary of State to apologise to members and make sure that this chamber knows first.”
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The Speaker added: “He was fully aware, fully aware of what was going to be said later.
“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.”
The policy change was released via the media on Tuesday evening.
Mr Hancock appeared before MPs hours before without providing the same details.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth was equally annoyed. He said: “Not only did we not get a convincing explanation yesterday for the ongoing testing fiasco from the Secretary of State.
“But, in fact, Mr Robert Peston of ITV broke on Twitter that the Government were planning to shift the regulations down from 30 to six ahead of the Secretary of State’s statement.
“There was no reason the Secretary of State could not have told the House yesterday this was the Government’s plans.
“Has he given you notice that he’s coming to the House to update MPs on this change in policy or should we assume ministers don’t know what they are doing from one day to the next?”
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The new changes are set to take effect from Monday, September 14.
The legal group number limit is being reduced from 30.
Offenders could face a £100 fine, doubling after each further repeat offence up to £3,200.
At a briefing from Downing Street, the Prime Minister said anyone breaking the rules risks being “dispersed, fined and possibly arrested”.
The other nations of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have not followed suit though they also have their own different limitations on gatherings.
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