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Parliament, not the PM alone, needs control over response to pandemic, says bishop

15 January 2021

diocese of st albans

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith

DECISIONS about how to respond to the pandemic should be made by Parliament, not by the Prime Minister alone, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said this week. Its exclusion from decision-making was “what dictators do”.

Interviewed for the Church Times podcast, which is now online, Dr Smith said that, constitutionally, “power is in Parliament, not in the Executive.” Yet “decisions over the pandemic are not, first of all, being made through parliamentary channels; it’s being made by the Prime Minister, who then has a debate. And, actually, that’s a very worrying development, because that’s what dictators do.”

He continued: “Now, of course, in a crisis, if a house is on fire, you don’t have a meeting, you shout “Get out.” But, actually, there has been time [in Parliament] to have debates before those decisions have been made.”

Parliament, Dr Smith said, was “stacked full of people who’ve got the most incredible skills and insights, including loads of people who are medically trained. . .

“We’re probably going to get far better decisions when we allow a lot of people who are very well informed to debate stuff. . . The danger is a small number of people are making decisions without a lot of processing going on. . .

“The statistics tell us we’re not doing very well as a country handling this pandemic. I accept it’s very difficult, but actually we need to do everything we can to bring all the people into the debate, and that’s what Parliament is for.”

Writing in the Church Times this week, Dr Smith recalls the Government’s decision to prorogue Parliament in 2019, which was overturned by the Supreme Court (News, 27 September 2019). “Supporting democratic government has never been more urgent.”

Read comment from Dr Smith here, and listen to the full interview on the Church Times podcast

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