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Business of the House

Part of Transport – in the House of Commons at 10:32 am on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 10:32 am, 12th March 2020

First, I want to return to a matter I raised last week to do with the establishment of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Last week, the Leader of the House implied that our party had filibustered a decision on that matter and that somehow we did not want the Scotland Office to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what we are seeking to do is establish a Scottish Affairs Committee that will properly scrutinise the Government rather than one that is jam-packed with Government placemen and women. That is why we have now submitted amendments to the Selection Committee’s proposals that are with the Table Office, and we stand ready to debate them and to test the will of the House on them. Will the Leader of the House make time available for this matter to be discussed so that we can establish a Scottish Affairs Committee?

I too want to ask about the coronavirus and what it means for how we do our business in this place. We are commendably focused across the House on dealing with this emergency, but there seems to be an attitude that what we do here is keep calm and carry on, perhaps mitigating what we do in some respects but doing the best we can in the way that we normally do it, with the implication that there will come a point at which that is not possible, when we will simply stop. I put it to the Leader of the House that there is actually a middle way: we can fundamentally change the way we do things in order to keep ourselves and the public with whom we deal a lot safer. For example, starting next week, we could use the deferred decision procedure in place of having to stand in Lobbies for up to 20 minutes in an extremely confined space with 600 other people. That could be done from the Budget debate onwards for as long as this emergency lasts.

We could also look at ways in which people can vote without having to be here for an extended time, for example, by concentrating all the votes, on all the topics on which they are required, into a single period of the week, so that people have to attend then and not at other times.

We must also surely be aware that the process of self-isolation, which may rapidly increase in the weeks to come, should not mean that we abandon our ability to act as political representatives. In this day and age, the technology is available for people to be able to function from the confines of their own house. Surely it is incumbent on us to look at how we can do that by using teleconferencing for Select Committees and other matters, and allowing people to engage in discussions and debates even if they are not able to attend this building.