Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 12:30 pm, 19th March 2020

The House has adjusted its programme to allow Members to be updated at unusual times. Thanks to Mr Speaker’s flexibility, statements have been coming on at times when other business was taking place, and the Opposition graciously allowed their Opposition day to be interrupted yesterday at an early time for a statement to be made, so I think our procedures are being adapted. As I look around the Chamber, I notice that social distancing is being pretty well practised, with broadly the only exception being my opposite number, Valerie Vaz—[Interruption.] And a couple of Government Ministers, too.

We are trying to get the balance right and understand the Government’s message. What is the Government’s message? It is that social distancing is advised for all of us and strongly advised for those over 70 or with certain serious medical conditions, but the Government have not said that businesses should not carry on, and our business carries on in this Chamber. That is in line with Government advice—there is no contradiction between social distancing and continuing with business, as the other half of the hon. Gentleman’s question points towards.

Right hon. and hon. Members want to hold the Government to account, and that means we need to be here to do that, but there again, a balance needs to be struck. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has come to update the House often, but he also has considerable ministerial responsibilities—particularly heavy ones at the moment—and I think the House ought to be reasonable in what it asks of him. If he were to be here every day for two or three hours, that would be two or three hours when he was not able to attend to his ministerial business. Getting that balance right is important. In terms of my role, I recognise that I must look at it from both directions—from the point of view not only of the House, with the House being informed so that it can hold to account, but of what it is reasonable to ask of Ministers.