House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:51 pm, 8th June 2020

I do absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why I have never made any secret of the fact that I regard the virtual arrangements as having been sub-optimal, but there is a cost-benefit analysis to be made. My conclusion, and I think the conclusion of many, is that the cost of return at this time outweighs the benefits that we have had. That judgment is really what it comes down to at the end of the day.

Just consider how many hon. Members might have had contact with the Secretary of State, had he been infected, and then at the end of Tuesday gone home. Who else might they have met, and who might they have gone home to and then passed on the infection and the virus to?

In fact, on the subject of going home, it has been reported to me—obviously I was not present to hear the remarks—that at the 1922 committee last week, the Leader of the House attributed to me a motivation that I adopted the position I hold because I do not like the long journey. I have to assure the Leader of the House, and indeed the House as a whole, that that is not the case. If I were put off by a long journey, I would not have been able to serve for 19 years as the Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland. For the benefit of the Leader of the House and for other Members, let me make it quite clear that the objection I have to ending the hybrid system is one based on parliamentary and constitutional principles and on public safety; it is not a question of self-interest.

If I were to return home to Orkney this Thursday night—I would get home on Friday night, in fact, just ahead of midnight—I would get to stay there until late on Sunday afternoon. At that point, and it is not a bad situation, I would be getting on a plane to start the journey back here—believe me, Madam Deputy Speaker, this is not a jumbo jet; it is a Saab 340, a 34-seater plane—and I would be sharing the plane and breathing the same air as people who would be heading off to Aberdeen the next day for hospital appointments, for their operations, for radiotherapy and chemotherapy or for whatever else. The idea that I might inadvertently transmit the virus to those people because I am infected but remain asymptomatic is one that, frankly, makes my blood run cold. That is why, having come here, I am staying here, and I will be here for the duration until it is safe to go home.