House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 7:07 pm, 8th June 2020

I broadly support the return of Parliament in person, but a balance has to be struck between our setting an example to the country and making sure that those Members of Parliament who cannot be here—not those who have chosen not to be here, but those who cannot be here—are properly facilitated to participate. I do not agree with colleagues of mine who think that this debate is self-indulgent, because we do set an example, and in the coming days, weeks and months there will be workplaces throughout the country where decisions will have to be taken by employers about how to deal with members of staff who are shielding or have caring or childcare responsibilities, and how they are to be enabled to continue at work. Our job as parliamentarians is to do the right thing and set an example for the country.

Let me deal with several of the issues that have come up in the debate. On Members who are shielding themselves because they are vulnerable, I welcomed the motions that the Leader of the House tabled and the House passed last week to enable them to participate virtually in scrutiny procedures and to vote by proxy. I would like the Leader of the House to go further, as he hinted he might, because I do not see why those Members cannot participate in legislative procedures. I accept that it may be too complicated and simply not possible to enable them to intervene, and they may have to accept that their participation is not quite as it would be if they were here, but I do think it is important that they are at least able to speak in debate, on behalf of their constituents. I hope my right hon. Friend will take that away and bring some motions before the House in good order.

I also agree with Mr Carmichael about those with caring responsibilities. The Leader of the House is quite right—I looked at the guidance in some detail—that those caring for those who are shielding do not have to shield themselves; but if a member of my family faced a very high risk of death or serious consequences if they contracted covid, I would not want to take the chance of coming here. I can see why the needs of Members in that position need to be facilitated, and I think my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House hinted that he was considering bringing forward motions to deal with that.