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

My right hon. Friend is exactly right and makes that point very well. What is unique to us is that, even if a Member can send their children to school as a key worker, the children may go to school in the constituency, so if they cannot access paid childcare or family, the Member cannot perform their duties here. As I said, the Prime Minister himself accepts that that is a perfectly valid reason for not being able to attend. Such Members need to be able to participate in this House virtually and to vote by proxy.

The last point I wanted to draw to the attention of the Leader of the House is about legislation—the coronavirus regulations, which are the greatest restriction on liberty that we have seen in this country outside wartime, and perhaps ever. I accept that the first set of regulations were made by the Secretary of State using emergency powers under public health legislation and were not voted on by this House before coming into force, but those regulations have now been amended three times, and I do not think the urgency provision can really be brought into force, although the Secretary of State says it can. We have the absurd situation now where there have been two sets of amendments and the regulations have been amended a third time before this House has even had the opportunity to vote on the second set of amendments.

The importance of that is illustrated by the events of the weekend. Under the third set of amendments, which have not yet been debated and voted on by this House, any gathering of more than six people is unlawful—it is against the law. So every single person who attended one of those demonstrations at the weekend was committing a criminal offence. The point about the debate in this House is important because I suspect many of those people were not aware that they were committing a criminal offence and this House has not had the opportunity to decide whether restrictions on protest are acceptable—