House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 7:15 pm, 8th June 2020

It is clear that the return to Parliament last week was chaotic, rushed and ill-thought-through. Members did not know where they were voting. We were told to go down to Westminster Hall to join the end of the queue, so I went down there to join it but by the time it had started moving people were queueing right out the door. For the next vote, I went down to Westminster Hall, but I was ushered out of the building and I had to queue on the green outside the Members’ entrance. I do not know who thought it was a good idea to have Members zig-zagging across the green outside, but whoever was in charge of security must have had kittens. When we voted later that evening, we did not queue out there, but instead queued around the car park. Who planned that? Who thought that through? Clearly the Leader of the House rushed us back and there was not time to sort that out. We were told that voting would take 30 minutes, but two thirds of us voted last week and it took 43 minutes. So this was ill-thought-out and ill-planned, and it disenfranchised Members of this House and their constituents.

Ironically, on that same day, we had a debate on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, in which the Leader of the House—I have read his speech—spoke eloquently about the need for constituents to have equal representation in this House. On the very same day, he voted for something that disenfranchises millions of voters. I have not totted up how many MPs were unable to participate and were excluded, but that must have resulted in millions of constituents being disenfranchised. I am delighted to be back here. I love this Chamber and being able to come in to participate in these debates, but the biggest honour of all is representing constituents. Under the current arrangements, too many Members of this House are disenfranchised, and that is not acceptable.

The Leader of the House tells us that it is important that we have proper scrutiny, but I was here last year when he went all the way to Balmoral to tell the Queen we were proroguing Parliament. That was deemed illegal because we were not talking about five days, as is normal for proroguing; he wanted to shut Parliament down for five weeks. So where is this sudden conversion to parliamentary scrutiny that we have from the Leader of the House? We came back far too soon. They had 75 days to plan for the return of Parliament. We had virtual participation, which, although not perfect, allowed everyone to participate. We got rid of that and excluded Members of Parliament, but within 24 hours of being back we are reviewing the process and we are letting people vote by proxy. We have now got virtual participation back and, miracle upon miracles, we have electronic voting in the Lobby now. The right hon. Gentleman has to be commended for leaping us forward into the 21st century, but this has all changed within a week of coming back.

This has been ill-thought-out and ill-planned. We came back and disenfranchised MPs, and we got rid of virtual participation, but then we had to introduce proxy voting and now it looks like we are going for electronic voting. The Leader of the House needs to learn from this debate and from the fact that MPs are not here to debate themselves; they are debating their colleagues, and ensuring that those people are not disenfranchised and that the people they represent are not disenfranchised. It is absolutely right that Members of Parliament come here and debate that, and ensure that this place properly represents the people of this country.

So the Leader of the House needs to take this matter away. We cannot have a two-tier system for Members of Parliament—that is not the Parliament we were elected to. We need to review these procedures. We need to do that through the Procedure Committee, which has been doing excellent work but, above all, the Leader of the House needs to listen.