House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:20 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 7:20 pm, 8th June 2020

I will start by saying that I agreed wholeheartedly, and almost entirely, with Mr Carmichael, who opened the debate, and with every word of the remarks by my right hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). I agreed with the Leader of the House when he said that democracy is not an optional extra, or words to that effect, but the operation of democracy today, as we observe it in the House, is more enfeebled than I have seen it in 33 years here. That is a tragedy of the Government’s making, and one that we need to fix as soon as possible.

The aim of the House is to hold the Government to account, but also to drive the direction of policy. If the Leader of the House wants to see how that is not working properly, an example was given earlier: the six-person limit on gatherings, which has not been enforced of course, and truthfully cannot be enforced in a democracy. That would never have happened had the measure had to go through the proper procedures of this House. Similarly, the daft quarantine regulations we now have would never have survived the normal procedures of the House. Democracy is critical to good government, and that is not what we are seeing here today. I know it has always been an ambition of the Leader of the House to make the European Parliament look great,. Well, he has succeeded today.

I have one controversial point to make, which comes down to this: this House has no life. It does not challenge Ministers properly. It must be the easiest thing in the world—I have done this a few times—to come to the Dispatch Box and deal with this House as it currently stands. A large part of that arises because of the 2 m rule, and the fact that we can have only 50 people in the Chamber. The atmosphere, drive, ferocity, and the mood of the House just does not exist.

We have to think about how we get back to normal, and how quickly we can do that. Clearly, we have to do it in a safe way, both for ourselves and as an example to our constituents and the country. I can think of only one way that could be done. According to Government numbers, we currently have a surplus of 80,000 tests a day. So we are not short of tests anymore. We may not be exercising them all, but we have that surplus. Austria, at Vienna airport, manages to carry out tests in two to three hours, from test to result. Will the Leader of the House consider instituting that here? Every morning between 8 am and 9.30 am, and perhaps if we start late until 12.30, every person who comes into the Chamber could be tested and then we would not need the 2 m rule anymore. Then we can suddenly have back the Parliament that was, and is, the envy of the world.