House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham 7:24 pm, 8th June 2020

That we are here today is frankly ridiculous. A lot of resources went into creating the virtual Parliament, yet the Government have abandoned it on a whim. They have not done that because we are now safe from covid-19, or with a plan in place; in fact, they still appear to be ironing out the details. Underlying this seems to be a desire to create a false sense of security for members of the public to return to work, based on the belief that, until Parliament is full, the Government cannot ask people to risk their health for the sake of the economy. However, Parliament is not full. Mr Speaker has rightly limited the number of Members in the Chamber, while the Government have finally allowed for some virtual participation.

Rather than have a primarily virtual Parliament—which, while far from ideal, was safe—we have this ridiculous system. This risks people’s health. As we have heard, many MPs are shielding, vulnerable or caring for someone who is. Others fear putting their communities at risk. While I am glad that some virtual participation will continue, the Government have been clear that this involvement will be limited. In doing so, they are not just limiting the voice of a single MP; they are reducing the representation of every single one of their constituents. At a time of national crisis, we need more parliamentary scrutiny, not less. It is not just MPs who are affected. Parliament only functions due to the work of an army of House of Commons staff. This is simply not right.

We must remember that it is not just those in Parliament who are at risk. These buildings act as a hub—a place people travel to from all over the country. If someone in Parliament gets infected, it threatens the health of the communities we serve. While the Prime Minister’s special adviser may think that the journey between London and Durham is worth the risk to my constituency, I do not. However, unlike Dominic Cummings, I have little choice but to be here.

Everything about these procedures is farcical, dangerous or both. If I thought this Government would listen to reason, I would implore them to change course. Instead, I hope that the threat to public health from these procedures remains just a risk, not a reality.