House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:31 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 7:31 pm, 8th June 2020

We have a Leader of the House of Commons who operates by diktat, rather than by agreement or consensus, which is how he should be doing the job. He makes little attempt to engage with others before he announces decisions, including those whom his role requires him to consult—the Procedure Committee, the usual channels, the staff unions and their representatives—especially when we are considering health and safety issues in the middle of a pandemic. We know he illegally shut down Parliament last year, with no sign of an apology and little sign of contrition when the Supreme Court found him out, and now he has been found out making arbitrary decisions to end hybrid proceedings, which he clearly despises, without the appropriate consultation, much less agreement.

The Leader of the House then proceeded to lecture everybody about doing their duty. He alone decided to let the Standing Orders lapse, and he did it before any risk assessment had been done in this place and before any equality assessment had been done in this place. I am told that there has since been some attempt to do this—but to justify a decision he made before he had done the assessments, which is precisely the wrong way around.

I am here because I am lucky enough to be able to be, but I want also to be a voice for those Members—we know how many there are after last week’s farrago: hundreds of Members—who, for reasons of shielding, health vulnerabilities or caring responsibilities, at the moment, in a pandemic, cannot be here. They are watching these proceedings with frustration. They cannot vote or take part in them. They do not want to be told by some Government Members that this is a waste of our time. This is about ensuring that Members who have been elected to this House to represent millions of voters have the practical capacity to do so, without being forced to choose between their own health or risking themselves or, even more, their loved ones who might be vulnerable and shielding or their constituents to whom they do not want to pass on the virus. I am here to be a voice for them, unusually, as well as a voice for my own constituents in Wallasey.

It is about time that the Leader of the House stopped lecturing these people about doing their duty and understood the practical realities and constraints within which they have to work. It is about time that the Leader of the House accepted that in a parliamentary democracy other people’s constituents have the same right as his to see their representative, whom they elected only last year, being able to participate in this place. It is about time that he understood that that has to be facilitated by agreement across this House with other, perfectly legitimate Members of Parliament and Opposition parties—Members and parties who happen not to be in a majority, but who still need to be regarded with respect. The Leader of the House shows very little. We are here to say that, although we are in opposition, our constituents deserve to be listened to. The constituents of those who cannot be here tonight deserve equal representation, and it is his duty his duty to facilitate it.