House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges 7:45 pm, 8th June 2020

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to be able to participate, because there are so many issues that I want to be able to raise. I want to ask why so many companies that took money from the Government for furloughing are now suddenly laying people off in my constituency. I want to be able to highlight British Airways’ appalling behaviour in completely reconfiguring its terms and conditions. I want to unpick the Government’s preposterous quarantine, which does not even last for 40 days, so could not possibly count as a quarantine. I want to ask why the UK has the highest excess death rate, and why, therefore, the Rhondda has one of the highest death rates in the world. I want to campaign for better pay for key workers when we come out of all this, and I want to make sure that pregnant women do not lose out in this period. All those things I want to be able to take part in, but my simple point is that I want all MPs to be able to take part.

Roughly, by my calculation, a third of the House of Commons is not able to take part in a fully physical way at the moment, for whatever reason. The House of Commons, to my mind, must be free or it is nothing. MPs must be free to speak their mind without fear or favour. They must be equally free, one as another, without preference and without restraint. They must be free to attend, speak, participate and vote, not for themselves but for their constituents and the communities they represent. That is our historic freedom; our ancient liberty. Even in the 14th century, as I am sure the Leader of the House remembers, the Commons forced the King to release an MP so that he could participate in Parliament.

We have managed to change some things since last week, and I am glad that the Leader of the House presented his two motions, but he admits that they are now inconsistent. Those two motions are inconsistent with what the Speaker is now allowing as well, so we need to get to a point of clarity, where there is consistency across the whole House. All Members should be able to participate not only in urgent questions, statements and questions but in all the business of the House. Some Members who are in their 70s and 80s and who are now shielding might actually have the best understanding of what we should do about matrimony. Maybe they should be allowed to participate in the second half of today’s debate, rather than just the early part.

Some 45% of catering staff in Parliament are black or from the ethnic minorities, yet the House proceeded with the process of bringing everybody back, which I believe put the lives of those staff in peril, without having done a full assessment beforehand. That is not the way that we would expect any other employer in the land to behave. The Leader of the House is absolutely right: we should set an example. We should set an example by being the most courageous in looking at all our processes and seeing whether there is a better way. We are one of the oldest Parliaments in the world. We should be the best at adapting to modern circumstances and to the difficulties of the moment, not the worst.