Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:11 am on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 11:11 am, 11th June 2020

First, may I associate myself with the comments of the shadow Leader regarding Black Lives Matter? I think most people will find it astonishing, given the depth of feeling in the country, that the Government do not wish to lead a parliamentary debate on the matter.

The Scottish National party did not oppose the motion to establish proxy voting last night, because we believe that something is better than nothing, but the Leader of the House should not think we are in any way satisfied with the Government’s defence of democratic expression in the age of coronavirus—we are not. Given that the right hon. Gentleman has been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the right of Members to vote by proxy if they cannot attend in person, why does he continue to oppose electronic voting through a system that has already been perfected by our staff? Switching that back on would not only allow Members to vote remotely, but would permit those on the premises to vote safely without the need to congregate in one place.

Secondly, does it not seem odd that there is no place in our future agenda for Parliament to debate the overall approach of the Government to the covid-19 pandemic? We need a full debate on that, not just glib 20-second answers and well-rehearsed soundbites. Given that the Government seem to be losing their grip and are in danger of losing public confidence, is this not the time to reach out and engage all parties in a renewed consensus?

Finally, can I ask for a statement on the Government’s willingness to answer questions from elected Members? Many of us have raised repeated questions with the Chancellor on behalf of our constituents relating to the various support schemes run by his Department and its agencies—most notably, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It now seems that the Treasury is refusing to answer individual queries and has taken to issuing generic circulars instead. That is not acceptable, and it marks a serious departure from the way in which the Government are held to account in Parliament. I am well aware that things are not normal at the moment, but elected representatives must be able to get answers from those who serve the public. Does the Leader of the House agree?