Valerie responds to Urgent Question

I responded to the following Urgent Question to the Leader of the House on Wednesday 20 May 2020: “To ask the Leader of the House if he will make a statement on the conduct of business after the Whitsun recess and if he will bring forward the necessary motions to continue the online participation of Members in the business of the House.” You can read my speech in full below:

“I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), and you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. Last week the Leader of the House gave a fantastic performance about democracy and parliamentary sovereignty, but it was all style and no substance. If this was not so serious, I would have nominated him for a BAFTA.

We have had a joint Commission with the other place, and at a Commission meeting we had a briefing from Public Health England. Before his unilateral declaration that the Government will not renew the temporary hybrid proceedings, did the Leader of the House hold a discussion with Public Health England? What was its advice, and will he publish it?

May I correct the Leader of the House again? He keeps saying that if others are going to work, the Government expect us to go to work, but we are at work. We are at work at all times. The Government’s own advice is that those who can work from home should do so—that is still the Government’s advice, on grounds of working and travelling safely. Will he confirm that he is not contradicting Government advice, and will he say how Members are expected to travel down when there is a reduced service?

Everyone knows someone who has been a victim of this disease, including those who have not just suffered from it, but who have died. This is not a bounce-back virus, as the Prime Minister said; it is not about the survival of the fittest. We have a diverse workforce in our community here, which we encourage. What risk assessment has the Leader of the House asked to be made, to ensure that Members, and the extra House staff required for return, can return safely? Will he confirm that on returning to physical-only proceedings, proper social distancing measures will have been worked out and will be sustainable in the Chamber? What was the extra waiting time for voting at the practice voting?

This is not a battle of “Government good; everyone else bad”, or of “shirkers versus workers” as some Ministers have said. This is about Parliament about being a good model employer. We need a phased return, so as not to overpower the NHS or House staff, and where everyone can be safe.

Finally, can the Leader of the House confirm that the parliamentary estate is covid-free? Does he agree with the scientific advice that it is about observed levels of infection and not a fixed date?”