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Thu, 9 July 2020

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Returning to Westminster is the right thing to do

Returning to Westminster is the right thing to do

It is right that MPs sit in person to ensure a healthy Parliamentary democracy, and to ensure we are fulfilling our roles effectively, says Andrea Leadsom MP | Credit: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

4 min read

Members of Parliament have a responsibility, and a duty to represent the views of the electorate in person

This week MPs return to Parliament after the Whitsun recess – and for many of us, it will be the first time back in the House since the lockdown began in March. 

There are mixed emotions about this decision, but I am confident that returning to Westminster is safe.

It is right that MPs sit in person to ensure a healthy Parliamentary democracy, and to ensure we are fulfilling our roles effectively.

Attending PMQs two weeks ago felt like a ‘safe’ experience and Parliamentary authorities have done a fantastic job in protecting all who work here. Signs reinforcing social distancing guidelines, one-way walkways and plexiglass screens are all in place.

From committee clerks to cleaners, staffers to security guards – these measures will help to keep all of us from spreading coronavirus. 

We have all enjoyed the oddly creative Zoom backgrounds of our fellow MPs, but the set-up has proved to be a distraction from the serious business of democracy, scrutiny and debate.

Setting up the hybrid Parliament was a huge task – I was able to contribute during a number of proceedings and have been impressed with the organisation and professionalism of staff to make it work. 

But a virtual House of Commons has not been without its restrictions. The structure limits only 120 Members to participate at a time. Contributions, in many instances, have been littered with digital glitches. Weak broadband has caused Members to disappear mid sentence and technology problems have led to a few red faced moments – in my own case, accidentally displaying my favourite photo of family yoga on screen....

We have all enjoyed the oddly creative Zoom backgrounds of our fellow MPs, but the set-up has proved to be a distraction from the serious business of democracy, scrutiny and debate.

It is our duty to the public and our promise to fulfil our manifesto commitments.

Covid-19’s grip has caused the House of Commons to malfunction. Committees such as the Public Bill Committee have not met. Westminster Hall debates are not happening and secondary legislation, normally a hive of activity in Committee Rooms at this time of year, has been all but stopped. 

Whilst we have been able to discuss important pieces of legislation like the Domestic Abuse Bill, in my opinion many Members have been unable to suitably scrutinise and hold government to account.

36 Bills were put forward by the Government in the Queens Speech – and it is vital that we are there in person to properly debate this legislative agenda.

It is our duty to the public and our promise to fulfil our manifesto commitments.

So back we go – social distancing will be in place in Parliament, and the usual pairing arrangements will be available for those that cannot return for medical or other reasons. Staff can work from home if they wish, and most will continue to do so.

To participate in a physical Parliament will improve the quality of debate. Topical questions and interventions can resume, as can our flexibility to question and test our constitutional system. 

As the Leader of the House said in his statement on the 13th May, “how can we hide away when children return to school?” And likewise, how can we expect our constituents to return to their workplaces if we do not do the same?

We have a responsibility, and a duty to represent the views of the electorate in person, in this House. Our return to work and the adjustments that need to go with it will and must provide confidence to employers and employees across the UK.

If we follow the advice and practice safe social distancing then we will be able to do our jobs – and keep each other safe. 

A virtual Parliament has been a good opportunity to see how the House can perform under pressure, and if we are to make one change, I hope that consideration will be given in future to using the proxy voting system that I introduced for Baby Leave when I was Leader of the Commons, as opposed to the current temporary electronic voting system. 

I have every confidence that we can conduct Parliamentary business and proceedings safely. Whilst for some time it won’t be ‘business as normal’, returning to Westminster is the right and sensible step to get things moving.

Andrea Leadsom is Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire.

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