Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Newspaper column 10 June 2020 - A return to Parliament and BLM

Last week, along with the majority of MPs, I returned to Parliament. Ten weeks to the day after I last attended the House of Commons in person it was very strange to walk back in.

Whilst the measures put in place to allow MPs to participate in debates and vote were very welcome, it really was no substitute for actually being present physically. Strict restrictions are still in place that limit the number of MPs who can be in the chamber at any one time in order to maintain social distancing which means the House is still far from ‘normal’, it is definitely much better than having to appear by video link.

So much of what we do as MPs does not take place in the chamber. And whilst there are still many things that are unable to happen, it is still far better to be there and able to talk with government ministers and other MPs face to face – from 6ft apart of course. Both in my role as your local MP and my role as PPS to the Health Secretary, I am much better able to do my job being physically present.
I know much was made of the new voting system that involves MPs having to join a very long queue and vote by walking into the chamber. Obviously, this takes much longer than our usual method of voting where we all cram into the voting lobbies. Clearly that would not be possible under the current restrictions and whilst I am sure things will continue to be reviewed and improvements made, at least we get to cast our vote in person. After the first couple of votes MPs and staff became more familiar with the system and it was getting more efficient each time we voted.

The key point for me is that at a time when we are expecting many to return to work and businesses preparing to reopen it is important that Parliament sets an example. Yes, it is inconvenient for us and takes a bit more time that normal, but many businesses will be facing these same challenges as they put measures in place to keep their staff and customers safe. Therefore, I feel the least we MPs can do is put ourselves through a little bit of inconvenience and take a bit more time in order to do our job. 
I am pleased that after it was agreed we would return to working in this way Parliament did decide to allow those MPs who are unable to return to Westminster due to medical advice, as they are in the shielded category or on the advice of their GP, will be allowed to cast their vote by proxy and participate remotely to ask questions of government ministers. It was important that MPs were not excluded from these aspects of Parliament due to following medical advice.

In the coming weeks we will continue to face many challenges, nationally and locally here in Cornwall, as we continue to come out of the lockdown and reopen our economy. In the light of this it is important that Parliament is able to function as close to normal.

The other major issue making the news has been the Black Lives Matter protests. I understand the frustration and anger many people have expressed that these protests took place at a time like this which have been in direct breach of the restrictions in place to keep us all safe.

The tragic murder of George Floyd was abhorrent and has rightly caused outrage across the world. And it has put the issue of racism and the inequality experienced by many black and minority ethnic people across the world, including in our own country, to the forefront. However, some of the scenes we have witnessed – particularly in London - have been unacceptable.

Whilst here in the UK we have done so much to push back racism and made progress towards a more equal and diverse society, there is no doubt there is more to do and we should take this issue seriously to heart. I am just not convinced this is the right time or the right way to go about it.

The protests, particularly in London, will have put lives at risk by spreading the virus, just at a crucial point in our collective fight against COVID-19. The actions of a small minority who have used these protests as a cover for their own extreme agenda and engaged in violence and vandalism have actually undermined the message. Violating memorials of those who died for our freedom (especially on the anniversary of D Day) and attacking Police cannot be the way to get your message across. In fact, I know many will feel it is counter-productive.

We should all stand up to all forms of racism whenever we see it, and those who feel passionately about these issues have the right to make their feelings known through demonstrations, but we need to balance this with our duty to do everything possible in our fight to end the deadly coronavirus pandemic.