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Weekly Whip w/c 1st June
This week in the House of Commons the Corporate Insolvency Bill, the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill and a motion relating to our future relationship with the European Union were debated and discussed. However, these were not the main stories this week. As much as I would like to get my constitutional nerd on and tell you all about the reasoning behind the structure of Parliamentary constituencies. Some things are more important.
As the Liberal Democrats, we have been and continue to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. An action you can take is to ask your MP to sign the Lib Dem lead Early Day Motion 459 to end the export of rubber bullets, tear gas and riot shields to the US.
40 Liberal Democrat MPs & peers as well as @LDCRE1 & I wrote to @BorisJohnson today urging him to end his silence & condemn President Trump’s response to the #GeorgeFloydProtests— Isabelle Parasram (@IsabelleParasra) June 3, 2020
To our @libdems Press & @cajardineMP teams: thank you!#BlackLivesMatter https://t.co/SC9fTJzOqN
For many MPs the government’s actions took away the attention from the really important work that needs to be done to fix the structural racism in our society. That is the reason that this week weekly whip focuses on the COVID 19 pandemic and the danger the government is putting parliamentarians and parliamentary staff under.
This week the government, led by the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg forced MPs to return to Westminster despite the risks. Rather than discussing the business of the house this week, I would like to share with you and the stories of two of our MPs.
The first is Christine Jardine MP
With lockdown restrictions still in place across Scotland, Christine would’ve been well within her rights to shield and safeguard herself, her family and her constituents. However, for Christine, there is something more important, something that brings home the barbarity of what government has done this week.
Christine Jardine has been a long-term campaigner against domestic violence, a topic that has come into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week in the House of Commons the Domestic Abuse bill reached committee stage. Christine has been working on this bill for over two years. The bill had reached a critical stage in it’s journey to becoming law. The first session of the bill committee started this week. A bill committee is where a small group of MPs go through the bill line by line. Witnesses are called and MPs including Christine are able to scrutinise the government and amend the bill before it goes back to the House of Commons to be voted on. If Christine had not gone down to Westminster, many years of work would have gone down the drain and many campaigners outside of Parliament let down.
If I hadn't travelled to Westminster I wouldn't have been allowed to contribute to the Domestic Abuse Bill being discussed at committee today. Parliament needs reformhttps://t.co/kwUJMs6AMt @heraldscotland— Christine Jardine (@cajardineMP) June 4, 2020
What made this even worse was the government is going to force the witnesses, women and men who have been victims of domestic violence to come into the Commons in person. This put both themselves, their families and their communities at risk of infection.
The second is Jamie Stone MP.
As an MP representing part of the Scottish Highlands, Jamie’s trip down to London would have meant staying down in the capital for many weeks. To highlight the issues this would cause him and his family, Jamie took the brave decision to discuss the situation he was placed in as the main carer to his wife.
Now shielding with his wife, this week Jamie Stone has not been able to participate in debates or vote on legislation and has had to pick between doing his constitutional duty and leaving a loved one behind.
"Denying me a vote isn't really about me, the MP, at all. It's about the rights of my constituents to have a voice in Westminster. It’s about the rights of carers to not be ignored – to not be an afterthought." @Jamie4Northhttps://t.co/QQhxy0Atl5— Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) June 4, 2020
These actions make what the government has done this week in the Commons all the more egregious.
On Tuesday, June 2nd, over 300 MPs returned to the house. With only 50 MP is allowed in the chamber at any one time, Parliamentarians and Parliamentary staff could be seen wandering around, trying their best to implement social distancing but inevitably not always succeeding. The staff of MPs are still working from home. Parliamentary staff including cleaners, clerks and security officers were also put in danger in an unnecessary new front line against coronavirus.
That afternoon a business motion to set out the return of the House of Commons to a physical Parliament was put forward by the Leader of the House. A cross-party amendment, including some support from Conservative MPs, was put forward to amend the business motion to extend proceedings and allow MPs to continue to work and vote from home.
The two votes that took place each took around 45 minutes, with MPs having to queue up out of the House of Commons chamber down through the central lobby, snaking through Westminster hall like airport security. Then out of the ancient door to the houses of Parliament. Despite a few brave Conservative MPs voting against the government, the vast majority voted for the motion. The government told MPs that they could no longer work from home but had to return to the parliamentary estate.
Queued from Portcullis House to get to join the queue in Westminster Hall to queue to vote in the Chamber. Monty Python could not have done better than this. https://t.co/2DVTcRibNX— Alistair Carmichael (@amcarmichaelMP) June 2, 2020
On Wednesday, tragicomedy took an even more serious turn. As the ordinary business of the house went on, the Business Secretary was seen to be physically ill whilst he was introducing the Corporate Insolvency bill at second reading. Later that day the minister went into self-isolation. Thankfully, Alok Sharma tested negative for COVID 19 but this does highlight the dangers of moving to a physical parliament.
As that news was starting to trickle through, at the end of the parliamentary day, the government moved its motion on restricted isolated participation for some MPs. The motion allowed MPs that were shielding or who had caring responsibilities to contribute to debates. However, critically, those MPs would not be able to take part in votes. A cross-party amendment by the Labour MP Chris Bryant was put to the motion to enable a return to hybrid Parliament proceedings.
The government (which controls the commons agenda) had put this business motion at the end of the day, meaning that because the debate time of the day had run out and there was an amendment outstanding to be debated, the motion could not proceed. The government could have chosen to schedule time for the debate, but they chose not to.
On Thursday, the government tightened the screws even further. The business motion was put on the order paper for MPs debate. This new business motion only allowed MPs who are individually shielding to participate in remote voting, excluding those with caring responsibilities. This meant that MPs who are individually shielding could participate in Parliamentary activities but others like Jamie would still be left out in the cold.
This standing order means some MPs can now proxy vote but this privilege has not been extended to adult carers like me.— Jamie Stone MP (@Jamie4North) June 4, 2020
To exclude us speaks volumes about this Govt’s attitude to carers in general.@Jacob_Rees_Mogg: please do not silence my constituents. Let carers vote. pic.twitter.com/3tlYtOqo3j
Given the seriousness of what the government has been doing, the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael MP put an SO 24 motion to the house. Close observers of Parliament may remember Standing Order 24 motions from Theresa May’s time as prime minister. However, they are used incredibly rarely in parliament. An SO 24 allows a member of Parliament to bring a motion to the house in order that a debate may be had on a topic that is incredibly pressing to members of the house. At 1 pm Alistair put his motion to the house with cross-party support, including some backbench MPs. It was announced that the debate in question would take place on Monday.
I was pleased to be in the chamber today to hear @amcarmichaelMP SO24 application - we will again debate how the @HouseofCommons will operate during #COVID19 on Monday. The Govt need to reconsider the risks of the return to a fully physical parliament. https://t.co/W9NhoO950V— Wendy Chamberlain MP 🔶️ (@wendychambLD) June 4, 2020
The government has had many chances to protect parliamentarians from harm. To make sure they are not away from their families for prolonged periods of time. To not put their health and that of all the Parliamentary staff who are vital to the running of Parliament at risk. Currently, everyone from the most senior MP right down to those that help keep Parliament running are having to make decisions about whether they go to work or see their friends and family.
In a vain attempt to try and force through an end of lockdown restrictions on the public, the government has intentionally created an unnecessary new front line in the battle against the coronavirus. This madness needs to end and end fast.
Next week we will have Alistair’s SO24 debate.
One final note from Daisy.
Now @Jacob_Rees_Mogg should RESIGN as @CommonsLeader: for bringing the House into disrepute, and needlessly putting lives at risk. And the Speaker @LindsayHoyle_MP should return parliament to virtual proceedings only with immediate effect - tonight @Peston— Daisy Cooper MP 🔶 (@libdemdaisy) June 3, 2020
Couldn’t agree more Daisy!