Yesterday a small group of MPs held a debate in the House of Commons regarding COVID-19 and the only Sussex based MP who took part pointed out, that the debate was too short and involved far too few MPs. Those words came from Andrew Griffiths of Arundel and South Downs which are reproduced at the bottom of this article. In my view until Parliament can re-assemble with all 650 MPs as it did in the past that these words support the call I expressed in yesterday’s blog that was also published in the Argus newspaper. My proposal calls for all 16 Sussex MPs to link together via a video call and present their ideas and concerns to all of the Sussex residents interested to watch and listen and that they will also allow some people to raise their questions to them. We know that Lloyd Russell-Moyle does speak to his constituents on Facebook regularly as he pointed out a week ago and he allows questions to be directed at him as part of this. It is widely known that several other Sussex MPs have Facebook accounts so perhaps this is the place for them all to work towards?
However this blog is primarily a focus on another comment that was made earlier in the same debate which came from Graham Brady who is the Chair of the 1922 Committee and whose image appears above. The Parliamentary Website explains that the Committee is “The 1922 Committee, also known as “the 22″, is a committee of all backbench Conservative MPs that meets weekly when the Commons is sitting. Its chair, usually a senior MP, is elected by committee members and has considerable influence within the Parliamentary Party. Despite its name, the 1922 Committee was actually set up in April 1923 following an initiative by new Conservative MPs elected at the 1922 General Election to facilitate cooperation within the party.” The same web page offers a link which explains that the current Chair of the Committee, Graham Brady was Chair from June 2010 – May 2019 and then two people co-Chaired it from May – September 2019 and since September 2019 Graham has been the [acting] Chair so he is clearly well connected to the group of Tory backbenchers. However we can only hope that what he said yesterday is his personal opinion or else the whole of the backbench of the Conservative Party which ‘the 22’ represents is deeply mistaken and incompetent and has failed to engage with their constituents and the NHS and scientific agencies in an effective way. I have not included his opening remarks simply to keep this a bit shorter. He refers to the 21 day review which is due to take place on Thursday which under the latest C-19 arrangements is now a day when Parliament is closed, although of course usually Parliament is open on a Thursday.
I hope that as Ministers approach the second 21-day review, they will do so always with a view to removing restrictions and removing the arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom as quickly as possible. Where possible, they should also give advance notice. If restrictions are kept in the review on Thursday but may be lifted during the course of the following three weeks, it would be enormously helpful for people, and especially employers, to know in advance…. The public have been willing to assist. If anything, in some instances it may be that the public have been a little bit too willing to stay at home. I am sure I am not the only Member who has heard from employers who are struggling to fulfil orders because it is difficult to get employees back from furlough. We all know how critical it is that they ought to be able to get their workers back so that we make sure that the jobs remain when the furlough period ends. As the Government begin to set out a staged return to work over the coming weeks—I hope that will be set out on Thursday—it will become even more important that we rely on common sense and voluntary co-operation rather than arbitrary rules. The shadow Minister referred to the 2-metre distancing rule; it is looking increasingly likely, from what I read—probably correctly—that Ministers will look to move to a more nuanced set of guidance, which may focus far more on the importance of hygiene. Perhaps there will be the use of disposable gloves if somebody is travelling on public transport, the regular cleaning of surfaces, and all the things that may apply in schools as well as in other workplaces. As these changes come forward, it will be far easier to make them work through a conversation with the British people—by giving people guidance as the Government’s views and the advice they receive evolve, rather than by seeking always to set out very clear, arbitrary rules and regulations. It is perhaps more important that that approach should be taken in dealing with our more senior citizens. We have the healthiest, most active elderly generation of all time, and it would be tragic if the Government threatened that by trying to extend the so-called lockdown for those judged to be most at risk based on age. Why do we not just give them the best information and advice and let them limit their risk for themselves? There is no reason why the constituent that wrote to me who is a keen cyclist and turns 70 in November should not continue regularly to cycle 30 miles to 60 miles a day, as he did before the lockdown was imposed. Finally, let me return briefly to the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. It is deeply regrettable that the current 21-day period of extension will end on a day when the House is not sitting. The announcements that will be made on Thursday would be better made in the House. We should hear them here first; it should not be the media that get to question Ministers on those announcements. I hope that when future periods of review are considered, the House, and perhaps the Government, might bear that in mind.Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee
So the one element in Grahams speech I agree with is his comment in the middle which suggests it will be best to make changes through a conversation with all of us! In part this concedes with my blog from yesterday, but if Graham Brady really means this then perhaps he can persuade 13 of the 16 Sussex MPs (all of whom are Conservatives) to get to grips with a conversation taking place between MPs and Sussex constituents on a two way basis. However most of the other words raise a number of concerns. For example it is very clear to me and I have been listening to others in a range of industries, that much as people might normally enjoy the opportunity to take time off from work, that doing so depends on being able to travel where they want to go and purchase goods that are not currently on the market due to COVID-19. There are also huge challenges for many people who have children who would usually go to School, and many of these people do not consider themselves as home teachers. I can assure Graham along with all of his Committee members in Sussex that where I work and where other people who I know work, that if going back to work was not going to place their families at risk, they would like to return today! Of course there may be some employers who are also frustrated regarding the current arrangements, but no employer was obliged to adopt a furlough arrangement. Along with the issue of employers protecting their workers, the fact is that many customers have also closed down their businesses or requirements until things are safer as they understandably don’t want people to visit their premises if those people could be carrying COVID-19 conditions. In the few days before Furlough took place in our company, several of my colleagues were turned away from work places for this very reason, even though we were following much more robust conditions than had been published at that time within our industry. This is one of the reasons why Furlough which is far from ideal, seemed to be the best arrangement in the short term.
I must be honest that since COVID-19 has become extensive in our nation, I have taken most of my guidance from the NHS and Scientist advisers rather than from the MPs and even the Government, although of course whatever the Government sets out as rules has to be followed. The call to allow people over 70 to carry on as they wish would make a lot of sense if they were not at serious risk as the scientists have made clear. It would be helpful if Graham Brady could pay a bit more attention to the NHS and Scientific advisers available to our nation than to one of his residential constituents who happens to be 69 until November and who is also a very fit cyclist. Such people may need to be given flexibility as we move forward, but in the meantime we need to consider all people who are well over 70 and who may be at very severe risk. Inevitably it will irritate many people of that age, just as furlough irritates many people. Indeed it appears that Brady is basing his arguments on two individuals who do not represent the majority of people of those categories!
So now back to the Sussex MP whose views are a bit more sensible, perhaps Mr Griffith could raise his concerns via the 22 as well as he did in Parliament yesterday.The following element is the speech from Andrew Griffith:
I am pleased to follow so many of my colleagues on the Government Benches in this important debate. I completely agree with my hon. Friend Mr Baker who emphasised the vital role of Parliament in overseeing the extraordinary measures that are being taken. Only we in Parliament can supply legal and democratic legitimacy to the difficult decisions that need to be made in this crisis. In that context, I regret several aspects of today’s debate. First, I regret the fact that we are discussing only now, on 4 May, regulations to which our citizens have been subject since 26 March. I am afraid that, by some distance, the House could not be said to be debating them at the first possible opportunity. Secondly, I regret the fact that matters of such importance were not dealt with by primary legislation, given that the House was able to pass the Coronavirus Bill when it met before the Easter recess on 23 March. Thirdly, even today, only two hours have been given over to debating what the Minister acknowledged to be extraordinary measures of a kind never seen before in peacetime. I note that, for whatever reason, fewer than 3% of Members are participating in a debate on a subject of such magnitude, which may have consequences for the liberty of the individual for generations to come. It was utterly foreseeable to anyone who has experienced an event much larger than the average parish fête that over-zealous police officers and public officials would jump into the ambiguous space between legislation and guidance. I exclude from my remarks, and indeed would like to praise Sussex police under the leadership of Police and Crime Commissioner Bourne and Chief Constable Giles York for avoiding many of the excesses we have seen elsewhere. However, there is a type of personality who, if given a high-vis jacket, a uniform or an official title, relishes dishing out prohibitions to their fellow citizens. Such a minority—we must be clear that that is what they are—are ignorant of and usually untroubled by the limits of the law unless they are specifically drilled into them in a way that time has not allowed to happen here.Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs