We are at the start of a significant week for Parliament for a range of factors, most of which have been set up as a consequence of COVID-19. Clearly last week was a rather radical change for a very large number of people outside of Parliament thanks to the rather incompetent broadcast made by our Prime Minister last Sunday evening and then followed by a range of responses from a number of his Ministers. The actual intention of his talk may take us several more weeks or indeed months to fully understand unless of course as some people have claimed that he might be replaced shortly by the very powerful members of his political party. However his disturbing speech to our nation a week ago last Sunday Evening was not the only change being demanded by him and his Special Advisers since he has returned to work. In the last few days Caroline Lucas has been working alongside Harriet Harman to try to stop Johnson’s team from controlling one of the ways in which his Parliamentary scrutiny is able to take place and presumably there will be a vote by MPs on this, this coming week so let us hope that our local MPs will be willing to approve their amendment. To ignore or oppose this amendment would be an indication that our Sussex MPs do not support the meaningful form of democratic accountability that is not a party based process and was introduced by Parliament in the very recent past. The Liaison Committee was established as a collaborative group made up of the Chairs of the various Select Committees and these members then elect the Chair of this overall Committee. The Chairs of each of the select Committees are elected by the members of Parliament so the structure is very democratic and no one inside or outside of Parliament should be opposed to this, unless they wish to ask electors to take over this process. The Liaison Committee then acts as a scrutiny agency for a number of matters including the detailed scrutiny of the Prime Minister although since his selection as Prime Minister, Johnson has avoided attending this Committee on several occasions which in itself is deeply concerning. Johnson and his team of advisers intend for them to appoint a new member of the Liaison Committee who will also be its Chair and in this case it will be Bernard Jenkins. Irrespective of how much support or opposition Sussex MPs may have to Jenkins, it is very clear that this change is counter democratic and must be ended with a very large level of support.
The reason that this week is so significant for Parliament and for us as people who should be treated as their employers is that Jacob Rees-Mogg has set out to end what was established a few weeks ago to make Parliament much more effective during the COVID-19 setting. He now wants to return Parliament to operate the way it has done for the last few centuries. When Parliament reconvened on 21st April they spent two days agreeing how to work over the next few weeks, given that MPs like the rest of society need to stay at least 2m apart from one another. The proposals that were adopted had been made while MPs were on a long Easter break and they began on Monday 27th April. We are now in the fourth but final week of that new arrangement which involves working days from 11.30 to 18.30 and three days each week. It also involves contributions from MPs who work from their constituencies along with only 50 MPs in the Chamber at any one time due to the 2m arrangements. At present there is only a limited number of MPs able to participate using a video conference system, however this could be extended dramatically if Parliament set out some alternatives arrangements. They also agreed to use digital voting which allows MPs to vote from wherever they are based, rather than forcing them to attend the House of Commons simply to say Aye or Noe. Sadly that was only used for the first time last week and so it has only been experimented on a very short term basis. Our MPs will have another recess from Wednesday until Tuesday 2nd June when they will have to try to return to a historic setting, despite the impact of COVID-19 arrangements. Our MPs will be forced to remain in London and wait for limited space in the Chamber which they can currently reach through the video system, and walk through a frame to place their votes. They will be forced to work for their constituents, from outside of their constituency during the many hours that they cannot attend debates due to the restrictions they will face.