The Parliamentary Liaison Committee met on Wednesday for the first time for twelve months and it involved two consistent people throughout the 90 minute session with a small group of others who made short contributions throughout. The Chairperson and the Prime Minister were the two who were involved throughout, and for around 75 minutes a third person who is a Chair of one of a number of Select Committees was also involved in asking questions to challenge Johnson. The decision to use this Committee to scrutinise Prime Ministers began in 2002 and in 2010 it was set out that the Chair of the Select Committees would be determined by Parliament rather than the Government. However up until last week the Chair of the Liaison Committee was decided by the other Select Committee Chairs. Last week Boris Johnson proposed that the Chair would be Bernard Jenkins and this decision was agreed by most of the Conservative MPs in the current Parliament.. Let us hope that in the future it will be reversed and the Chair of the Liaison Committee will go back to the Committee members, rather than the Prime Minister.
The questions about Schooling were all made by Robert Halfon who is the Chair of Education Committee and because of the way in which the committee worked on this occasion, none of the other people were invited to raise supplementary questions and given that each person had a limited time, very few went beyond their own Committee requirements. So the question from Robert was only raised by him and only he and Bernard could have repeated the question (as a few others did on their subjects) if they were concerned that Johnson did not answer the question adequately. Robert had three questions and this was the first of them, but arguably it was the most critical and it was the one that was ignored most significantly:
Can you assure all those parents, children, teachers and sports staff who are watching today that the phase school opening on the 1st June is absolutely safe, is of minimal risk and that all the required testing, tracking and tracing will be given to teacher staff and pupils and there will be the required PPE where it is needed and is it still the Government plan to have all the primary school years going back a month before the Summer Holidays?
The answer that came from Boris Johnson did not respond in an effective manner to any of the critical points and if I was a parent of a Primary School pupil, I would have real concerns about sending a child to School on Monday:
OK Rob well there are some very important questions, just to remind everybody because not everybody will have clocked this yet, what we want from June 1st is for Primary Schools to begin gradually to go back so Early years, Reception, Year One and Year Six. We know we can do it in a safe socially distanced way, that’s what we want. We accept that not everybody will necessarily go back on day one but we do expect people to return to school in those class groups. We do believe it’s safe, provided, provided, everybody remembers the guidelines that we have set out and everybody understands the crucial things you’ve got to do particularly maintaining social distance and washing your hands and of course self-isolating if you’ve got symptoms. Those are the absolutely crucial things that you’ve got to do, they can’t be stressed often enough and on your point about the rest of Primary Schools Rob we want to keep that under review we’d like to do it if we can it depends on our national success in keeping the disease under control and driving that incidence down and so we will continue to review it in accordance with the scientific advice.
It would be fascinating if this question and answer were measured by OFQAL or OFSTED and what % of answer this would be judged by. However sadly and it was very disturbing, neither Robet Halfon, nor Bernard Jenking chose to raise their concerns. Of course it is very useful that the answer is in public, but if parents, pupils and staff have seen this, they may well be rather unhappy with this response. I certainly am.