Last week in Parliament involved some inspiring and disappointing elements. On Monday Westminster Hall opened up for the first time since Parliament closed down in March. Two debates took place on that day, based on petitions that had gained more than 100,000 signatures. The first was inspiring in terms of the contributions from MPs who took part, in response to a petition entitled “Extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of COVID-19”. The only Sussex MP who spoke was Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. As it happens his constituency was the most supportive in Sussex to this petition although most other areas were close by. Tim was previously the Minister for children and families and his current roles include being chair of the “all-party parliamentary group for conception to age two: first 1001 days” and as the chair of the Parent-Infant Foundation charity which is referred to as the Parent Infant Partnership. All of these elements help to explain why it was good that he took part in the debate and his speech included the following words which were a significant part of what he said.
“It is a joy to be back in Westminster Hall. It is a joy to be the first bloke to speak in Westminster Hall after the lockdown.” ”Parents are facing extra pressures: school closures, with many parents who already had children facing having those children at home as well as going through pregnancy, confusion for employers and employees about what they are actually entitled to at work and what is safe for them to be able to work during pregnancy given the coronavirus considerations, and mixed access to childcare, as the hon. Lady said. There is also the added stress of not being able to have partners at crucial hospital appointments and scans, and in some cases even at birth, and there are some really tragic cases” “These are not ordinary times. Babies have become the forgotten part of the population during the pandemic. Over 330,000 babies have now been born in England during lockdown. Many new family members and parents have been isolated from extended family members. They have not had the usual loving care and support of grandparents around them.”
Sadly the response by Paul Scully, the business Minister who took part was very inadequate and he did not respond in any real way to either the MPs like Tim Loughton who took part in the debate or the 238,000 signatories for the petition. However this was a much more encouraging debate than the following one.
This involved three petitions including one that I signed, calling for an inquiry into the way in which the EU referendum had been handled by the Government. Sadly only 10 MPs took part in that debate, none of whom were from Sussex and only 3 seemed to be supportive of the petitions in terms of wanting to challenge the outcome of the referendum. That said one of the MPs who was not supportive of the need to change the outcome, perhaps because of the number of his constituents who voted to leave was Mike Hill from Hartlepool. He did at least agree that
“I would personally welcome a further independent inquiry, as the Government’s response to the Committee’s report has been lacklustre, at best, so far. I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that faith in public institutions is at rock bottom at the moment.”
A third element that caught my attention from last week also took place on Monday albeit in the main Chamber which demonstrates some challenges or barriers that prevent MPs from taking part in certain Parliamentary debates. Lloyd Russell-Moyle spoke three times in response to other MP comment and on the third time one of his colleagues said “He has been in the Chamber for only 20 minutes and this is his third intervention, but I will, of course, give way to him.” Lloyd then stated before carrying on with the debate “I did apply to speak, but I was refused by the Speaker’s Office, so I have been listening to the debate in my office.” Once he had finished the deputy speaker said “if he had submitted his name in time, he would have been on the list, so I do not quite understand. Perhaps he would like to come and see me and explain exactly what happened.” On Wednesday he explained “I put in the request late, and owing to the new rules that do not allow on-the-day requests, it was not down to your office’s discretion whether I could speak.” It appears that Parliamentary arrangements are deeply inadequate and given so few MPs spoke in the Westminster Hall debate, let us hope these matters will improve very soon!