Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Wright, the Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam, in the House of Commons on 2 June 2020.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). I entirely agree with the Government that remote scrutiny is inferior to Members of Parliament being here to do it directly. That is no criticism of those who have worked very hard to make a virtual Parliament work at all, but it is the reality of the ways in which Bills and Ministers are most effectively scrutinised. It is also to the Government’s credit that they are seeking to restore the most effective scrutiny of themselves. In relation to those of us who can do so, I understand their preference that we conduct our scrutiny from here, but this debate and the amendments to the Government’s motion are really about those colleagues who cannot be here, and specifically those who cannot be here because the Government have, for good and sensible reasons, told them that they should not be. For those colleagues, there is a strong case for preserving some means of virtual participation in our proceedings. I am grateful to have heard what the Leader of the House has already said about that, but I look forward to hearing more.
Surely the most fundamental part of our job is casting our votes. In that regard we should be most concerned with the most fundamental principles, and surely the most fundamental principle of all is that our votes in this place count equally, in our roles as representatives of our constituents. It cannot be right to exclude from decision making any Member against their will, unless it is done for reasons of principle or because it is unavoidable. Excluding those who would be here, were it not for the Government’s instruction, cannot be right on principle. This is not the House taking disciplinary action against those who have broken rules—quite the reverse—and neither it seems to me is it unavoidable. Imperfect though of course it is, we do have a system of remote voting that we have tested and used over the past few weeks. Of course, it should be used only for this period of restriction, but while that period continues it remains the only way that those excluded from this place can vote. I do not believe, I am afraid, that the Government’s solution is satisfactory. Pairing and slipping are exclusions from voting for which a Member has volunteered in most cases. The Members we are talking about today are not all volunteering to be excluded and to exclude their constituents from the process of legislative decision making. They are being excluded through no fault or wish of their own.
I apologise for intervening again, but my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) referred to me earlier as letting the genie out of the bottle. My point was that the public expect us to vote. The public expect us to be here. The public are looking at our voting record. We will be judged on our voting record. To say, “I took the decision at that point to allow myself to be paired” or that, “I was not able to do anything else other than be paired because of my medical condition,” will probably not be sufficient for many of our voters.
Yes, I understand my right hon. Friend’s point, and I was going to go on to say that, although I understand the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), we are not, of course, as has just been said in the debate, dealing only with those who are ill. Some people are not ill but are being required—again I stress—by Government instruction to keep themselves away from this place. For those reasons, and with considerable regret, I cannot support the Government’s approach on voting, and I will support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley).