Below is the text of the speech made by Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, in the House of Commons on 2 June 2020.
Any right hon. or hon. Member who was in this House during our lengthy debates on our membership of the European Union after the referendum will be in no doubt that minds and votes were changed during those debates. I know that because, once or twice, mine were changed after a debate—sometimes with discussion. A Conservative Member who proposed an amendment actually voted against it after a debate. I suspect that there was a little arm twisting by the Whips. At the present time, we have, in this country, some of the most authoritarian legislation that we have ever had for reasons that are both understandable and credible. That means that, as a House, we have not been having that thorough full-blooded debate where people can change their mind and vote at the end of the debate. That means that the whole House has not been doing its job properly on this matter.
It has been suggested that Members want their constituents to know which way they have voted. If they have not been part of the debate, I do not really see the distinction between pairing and voting via an iPhone. The only distinction at the moment is whether it is recorded in Hansard. I take the point of the Leader of the House that he will discuss this with the Whips. If a pairing is recorded in Hansard, there is really no difference: constituents know where Members stand on the issue, even though it is not the exact equivalent of a vote.
The other matter I wish to raise in the brief time allowed is the number of people in the Chamber. The Government have said that they are following the science and the advice. Science is universal. The World Health Organisation recommends a distance of 1 metre. Other countries recommend 1.5 metres. We, together with a small number of countries, recommend 2 metres. There has been very little study on covid. The studies that lead to those distances, which are not universal, are on previous viruses, not this one. I urge the Government, partly for the sake of democracy and partly for the sake of getting the health issues right, to consider again and look to moving towards the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.