Below is the text of the speech made by Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.
I start by saying an enormous thank you to everyone in my constituency. The community spirit has been extraordinary. We were told to socially distance, but I always thought the phrase should be “physically distance”. In some ways, we are now closer than ever socially, and I do not want to lose that.
As we emerge, there will be elements that we do not want to lose—communities connecting more; less air pollution; the return of wildlife; the fact that every single person who is homeless has a bed for the night if they want it; more time to engage in creativity, and more time with family—but it has not been the same for everyone. Although some call covid the great leveller, I would argue that it has been more of a common backdrop, against which the stains in our social fabric have become even more obvious.
We are all in this together, yet the lifeboats have not been evenly spread. Someone is twice as likely to die from the virus if they live in a deprived area where housing is more overcrowded and it is harder to have any personal space. Deprived children struggle to access education because they do not have broadband or a device, and they are falling behind. That is secondary, of course, to whether they are eating or even safe. People from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities go to work knowing that they are more at risk than others.
This has been a time of reflection. As we look in the mirror, we must ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with what we see. Do we want to go back to how it was, or do we want to negotiate a new social contract that nurtures individuals and respects nature? The time is coming to make a decision, and I sincerely hope that we choose to seize the opportunity that we have been afforded.
Before that, however, we have the small matter of easing out of the current state of lockdown and the confusion of the Government’s most recent announcement— and it has been confusing.
My inbox was inundated last night by constituents asking questions about their jobs. Do they have to go in or not? Will it be safe? And schools are much of the focus. Given the age groups that the Government are allowing to go back—they include nursery age children, who cannot socially distance at all, but not secondary schools, where studies show that the disadvantage gap is likely to be widening—it is clear that the Government are prioritising the economy over learning. No doubt many parents will be pleased at the prospect of some peace and quiet to enable them to get on with work, but not all. Opinion is mixed.
After reading the Government’s guidance carefully last night, I remain very sceptical of how this will work in practice. The economy is one thing, but what about safety? I am especially concerned about the lack of scientific evidence presented alongside the plans to reassure us that it is safe for children to mix in this way. Are we sure that they will not spread the disease? How do we know? Some heads are saying that they will not open because they do not feel that it is safe. And what of the teachers? Chris Whitty has said that we need a “proper debate” about teachers’ safety as schools reopen. I believe that it is irresponsible to not have had that debate before Sunday’s announcement. I am therefore immensely grateful to the Speaker for granting us the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Education tomorrow in an urgent question on this matter, and I will save the rest for then.