Karen spoke in the Coronavirus Act Motions debate in Parliament on Thursday:
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer).
I originally put in to speak in this debate because of the procedural motions. I expected there to be a separate debate on the procedural motions and therefore, as Chair of the Procedure Committee, I was expecting to make some comments. As there other things to debate, I shall mention some other things.
On the procedural motions, the motions that have been tabled are in line with the report issued by my Committee. I do have to point out that there was a division in the Committee. It was the majority of the Committee, not the entire Committee, that wanted to see the motions in the way that they are tabled today, but that is what the Committee decided and I am pleased that the Government have acted on that. Some may think it odd that they are the only motions that we are debating today that actually end on 21 June, but I will come on to that point later.
I also make the point—I hope that those at the Whips’ end of the Treasury Bench will listen to this—that, yesterday in the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister committed to a debate in the future so that we can consider whether we want to continue with some of the procedural things that we have been doing over the past 12 months. There may also be other procedural changes that we want to make. The Prime Minister committed that such a debate should happen.
In my remaining two-and-a-bit minutes let me move on to the main event of the day. First, let me make the point that, when we pass laws in this place, they are the law of the land. We cannot say that we do not want them to be enforced. We cannot say that we would like them to be ignored. We expect law enforcement and others to enforce the laws that we pass. The difficulty with these laws is that they are contrary to the way that we normally carry out laws. Under the common law system, one is free to do whatever one wishes unless the law says otherwise. These laws are Napoleonic. They give us permission to do certain things. They say that we can do nothing unless we have permission to do it. That has led to enormous confusion, enormous difficulty, for people. It has meant that the interpretation of these rules has been very difficult for all of us. I will just say that, while I understand that we must have the rules in place—perhaps in a pandemic it is impossible to do them in any other way—we should not be critical of those who enforce the rules that we make in this place if we do not like the way that they are enforced.
Secondly, let me talk about the amount of time that we have for debate. Three-and-a-half hours for a debate on these topics is simply not enough. The length of the call list makes it easy to see just how many Members wish to take part. I say to the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), that the Government should not be frightened of amendments, because if an amendment is proposed that has the support of the majority of the House and the Government cannot find a good reason to say no to it, it is probably a good amendment. I suggest that the Government think about providing more time for debate and more opportunities to amend. I do not agree with every single thing in these measures, but I will support the Government today. The Secretary of State’s opening remarks were very conciliatory, and they set out very clearly the direction of travel, and I will therefore support the Government.
I want to make a final point about managing public expectation. I had my vaccine on Saturday—I was one of the large number of people who did so—and one of the volunteers in my vaccine centre said to me, “Now you’ve had the vaccine, you can vote against the stupid restrictions.” People are expecting that these restrictions will end. They are queuing up in droves to get their vaccine, because that is the end of these lockdowns. That is their passport out of the pandemic, and the Government need to make that happen.