This week will see The House of Commons wind down for the annual summer recess after what has been the strangest few weeks probably in parliamentary history. The Coronavirus has changed so much about the way that we go about our business, as it has for everybody, and as Chair of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, I have been very involved in how this happens.
I was elected to chair the committee in January, but the first meeting of the full committee didn’t happen until March 2 this year. It seems difficult to remember what life was like before social distancing and self-isolation became everyday terms, and it was at that first meeting that we as a committee asked those people that run Parliament what plans they were making if there was a pandemic. As it turns out, we were about to become one of the first workplaces that experienced an outbreak, with a large number of MPs and staff infected.
This meant that Parliament had to adapt very quickly. Nowadays, only 50 MPs are allowed in the Chamber at any one time, with social distancing being strictly enforced and observed as it rightly should be in the UK’s most visible workplace. We vote in a different way and throughout the Parliamentary estate there are one-way systems and hygiene measures in place. And of course, for the first time in 700 years, MPs are contributing to the business from their homes where they cannot travel into Westminster due to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19.
However, we have managed to debate, to scrutinise the Government, to vote and to pass important legislation such as the Trade Bill, the Finance Bill, the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Immigration Bill. Parliament, albeit it very different, is still functioning.