It was a case of back to school for many in the constituency and back to Parliament for me and for many MPs. Some have questioned why MPs are going back if they are able to work and vote remotely. Others have taken the view that, if we expect our school children to go back to old buildings then we should expect our elected representatives to hold a Government to account in times when enormous powers have been taken by Government and over the lives and freedoms of the people it governs for.
Firstly a huge salute for our local primary schools, who have adapted to welcome back pupils in reception and Years 1 and 6. Many pre-schools did likewise. Being relevant to this cohort, I was impressed with how my local school has communicated to parents and explained how the school will be run to keep everyone safe. Start, end and break times are staggered. Equipment is supplied by the school. Even teddy gets a nightly deep clean. The school have gone as far as to show videos of the setting to reassure parents. It all worked very well and I was able to say a big thank you to our head at pick-up time. A huge thank you to every school and early years provider which have remained open for vulnerable children and those of key workers and is now taking, or preparing to take, more pupils. There is support available for schools from the local authority or trust bodies. Parents can choose as to whether to keep their children at home. Most have happily put their faith in their school. Education is not just about the basics but about social interaction, play, teamwork and friendships. It’s good to see this being restarted.
As for MPs, we returned to Westminster. The period of time allocated to participating and voting remotely had come to an end. We opted not to renew it. For me, it’s not the optics of pupils going back and MPs setting an example which is my driver. I dislike such political gimmicks. It’s more the reality that we are not as able to scrutinise and hold the Government to account when we are doing it through a video at home. Broadcasting resources mean we do not get as much time. It’s easier for Ministers to decide which questions they want to take and which do not make it due to time. Jacob Rees Mogg, whilst now Leader of the House of Commons, has always been a huge advocate of Parliament keeping Government in check. I can honestly say, having been granted an Urgent Question this week in the chamber, that we do a better job inside than working remotely. I understand that this means that some cannot participate but I have a job to do and I want to do it as effectively as possible.
My Urgent Question was to ask the Government about the economic challenges for the aviation sector. This gives MPs the chance to ask questions to the Minister answering on behalf of their own constituents. Through my Transport Select Committee role, I have taken up the case of BA staff. Of course, it’s terrible for anyone to lose their job but BA are alone in the airline sector by making almost all of their 42,000 staff redundant and then employing just 30,000 on radically reduced terms. I now get about 2,000 emails a day from BA staff across the country. This debate was a chance for other MPs to add pressure. We are now looking for the Government to ask the Civil Aviation Authority to review the 51% of landing slots which BA monopolise at Heathrow. As a company, BA has many lucrative legacy benefits. If their staff are to lose their legacy benefits then surely the company should have to face fairer competition. The fight for BA staff, and all those who are having their terms and conditions slashed in such a cynical manner, goes on and will do so inside a Parliament which, whilst self-distancing, is holding those in power to account.