We need a full-time Parliament; this week proves it – Tom Richmond

THE importance of a full-time Parliament scrutinising Ministers – and holding them to account – has been reinforced by this week’s proceedings at the House of Commons.

Parliament has continued sitting this week during the party conference season.

First, a quite withering attack by Theresa May in which the ex-PM accused the Government of acting “recklessly and irresponsibly” over its willingness to break international law on Brexit.

Then, Boris Johnson’s sobering speech to Parliament – before his televised addressed to the nation – in which he warned that new curbs on social movement could last for six months.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Finally, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement in which he set out a series of new measures to protect jobs as the country grapples with Covid-19.

Sir Keir Starmer delivered his party conference speech form Doncaster on Tuesday before returning to Westminster.

Evidence of a Parliamentary democracy at work, they also vindicate the decision for the Commons to continue meeting during the party conference season rather than adjourning for three weeks.

I’ve always argued that this political “holiday” was wrong and that the parties should have been able to stage their gatherings – glorified jamborees and fundraisers – over a succession of long weekends without Parliament, and the shaping of laws, having to go into hibernation so soon after its traditional six-week summer recess.

And so it has been proven. Labour held its virtual conference this past week while still having shadow ministers in place – Sir Keir Starmer simply brought forward his leader’s speech in Doncaster on Tuesday so he could hotfoot it back to Westminster to respond to the Prime Minister. The trains worked (for once).

The Lib Dems are holding their digital conference this weekend – I’ve struggled to understand how their gathering has justified the silencing of the Commons in recent years when they have so few MPs.

Chris Grayling, the former Transport Secretary, has praised the Government over Covid-19 - hardly a credible vote of confidence.

And next weekend it is the turn of the Tories whose own virtual gathering will take place over four days, including the PM’s speech.

Having set this precedent, there’s now no justification for Parliamentary scrutiny being put on hold in future years so MPs, activists and others can enjoy a social shindig.

By all means hold conferences – but do it over extended weekends – so the majority of MPs (Chris Grayling being a notable exception) can focus on their day job representing their constituents.

ON the subject of part-timers, even Matt Hancock, the bumptious Health and Social Secretary, appeared sheepish when a former Cabinet colleague stood up on Monday and told him: “I praise him for the job he is doing.”

I’m not surprised. This supposed vote of confidence came from the aforementioned Chris Grayling who had taken time out from his new £100,00-a- year job advising Hutchison Ports, which operates Harwich and Felixstowe among other terminals.

I don’t know what it sees in its new appointment after Seaborne Freight, the ferry firm with no ships that was given a £13.8m Brexit contract by Grayling, went bust with debts of £2m.

After all, this is the scandal that saw the then Transport Secretary pronounce “I did see ships” when it was pointed out that the firm had no vessels. As I observed last week, ‘Old Failing’ still does not know his port from his starboard.

I’M still willing to give Ministers the benefit of the doubt for not responding to correspondence promptly; their job is even more invidious at this time.

However, I’m less forgiving of their many officials and aides who appear to be lacking in humanity, nous and common sense. It is their job.

And it’s not just Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock at fault – the Ministry of Defence appears culpable after Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi raised this distressing case about a lack of mental health support for veterans.

“My constituent David is currently serving in the Army. His brother Dan served for 12 years, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but last year Dan killed himself,” she told MPs.

“David has written twice to the Ministry of Defence about this situation, and only an email from my office has been replied to, nine months after the first correspondence. Is this really the way we should treat our military personnel?”

No it is not and Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer has now launched an investigation.

THANK you to Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey – the Shadow Defence Secretary – for pressing the Government on Covid arrangements for Remembrance Sunday services.

He notes just 79 people were invited to last weekend’s Battle of Britain commemoration inside Westminster Abbey, rather than the 2,200 planned. He has now asked for guidance “to make sure ceremonies at cenotaphs across the country can go ahead safely and respectfully”.

Interestingly Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said it was primarily a matter for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – and that he marked VE Day by phoning survivors who could not attend events in person. He also says he will offer an update “as soon as we have worked out the plans”. You’ve not got long, Secretary of State.

IS Keighley and Ilkley MP Robbie Moore expecting a general election sooner rather than later? Three emails on his behalf, all on different subjects, have arrived in the past week from a Jack Gebhard, who describes himself as a “By-election Campaigner” at “Conservative Campaign Headquarters” in London.

Or could it be that the MP is taking his orders from party HQ – and utilising their templated press releases – rather than offering original thought on key issues?