Dr Liam Fox speech on Coronavirus Hybrid Scrutiny Proceedings

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday 21st April 2020 on the Coronavirus Hybrid Scrutiny Proceedings, The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP said:

I associate myself with many of the comments made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I shall not ​repeat them, but let me say this. The nature of the public health emergency that has made it necessary to introduce these changes is the very reason why we must have maximal accountability and flexibility in an ever-changing picture. As elected Members of Parliament, we must have the ability to raise emerging issues and emergency issues.

We all know from experience that the gap between tabling a question and having it answered can mean that the question is out of date by the time the Minister gets to their feet. Let us be frank: those who have been Ministers know that there is no fear whatsoever for a Minister at the Dispatch Box in the prepared question that has already been tabled; the only thing that brings any fear to Ministers is the unknown supplementary, which will be a genuinely probing question that seeks information that is not set out in the civil service-written reply that most Ministers have. Therefore, the ability to ask some sort of supplementary is the key probing element of questions to Departments.

In the current situation, where there will be a great desire to probe Treasury Ministers, for economic reasons, and Health Ministers, we do not need changes to questions; we require the Government to be willing to come forward with regular statements on those issues so the House can use that alternative mechanism, which is inherently more flexible than the written parliamentary question system. We also require responsible use of urgent questions so they are not flippant and time consuming. I know that you would not allow that, Mr Speaker, but we must exercise particular personal responsibility in how we address the issues and in how we use what will be limited time in the House.

That applies to the Government too. We need minimal legislation. Some of us think we should have minimal legislation anyway, and that the less time we spend making more laws for our country the better, but certainly at this time, the Government should bring forward minimal legislation—only that which is essential to the conduct of government—to the House for however long these restrictions exist.

Echoing what others have said, the continuity of this Parliament in as normal a form as possible, given all the restrictions, is essential. As Members of this House, we have a leadership role in our country to behave as normally as we can in the circumstances. It is important not just that we give an example to people in our own country about the exercise of democracy, but that we in this country, who pride ourselves on our democratic tradition, show that democracy will be resilient in whatever circumstances, particularly to those parts of the world that do not benefit from representative parliamentary democracy as we do. We should always be willing, as a Parliament, to fly the flag for that democratic principle.