THE WEEK IN WESTMINSTER #10

Post #9 in this series was back on the 15th March, which I must confess seems half a lifetime ago. Since that date my team and I have created nearly 2000 cases, and provided assistance and representation to hundreds of constituents during these incredibly difficult times.

Most MPs were back in Westminster last week. As I said in a previous video, I think those of us that can be there, should be, since Parliament simply does not function as effectively - in terms of scrutiny of the Government and its legislation - when all contributions are via video.

Additionally, the reduction in available sitting time and the suspension of various Parliamentary committees has meant that we have a backlog of legislation (approximately seven weeks worth) to deliver over the rest of the year: these are promises that were made at the General Election and that this Government is determined to deliver on.

During the week, Parliament considered a number of vital immediate issues, such as the situation in Hong Kong, the difficulties in the aviation sector (and BA's questionable use of the furlough scheme), the concerns around quarantine, and the Public Health England review of disparities in risks and outcomes related to the Covid-19 outbreak.

I also took the opportunity to ask the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, about the social distancing guidelines of 2 metres (or 6 feet, as he put it!) Given that the World Health Organisation recommends 1 metre, and plenty of other European countries have either 1 or 1.5 metres, I am concerned that, by sticking at 2 metres, we may put many firms at risk, particularly pubs and restaurants in the town centre.

It is right that we remain guided by scientific advice, but having heard evidence on this matter on the Science & Technology Committee, it seems clear that other preventative measures are at least as important. I hope SAGE revisit this subject soon in light of the international evidence.

Looking outside of Parliament, it would be remiss of me not to discuss the Black Lives Matter protests that have been taking place both in London and in other major cities around the country.

I found the footage of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis horrific and deeply upsetting. As with other similar incidents in the past, this tragedy has prompted national outrage and a righteous re-evaluation of the role of racism in American society.

Nearly all countries, and especially the USA, have had a long and troubled past when it comes to race – a journey that has been uncomfortable to acknowledge on numerous occasions throughout history. We should be striving to live in a world where no one feels the need to protest in defence of their right to live in peace and prosperity, whichever country they may be living in.

We should always challenge ourselves in our understanding of other faiths, races and communities. It is our responsibility as individuals to live side by side in a safe society where we embrace everyone, choosing to build communities on the cornerstones of tolerance and understanding.

As someone who studied in the USA and has a long-standing affection for that country, I have to say I am very concerned about the continuing polarisation of their society and the deepening of its political and cultural fault-lines. It will need leadership at national, state and city levels to try to bring people back together, and in many cases it will require police forces to root out bad cops and to better understand the neighbourhoods they are tasked with policing.

But I do not think that the issues in the USA directly correspond to the situation in the UK. International comparisons frequently show us to be one of the most tolerant and least racist countries in the world, and our police officers are much better trained than most in the USA, and generally show great restraint. However I recognise that many people in the UK will still wish to protest about both the killing of George Floyd specifically, and the wider issue of racism more generally.

In this country, we have a long-standing tradition that people are able to gather together and demonstrate their views. The right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our democracy and I want to ensure that this is respected, whatever the protest is about. I do, however, have concerns about the wisdom of doing so during a pandemic.

People are free to take risks with their own health in pursuit of noble causes; however the nature of Coronavirus is that in so doing they also place other people's health at risk - particularly those who may be more vulnerable, including their own elderly relatives. The crowded scenes in parks and squares across the country are worrying in this context.

It is also vital that views are demonstrated within the law. The vast majority of the protests in the UK have been; however there have unfortunately been a number of violent incidents, particularly in London. These appear to have been driven by serial protestors who latch on to whatever cause is in the news and take the opportunity to cause trouble, damage and destroy public property and provoke the police. This takes away from what is an important message about civil rights and does the genuine protesters a disservice.

I would like to make clear that under no circumstances do I believe that protests should become violent. The rights to a peaceful protest do not extend to harassment, intimidating behaviour or serious disruption to public order, and the scenes in Whitehall yesterday were disgraceful.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Stay safe.

Aaron