Last Monday I had the honour to speak in the House of Commons to the 2019-20 Finance Bill – the first piece of virtual UK legislation ever to be debated.
This is part of what I said:
When this chamber was bombed and destroyed on the night of Saturday, May 10, 1941, when the fires were raging, the roof fallen in and the lobbies and corridors gutted, it was decided that the Commons should sit immediately elsewhere. Extraordinary measures were undertaken at great speed to transfer proceedings to the new location.
The Commons rarely sat on Mondays, and so it duly reconvened in the normal way on Tuesday 13th May, but it did so in Church House.
There were Oral Questions for the Secretary of State for War, including on officers’ outfits and the collection of swill and vegetable waste from military units, following by a full Order Paper of business, and at the end a short statement from the Prime Minister in which he reported that the old chamber was damaged beyond immediate repair and that preparations were already under way for a move further location if that should be necessary.
Thus the biggest and worst raid of the Blitz resulted in the loss of not one single day of sitting time for Parliament. It is a moment of which this country can be intensely proud.
Why so much determination and so much speed? So that British democracy should not be thought to have been destroyed amid the burning ruins of the Commons chamber. So that the great thread of public scrutiny and parliamentary accountability that gives legitimacy and authority to our government should not be broken.
And so it is again today. For me, I hope that we shall soon return to the close combat of political business, whether that be the intimate interrogation of the chamber, the camaraderie of the lobbies or the noise and clamour of a full House, packed to the rafters with MPs, press and public looking on, and all fully intent on our national political business. The House of Commons as the cockpit of the nation.
So, Mr Speaker, the significance of today’s debate lies not just in this Finance Bill. It marks a new legislative beginning for our Parliament. As we go forward, I hope we in this House can restore not merely our old ways, but what was best in them, and use this moment to make them better still.