Jonathan Reynolds MP, the shadow work and pensions secretary spoke to Premier's Cara Bentley about the House of Commons' first virtual sitting.
How was your own virtual PMQs experience?
Well, it was different to usual, watching it on my laptop from my bedroom, but I am really pleased that Parliament is back because everybody, no matter what political side they're on, they want this country to succeed and get through this crisis - but good scrutiny is a way you improve the response to it. I think if you look at the questions Keir Starmer asked around testing and why we're nowhere near that government target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month or around personal protective equipment, particularly in care homes, these are the questions that people are asking it's right that they're being asked in Parliament so people can see on the record what the Government's response is - openly and honestly and transparently and it's very good to have that back.
And not much went wrong technologically...
Yes, I saw some colleagues there weren't there when called upon! But I think a lot of people have had to find ways of working differently and politicians and MPs are no different to that. What is particularly impressive is the way that you can be in the chamber though, obviously, we're trying to keep the numbers down as much as possible. It does lack something: a big bit of Parliament is the way that any MP can stand up on any question and come in, raise something that's relevant to their constituency. It means if you're at the despatch box, you've got to be on your toes - anyone from any part of the UK could come in on you - and you can't do that, you can't have that spontaneity in responses. But I thought this was still very impressive for the first time this country's ever tried anything like it.
It was Keir Starmer's first time at the despatch box in the role of the leader of the opposition. How did you think he did?
I thought he was superb - I'm not just saying that because I say everyone who does it from my side is superb! I thought the tone he struck - which was challenging but it was constructive, it was quite firm at times but it was polite, always about the policy issues - that for me is how I want Prime Minister's Questions to be. There were high expectations of Keir, he is a former barrister and Director of Public Prosecutions so people expect you'll have some of the skills that are required. I thought it was a hugely impressive outing, I thought especially the bit where he asked Dominic Raab about the numbers of people who've died in care homes and the figure wasn't available but he said quite openly, 'well I'll be asking you this next week so hopefully, you can come back with an answer then,' I thought he did very well, indeed and it's a big test. It's a difficult thing to do. The Government have all the answers and can have the last word on everything so it's a difficult job. I thought he did very well indeed.
In terms of the content, PPE and testing was covered. Did you think there was enough scrutiny and what did you think of Raab's responses?
The issues that people are asking, certainly in my constituency, mainly around testing and PPE and how we're going to have a strategy to come out of it, they did get raised. I'll be honest, I also thought that the whole session was more constructive without people making noises and trying to put people off from the back benches. I thought it was more authoritative and actually far more interesting. I think people probably paid more interest to the answers and there was no hiding place. A difficult job for Dominic Raab, stepping in for Boris Johnson. I thought he became needlessly rattled at some stages, people are asking reasonable questions and I think he would expect to be answering them and I thought the attack on the Welsh Government was completely misplaced - this is not the time for anything like that. What we've had is a real chance to get some clarity on some big issues and if we continue this next week, we'll have even more detail. The press conferences have been good, I wanted those to continue but, frankly, for the real answers you need people on the record at the despatch box being held to account because that's how good government works.
It's a difficult time to be an MP, lots of people asking you lots of questions that you might not know the answer to. How can we be praying for you personally and for your colleagues in Parliament?
Well, yes, thank you. It is difficult because you have a whole range of completely new government policies and the furlough scheme, the support for small businesses and all the things you'd usually be doing as an MP. Although there are clear categories of the furlough scheme for employees or the self-employed package, there's always people who have very specific situations, as well as the obvious things like getting people back from all parts of the world when the airlines started to close down and flights just weren't available. It has been very difficult. I particularly appreciate the people who pray for the people who work for MPs who are doing that job from home. I've got a small team like every MP does but the range of inquiries is just quite unbelievable. At the same time, we're trying to get to grips with the national implications of that and use Parliament to hold people to account. Often the people who work for members of parliament are often forgotten and they deserve some support.