James Sunderland calls for covid testing, and perhaps advance vaccinations, for MPs so that the House of Commons can return to normal working as the current virtual process falls short.
I really welcome ongoing progress with virtual participation, although it does fall short of where the House needs to be. Given that our role in this place is ultimately to serve others, and given that no self-respecting MP would wish to jump the queue, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to bring in testing and perhaps also to advance vaccinations for Members of Parliament?
The House authorities have worked hard to implement a robust and efficient system of PCR testing for those who work on the parliamentary estate and experience symptoms. We are fortunate that that testing provides highly accurate results in a short turnaround time. The current testing regime, combined with the social distancing and covid security measures on the estate, has enabled Parliament to continue to function effectively, but—I agree with my hon. Friend—less effectively than when we are fully physically present.
The House authorities have been working with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care to explore the potential use of lateral flow tests. That work continues, but currently the roll-out of lateral flow testing has been prioritised to other sites, such as schools, hospitals and care homes. We are working to ensure that all MPs will be able to participate remotely in debates and use the proxy system that has been in place for some time. That is the right compromise for the time being, but we celebrate the news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is now available and will be rolled out, and that once a sufficient number of people have been vaccinated and it is safe to do so, this House can get back to normal. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it would not be right for us to jump the queue.