This was supposedly the week when we were able to cast aside all Covid precautions and celebrate the summer and the back of the pandemic.
Of course, it has not panned out like that, as cases are soaring in Chester and across the country. I will continue to wear a face mask on public transport and in shops. There are plenty of people who are still clinically vulnerable or who feel very unconfident about going out and we need to respect them.
I have been critical of the Prime Minster for using phrases such as “Freedom Day” or “Terminus Day” even as cases have been on the increase and he has had to dial down the bluster and the rhetoric in recent days as the reality hit home.
In the House of Commons, we have had to follow rules as set out by Public Health England. Only limited numbers of MPs were allowed in the Chamber at any one time, were allowed to contribute remotely by video link, and are only expected to be in the Chamber for their own speech or questions before leaving straight afterwards.
Normally if you are taking part in a debate you must be present for the opening and closing front bench speeches, and it was not always clear when you would get called to speak. Now – during the pandemic at least – you apply to the Speaker’s Office to speak in a debate and a call list is made so MPs know when it will be their turn. It means the debate is less spontaneous, without the back and forth of debate.
Another area that has changed has been voting. Normally when a vote is called, a bell is rung around the parliamentary estate and MPs have eight minutes to get into the voting lobbies – although we are normally texted before to warn us a vote is likely.
But in order to keep numbers down, many MPs have had proxy votes, me included. For much of the time it has been our own Mark Tami – my neighbouring MP in Alyn & Deeside and a senior whip – who has cast my vote.
In fact the vote is a useful opportunity to catch up with colleagues from all sides, as it is the time when all MPs gather together in the lobbies. I hope that soon we will be able to go back to normal voting.
But for now, the restrictions need to stay. We are not through the crisis yet. The restrictions may not be mandatory, but I will still be following them.