On 25 November 2020 Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda and Trustee for the History of Parliament, delivered 2020’s annual lecture ‘Parliament in a national crisis’ via Zoom. If you weren’t able to make it, below you will find a PDF of the full lecture.
Chris is a Welsh Labour Party politician who has served as Member of Parliament for the Rhondda since 2001. He has held a variety of positions within both the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet, ranging from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to the Foreign Office. More recently Chris has focused his efforts in Parliament on health-related issues, introducing a Private Members Bill to better protect our Emergency Workers and producing the “Time for Change” report as Chair of the Acquired Brain Injury APPG .
Last year Chris was diagnosed with Melanoma, and thankfully is recovering extremely well. He is now actively campaigning to raise awareness of Melanoma and fighting to prevent its rise across the UK.
Chris serves on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee. He also serves on the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Liaison Committee (Commons). Chris is the author of a number of books, including two volumes on the history of Parliament. His new book ‘The Glamour Boys: The Secret Story of the Rebels who Fought for Britain to Defeat Hitler’ will be published in November.
Introduction to the lecture
On the face of it, parliament has soldiered on magnificently this year. And in the usual effortlessly self-congratulatory British way, we have patted ourselves on the back for the fact that the Commons has not missed a sitting day during the pandemic. Well done, us.
It was the same after the Second World War. Parliament had soldiered on, despite being bombed repeatedly and the Commons being forced to sit in the Lords, in St Stephen’s Hall and in Church House. We were so proud of ourselves that Winston Churchill pronounced at the despatch box that ‘we have the strongest Parliament in the world’ [HC, 15 May 1945, vol. 410, col. 2307].
But is this self-congratulation justified? Is our Parliament robust? Does it weather storms well? Has it enabled good government in a crisis – or has it just succumbed to the crisis and let the government get on with it? And are there any lessons we might learn from history?
So first of all, my whistle-stop tour of how historic crises have affected parliament – with an emphasis on pandemics.