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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Ending virtual Parliament would ‘disenfranchise’ vulnerable Members, MPs warn

Ending virtual Parliament would ‘disenfranchise’ vulnerable Members, MPs warn

MPs will no longer be able to participate remotely in the Commons from 2 June under Government plans (House of Commons/Jessica Taylor)

2 min read

A cross-party group of more than 70 MPs have signed a letter protesting Government plans to end the virtual Parliament.

It comes after Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Commons earlier this week that Members would be expected to return to Westminster from 2 June.

His decision has attracted concern from many in Parliament that those who are shielding or live far from London could be excluded from participating. 

Others have pointed out that a socially distanced line of MPs queuing to vote would stretch 1.3km around the estate. 

Now over 70 Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs have signed a letter organised by Labour MP Chris Bryant protesting the decision.

The letter said: “All members should be treated equally and should have an equal right to participate and represent their constituents in both debates and divisions. 

“Yet many members are shielding or have partners and family members who are shielding or have childcare responsibilities, which would make it irresponsible for them to vote in person. 

“Pairing means they are not participating and their constituents’ voice is not heard or recorded.”

Mr Bryant also criticised the move in an article for the Observer, in which he branded the move “madness”.

He wrote: “The government whips say this is essential, as we have to show that the UK is getting back to normal and that they will arrange pairs for anyone who can’t attend, but that completely misses the point.”

“If the only means of participating in parliament is physically in person, parliament will be knowingly disenfranchising a whole swathe of MPs, who would like to take part in debates and divisions on behalf of their constituents.”

But in his statement on Wednesday, the Commons Leader insisted that the return was essential.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: "We have to recognise that if we persist with the present arrangement it will become harder to make progress in a timely fashion.

"That is why, in line with Government advice for those who cannot do their jobs from home, I am asking members to return to their place of work after Whitsun.

He added: “We will not be returning to the crowded, bustling chamber of old. We will be observing social distancing. 

“As a member of the House of Commons Commission, I was reassured yesterday by the progress being made in making the Parliamentary Estate a Covid-19 secure workplace.”

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