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Fri, 3 July 2020

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By Andrew McQuillan
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Jacob Rees-Mogg softens plans to end virtual Commons but warns remote voting ‘does democracy an injustice’

Jacob Rees-Mogg softens plans to end virtual Commons but warns remote voting ‘does democracy an injustice’

Jacob Rees-Mogg says remote voting in the Commons must end (PA)

2 min read

Jacob Rees-Mogg has softened plans to make all MPs turn up to Parliament to take part in debates by that signalling those who want to stay at home can still participate via video-link.

But the Leader of the Commons has doubled down on his controversial proposals to create a kilometre-long queue though the Palace of Westminster, saying remote voting “does democracy an injustice”.

The Government has come under fire for calling an end to the hybrid proceedings which were put in place during the coronavirus crisis.

Under a motion introduced on the first day back from recess, MPs would no longer be allowed to appear in the chamber virtually, and could no longer vote on laws digitally.

This meant potentially hundreds of members would be excluded from taking part in debates as they are in the vulnerable category, are still advised to shield or are carers.

In the wake of those concerns, Mr Rees-Mogg revealed that the Government had rowed back, and will introduce another motion to “ensure that such participation is available for members unable to attend Westminster for medical and public health reasons related to the pandemic”.

But the Cabinet minister made it clear he would not be U-turning on the decision to make MPs cast actual votes in person, despite Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ruling that the traditional method of filing through the division lobbies is no longer safe.

To comply with social distancing measures MPs will instead need to form a single queue, tw metres apart, with a line hundreds of metres long snaking through the Parliamentary estate.

The Commons leader told the chamber: “Voting while enjoying a sunny walk or whilst watching television does democracy an injustice.

“The solemn decisions we take together affect the lives of millions of people in this country. We ask members to vote in person for a reason because it is the heart of what parliament is about.”

Pressed on how votes stretching over half an hour will represent an improvement, Mr Rees-Mogg admitted it will take "a little bit longer”.

“But this will be dependent, to some extent, on honourable and right honourable members, on how many divisions they demand,” he added.

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