Senior MPs dismiss plan for 1km voting queue as they push rival bid to keep virtual Commons going
The Government wants to end the hybrid proceedings in the House of Commons (PA)
A group of senior MPs has launched a bid to reject controversial Government plans that could see MPs forming a one kilometre-long queue through Parliament to vote while social distancing.
Former Cabinet minister Karen Bradley is leading a rebellion against the ending of the hybrid Commons proceedings, which allowed for remote voting and virtual debates.
House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg wants to get Parliamentary procedure back to where it was pre-coronavirus crisis when it returns from recess on Tuesday.
He has tabled a motion making clear that MPs “may only participate physically within the Parliamentary estate” - a move that some members have warned will shut out potentially two hundred of them who will not be able attend in person.
There has been fierce criticism of the move to end the hybrid proceedings, and warnings from the Speaker Lindsay Hoyle the numbers allowed in the chamber will still be restricted to 50 in order to comply with Public Health England guidelines.
The Commons Speaker has said the traditional voting method where all 600-plus MPs walk through the division lobbies cannot be used - as it does not comply with social distancing.
But instead of retaining the ability for members to cast their ballot electronically, the Government says they will instead have to form on long queue, standing two-metres apart.
It will start in the Commons and stretch down through several corridors and sets of stairs, then into Westminster Hall elsewhere in the palace.
If only two-thirds of MPs take part in a vote then the queue will stretch around a kilometre in length, and would take at least half an hour for everyone to be counted.
But Ms Bradley, the chair of the powerful Procedure Committee, has put down amendments which would allow those MPs not able to travel to Westminster to keep participating to debates via video-link, and also for remote voting.
She has the support of the chairs of sixteen other select committees including a number of former ministers.
Meanwhile Labour and opposition parties have also tabled an amendment seeking to retain the hybrid virtual arrangements.
The Government has a majority of 80 so would need a sizeable rebellion to defeat it when it is put to a vote on Tuesday lunchtime.
But there is disquiet from many Tories at the plans to force everyone back from their constituencies while the country remains in lockdown.
One of those - Rob Halfon - said the Government must allow “those MPs genuinely affected by Covid-19, ie sick, shielding, or self-isolating" to be able "vote online or via proxy".
The shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz MP, said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg’s discriminatory proposals would result in two classes of MPs.
“Those who can physically attend and those unable to owing to the Government’s own rules, including having an underlying health condition or shielding responsibilities.
“The abolition of the hybrid remote parliament which allowed all MPs to take part regardless of their personal circumstances is discriminatory and would not be acceptable in any other workplace.”
And the Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael said: "These arrangements are not only wildly impractical but fail to take account of the needless risk created by hundreds of MPs travelling from every part of the UK to London during an ongoing public health emergency."
His party colleague Jamie Stone tweeted at Mr Rees-Mogg: “I’m a carer for my wife. You’re asking me to choose between the health of my family and abiding by your poxy stubbornness.
"I choose to fulfil my duties as a husband and family man.”
Meanwhile Labour veteran Dame Margaret Hodge said: “Tomorrow the Government wants 650 MPs to stand in a giant queue to vote on how the Commons makes decisions from now on.
"As somebody in the 'vulnerable' category, I am unable to join them. I am furious that for the first time in my 25 years as an MP I am being denied the right to vote!”
She added: “This damaging move will limit accountability and create a toothless Parliament.
"It means MPs in the 'vulnerable' category will be rendered voiceless and it will completely distort votes.”
The move to end remote participation in the Commons comes just at the moment the House of Lords is developing a new online system for peers “to vote at the touch of a smartphone screen or on a laptop or other device."
But Mr Rees-Mogg has said “if Parliament is to deliver on the people’s priorities it must sit physically”.
Writing for The House Live, he acknowledged the concerns of those MPs who feel they will not be able to attend, and said “the Government is working with the House authorities to see how they can continue to contribute to proceedings within the House”.
But so far the Leader’s office has not put forward any proposals for how they may be able to do so, other than offer them to be paired during votes.