Speaker Lindsay Hoyle warns of ‘deadlock’ over end of virtual Commons as MPs asked to form long queues to vote
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said MPs faced a ‘deadlock’ over the return of the chamber. (PA)
The Commons Speaker says he has has been forced to “break the deadlock” over controversial plans to end remote voting on Tuesday.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle expressed regret that agreement between the Government and Opposition “has not been forthcoming” amid a row over whether members with health conditions who are shielding from coronavirus will be excluded.
MPs will decide on Tuesday whether to back the Government’s proposals for an end to the hybrid Parliament, which has allowed a mix of physical and virtual attendance in the Commons during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Government has argued that MPs must be present in the chamber for it to properly do its job, with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Monday saying that “if Parliament is to deliver on the people’s priorities it must sit physically”.
He has tabled a motion making clear that MPs “may only participate physically within the Parliamentary estate”.
But some members have warned that this will shut out potentially two hundred MPs who will not be able to attend in person.
A rival plan has been tabled by a group of senior MPs that would allow those not able to travel to Westminster to vote remotely and keep participating in debates via video-link.
In a letter to MPs, Sir Lindsay - who has made clear that traditional voting through the division lobbies is incompatible with social distancing rules - set out his plans to prevent overcrowding in the Commons.
“While I don’t wish to stop a return to important elements of spontaneity, including interventions, some steps need to be taken to ensure that we can match those who need to be in the Chamber to participate at any one time with the limits on safe spacing,” the Speaker said.
And he urged MPs to be “patient” as he made clear that the return of physical voting in the Commons will require long queues around the Parliamentary estate.
He said: “You should go to Westminster Hall to join the back of the queue, which goes out through Members’ Lobby, down Members’ Staircase and into Westminster Hall, at two metre intervals.
“Rehearsals suggest that 30 minutes will be required for this type of division, but this timing will be adjusted in the light of experience.”
In a statement launching the guidance, Sir Lindsay made clear his frustration at the stalemate between parties on how to move forward as lockdown measures are eased.
"Ideally, I would have liked the Government and Opposition to have reached agreement on how we should conduct our proceedings and voting procedures - unfortunately this has not been forthcoming,” he said.
Sir Lindsay added: "As remote voting has lapsed and Public Health England have deemed our Division lobbies unsafe, I have had to devise a temporary way forward to break the deadlock - because the House must be able to have its say.
"It is not perfect, it will take time, and Members will need to be patient. But, it is the safest method I can think of to enable Members and supporting staff to maintain social distancing.
"However, I still remain hopeful that colleagues will agree on a method of participation that enables all Members to take part, especially those who are shielding, vulnerable or have caring responsibilities."