EXCL Jacob Rees-Mogg says Commons return will let democracy ‘flourish’ amid backlash over end of virtual voting
Jacob Rees-Mogg wants MPs back in the chamber from Tuesday.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has launched a spirited defence of his controversial plan to get the House of Commons back up-and-running this week, amid a mounting backlash from MPs over the end of remote voting.
The Commons Leader said it would “take more than the coronavirus” to stop parliamentarians from doing their jobs, as he pressed ahead with the end to the 'hybrid' system that has been in place during the pandemic.
And he insisted he understood “concerns about the change” from MPs worried that the move will discriminate against ill and disabled members required to shield from the coronavirus.
The move came as the Government published its motion on how proceedings will take place during the pandemic now that virtual voting has come to an end.
It makes clear that MPs “may only participate physically within the Parliamentary estate” - a move that some members have warned will shut out parliamentarians who cannot attend in person.
But, writing for The House Live, the Cabinet Minister said other workers had shown “British resolution and fortitude in these difficult times" - and heaped praise on parliamentary officials and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle for having “made history”.
“All those who have contributed to this work have made a real difference,” he said.
“The country’s parliamentary democracy has not been defeated by the pandemic.”
But he insisted that bringing the physical Commons back from tomorrow would improve the “quality of scrutiny” performed by MPs.
“The virtual Parliament brought us through the peak of the pandemic but it is no longer necessary to make the compromises it demanded,” he said. “We can do so much better.”
Launching a defence of the plan, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “It comes down to the quality of communication between MPs and ministers. Politics is better done face-to-face, even if the whites of the ministerial eyes are six feet away.
“In the chamber frontbenchers will have to keep on their toes as interventions are once again made possible. This exceptional aspect of British democracy, curtailed under the hybrid halfway house, can once again flourish.”
The intervention from the Commons leader comes after Rob Halfon, the MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Committee, told The House Live it was “democratically unjust” to ask all MPs to return to the chamber in person.
The former minister said MPs who were “self-isolating, shielding or sick and have to stay at home” would become the “metaphorical equivalent of parliamentary eunuchs” under the proposals.
The Tory chair of the Commons Procedure committee, Karen Bradley, has meanwhile said members will effectively be “disenfranchised” if the hybrid system is abandoned, and Labour has branded the proposals "chaos".
SNP MPs are threatening to stay away from the chamber altogether.
But Mr Rees-Mogg said allowing the chamber to return to would let MPs “come together - at the right social distance” to tackle problems faced across different constituencies instead of being "scattered hither and thither“ under the remote system.
The Cabinet minister insisted he had “heard from many MPs with concerns about the change”.
“For those MPs with underlying health conditions who have been told to shield or are receiving specific government advice about their health, the Government is working with the House authorities to see how they can continue to contribute to proceedings within the House,” he said.
But while Mr Rees-Mogg confirmed that the Commons’ traditional division lobbies - which MPs walk through to cast their votes - will be “replaced by a more appropriate alternative devised by the Speaker”, no details on how this system will work have yet been published.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “Westminster has been the seat of our democracy for centuries. It will take more than the coronavirus to change that.”