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Fri, 3 July 2020

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By Andrew McQuillan
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EXCL Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘incomprehensible’ plans to reopen Commons will turn ill and disabled MPs into ‘eunuchs’, senior Tory warns

EXCL Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘incomprehensible’ plans to reopen Commons will turn ill and disabled MPs into ‘eunuchs’, senior Tory warns

The Commons Leader has asked MPs to return from next week.

4 min read

The Government’s current plans to bring the House of Commons back from June 2 will turn self-isolating and disabled MPs into “parliamentary eunuchs”, a former minister has warned.

Rob Halfon, the MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Committee, said it was “democratically unjust” to ask all MPs to return to the chamber in person, as Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed that part-virtual sittings would be curtailed.

The Government has faced a backlash from some MPs over the plan to end the so-called “hybrid Parliament”, with Mr Rees-Mogg writing to members this week to confirm that the House will return from next Tuesday to discuss how it will now operate.

The sitting, he said, would allow MPs to decide “on the approach to physical divisions and social distancing in the Chamber, now that the motions on hybrid proceedings have lapsed“.

But Mr Halfon, who has a disability, said that while Parliament should return “in a phased and deliberative manner”, MPs with health conditions would be left out under the current proposals. 

Writing for The House Live, the former minister said: “Those MPs who are in good health – not self-isolating, shielding or sick – should return to work if they can. This sets an important example to the nation that, slowly slowly, we are making our way down from the coronavirus Everest.

“But, what is absolutely not right – and democratically unjust – is, if those MPs are self-isolating, shielding or sick and have to stay at home – then these very MPs will become the metaphorical equivalent of parliamentary eunuchs.”

He added: “This is because their role as legislator is being snipped away. What is the most important role of a Parliamentarian, apart from working hard for his constituency? It is to vote on the laws and key decisions of the country, to have a chance to change and influence policy by voting in a backbench debate, Private Members’ Bill or Government business.

“Yet, for some incomprehensible reason, hundreds of MPs in this position are denied that important right – to be a proper legislator.”

Mr Halfon said MPs had been given “no reason why” online voting had been brought to an end or why proxy voting, allowing another MP to vote on their behalf, would also be “unmanageable”.

“It is truly extraordinary that a decision has been made in this way,” he said.

“MPs who are able to go in and vote will be able to show-off to their constituents, like Giant Haystack in the Wrestling Ring, yet those MPs who genuinely cannot come back to Westminster, will face questions from local residents why they are not voting, have to explain their personal circumstances, which may be uncomfortable for them to do, and, see their voting record trashed in the internet league tables. Not particularly helpful at election times.”

Blasting the “nonsense excuses given for the multiple v-signs” directed at sick and disabled MPs, Mr Halfon said it was time for “the powers-that-be” to “see sense”.

“In 1928, a Stanley Baldwin Conservative Government equalised the franchise to all those over 21,” he said.

“It seems odd that in 2020, a decision has been made to disenfranchise a few hundred individuals – and parliamentarians to boot. Our MPs are not eunuchs, they are legislators.”

In his letter to MPs, Mr Rees-Mogg insisted that the Government remained open to ways to make it possible for MPs who are shielding to take part in proceedings.

He said: “Despite the important steps that have been taken, we do accept that some Members may feel reluctant to return because of their particular circumstances. 

“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 safely continue to contribute to proceedings within the House. This situation will remain under continued review and all relevant authorities, including the Procedure Committee, will be consulted.”

But Labour’s Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said the move to bring MPs back was a sign of "chaos".

"Jacob Rees-Mogg tried to abolish the hybrid remote parliament, which allowed all MPs to take part regardless of their personal circumstances, without any prior notice and against all advice on the last day parliament met," she said.

 “He has bungled it and is now forcing parliament to return early solely to correct his earlier discriminatory move.”

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