Coronavirus: Senior Tory urges return of virtual parliament as Commons speaker warns of MPs becoming ‘superspreaders’

Rees-Mogg told MPs they have ‘duty’ to be in the chamber during pandemic

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 17 October 2020 13:33
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Jacob Rees-Mogg tells MPs they “have a duty to legislate

Jacob Rees-Mogg is facing calls from a senior Conservative and chairs of Commons select committees to reintroduce the “hybrid” parliament and virtual voting for MPs as cases of coronavirus continue to rise across the country.

The intervention from Sir Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Liaison Select Committee, came after Mr Rees-Mogg insisted parliamentarians had a “duty” to be physically present in the chamber even during a pandemic.

Earlier this week Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, warned MPs could “easily become superspreaders” as they travel to Westminster from across the country, including virus hotspots.

However, he said it would be a decision for the government whether to introduce a motion to return to the “hybrid” parliament that was used by MPs during the initial months of the coronavirus crisis, until June.

Under current arrangements, MPs in the chamber are limited to 50 to comply with social distancing guidelines and can contribute via Zoom for certain aspects of business, but cannot participate in main debates on legislation.

In a letter to the leader of the Commons Mr Rees-Mogg, Sir Bernard said he had been asked by a “number” of Westminster’s select committee chairs to express concerns over the operation of the House of Commons amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

“We would like to see a resumption of hybrid proceedings across all House business – including voting, as recommended by the Procedure Committee – whilst cases continue to rise and higher-level restrictions remain in place across large parts of the country, particularly London itself,” he wrote.

He added: “As more areas come under greater restrictions to control the spread of Covid-19, it will become increasingly difficult for the public to understand why members are still required to travel to and from London in order to represent them.

"Hybrid proceedings have their own limitations, but they have been shown to work and to allow members from across the UK to participate without risking further spread of the virus."

“The government has said that people who can work from home should do so. Hybrid proceedings have their own limitations, but they have been shown to work and to allow members from across the UK to participate without risking further spread of the virus.”

After unions representing parliamentary staff and opposition parities urged for a return to the hybrid parliament, however, Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “It is unquestionably the cases that democratic scrutiny is essential even during a pandemic.

“We have a personal responsibility, we have a duty to legislate, we have a duty to be here. We have to show the way and to suggest that democracy accountability is not an essential service seems to me an offence to democracy.”

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