An MP has called for virtual parliamentary proceedings to be brought back, claiming that 50 members are stuck at home due to COVID and unable to represent their constituents.
The SNP’s Pete Wishart said the UK government should follow the lead of the Scottish government, which recalled MPs for an entirely virtual sitting of parliament on Wednesday.
He urged Commons Leader Jacob-Rees Mogg to allow the return of proxy voting and a hybrid parliament – where MPs had the option of participating virtually – “for the sake of democracy” and to keep everybody “safe and secure”.
But Mr Rees-Mogg dismissed the MP for Perth and North Perthshire’s request and accused him of wanting to “enjoy himself sitting at home”.
How did the ‘hybrid parliament’ work?
On 21 April 2020, temporary arrangements were put in place to ensure that proceedings in the House of Commons chamber complied with public health guidelines relating to the coronavirus pandemic and that social distancing measures were in place.
The arrangements – which allowed all MPs to participate in oral questions, urgent questions and ministerial statements virtually – were extended until 20 May, but then lapsed ahead of Whitsun recess.
Returning from recess in June, MPs took part in proceedings physically, with social distancing measures in place.
On 4 June, some MPs were granted the ability to take part in some proceedings remotely, including oral questions, urgent questions and ministerial statements. But they had to have “self-certified” as being unable to attend for “a medical or public health reason related to the pandemic”.
As the UK entered its second national lockdown in November 2020, the proxy voting scheme was extended to include all MPs until March 2021, and on 30 December, an amendment was agreed to enable all MPs to participate remotely in all business.
After being extended beyond the end of March, all temporary arrangements were removed on 22 July 2021 and MPs have had to be physically in the Commons to take part in business.
Call for return to hybrid proceedings
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Mr Wishart suggested hybrid proceedings should return and MPs should be allowed to participate virtually for their safety and for the safety of workers in Westminster.
He said Wednesday’s return to parliament “was entirely in person in a 19th century building with practically no social distancing measures in place”.
“Next week, of course, we will find out the true consequences of this and find out how many people are actually infected for this journey down to the House of Commons,” he added.
‘Some 50 MPs off with COVID’
Mr Wishart added: “It is estimated that one in 15 people in England now have COVID, one in 20 for the whole of the United Kingdom. Now, my very bad arithmetic calculations come to the conclusion that some 50 MPs must now be off with COVID from the House.”
He continued: “But with one simple measure, [Mr Rees-Mogg] could resolve all this. Turn it back on! Turn it back on! Bring back the hybrid parliament and proxy voting.”
Responding to Mr Wishart, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I am sorry that [Mr Wishart] doesn’t like doing his job, that he wishes to enjoy himself sitting at home. And I hope that he does want to do what members of parliament are expected to do and turn up in the House of Commons to be here.”