TORY plans to shut down digital parliament proceedings and have MPs return to the House of Commons are “unworkable and unsustainable”, the SNP have said.
A new report released by the Procedure Committee has said the virtual arrangements must stay in place “for as long as the pandemic continues” – but Tories voted to shut down the system by June 2 and have members back in the building.
Despite plans to limit the number of MPs in the Chamber to 50 with each party represented, there are fears over how voting can be done safely in the lobbies as well as concerns for the security, catering and support staff who work in Westminster. The Procedure Committee said there are “significant deficiencies” in the Tories’ plans and urged the Government to keep the digital system up and running.
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Disabled MPs, including former Tory minister Robert Halfron, have warned the Government is “acting recklessly” by trying to force members with long-term health conditions to travel to London in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jacob Rees-Mogg said last week that the digital proceedings did not allow for proper scrutiny of the Government, and denied that MPs were being told to return to support Boris Johnson who has struggled against Keir Starmer’s questioning during PMQs in recent weeks.
The SNP, alongside the Procedure Committee and the Public and Commercial Services Union, are calling on the UK Government to keep the hybrid proceedings going given the extent of the issues returning safely carries.
But the party added that it would be sending the minimum number of MPs required to hold the Tory Government to account back to Westminster if this is not possible.
Shadow leader of the house Tommy Sheppard said: “The SNP has been clear from the start that virtual participation must continue – that is the best way to do our jobs and protect public health, in line with the guidance across the four nations.
“The Tories have some serious questions to answer. Instead of accepting the cross-party consensus to retain hybrid proceedings, they are forcing MPs from across the UK to travel hundreds of miles to Westminster – and all because the Prime Minister isn’t very good at his job and wants to be surrounded by braying backbench Tory MPs.”
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He continued: “SNP MPs will continue to press for full virtual participation and we urge the Tories to scrap and reverse their botched plans. If they do not, we will balance protecting public health and Scotland’s democratic voice by sending the minimum number of MPs required to hold the UK government to account, while the majority of MPs will work in their constituencies and committees that meet remotely.”
Sheppard added: “Once this crisis is over it will be all the more important that the people of Scotland have the choice to shake off Westminster for good and build a better future as an independent country.”
Commenting today, Procedure Committee chair Karen Bradley said sending MPs back would be “suboptimal” given the current restrictions.
She went on: “This is going to be a Parliament still not scrutinising Government in a way that it should.
“With only 50 members in the chamber, with only those that are able to be there physically because they have not got underlying health conditions, or for other reasons, we are disenfranchising a great swathe of members and their constituents.”
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, too, has expressed concern over the proposals. Speaking to The Times, he told them he’d made clear to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg that members cannot be excluded base on their age and health.
He added he was very worried about how quickly Covid-19 could spread if it is brought into Westminster.