Government u-turn on virtual Parliament shut-down – campaigners react

Posted on the 4th June 2020

  • Press release from the Electoral Reform Society, for immediate release: 4th June
  • Contact Josiah on [email protected] / 07717211630. Spokespeople available for comment

The Electoral Reform Society has welcomed a partial u-turn from the government on the shut-down of virtual proceedings – but warn some MPs will still be ‘locked out’.

MPs nodded through plans this afternoon to extend proxy voting to ‘clinically vulnerable’ members [1], while MPs concerned about their health will be able to contribute to Commons questions remotely [2].

The ERS – the UK’s leading democracy group – led calls [3] earlier this week for remote voting and virtual contributions to be maintained for MPs who are ‘shielding’ for health reasons. Concerns from MPs and campaigners appeared to lead to a u-turn from the government on Wednesday.

MPs will debate Parliament’s adjustments to the Covid crisis in an emergency debate on Monday.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This week has been an abject lesson in how not to approach changes to our democracy. Ministers initially insisted on what looked like a full shut down of all remote participation, before the farce of enormous queues to vote, and the prospect of scores of MPs being effectively locked out of politics triggered a u-turn.

“It is good news that the ministers have now agreed to maintain some form of remote contributions during the pandemic. At-risk MPs will now be able to contribute to Commons questions remotely, and clinically vulnerable MPs able to proxy vote – a small step forward from previous undemocratic proposals.

“The far easier and safer option to Thursday’s compromise would have been to maintain remote voting and virtual contributions for the duration of the pandemic. But today’s concessions have reduced the prospect of millions of voters being made voiceless and locked out of politics.

“There is more to do to ensure that MPs who are carers or living with those who are shielding are not disenfranchised. This must be raised at the emergency debate on this on Monday, and we hope ministers start working across the house to find solutions. The government must keep the option open for returning to fully hybrid proceedings should the health threats worsen. We have already seen the potential impact of this, with a minister being tested for Covid.

“Unfortunately what we’ve seen has been typical of Westminster’s centralised decision-making, with an over-powerful executive and scrutiny being hampered. Our democracy remains far too vulnerable to these risks, and we need long-lasting political reform to put voters first.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] Motion: https://twitter.com/PARLYapp/status/1268567271384985601

[2] Motion: https://twitter.com/PARLYapp/status/1268565569445527556

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/01/rees-moggs-plans-for-mps-to-vote-in-person-branded-beyond-a-farce

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