Plans to end ‘virtual Parliament’ risk locking out Welsh, Scottish and NI MPs

Posted on the 13th May 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Wednesday 13th May, 2020.
  • Contact [email protected] / 07717211630 Spokespeople available for interview and further comment

Democracy experts have called on the government to rethink plans to scrap virtual Parliament proceedings at the end of this month [1].

It follows concerns Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs could be ‘locked out’ of proceedings [2] if virtual means of contributing to Commons business are abolished.

On Tuesday Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg announced that MPs should return to the Commons after May’s Whitsun recess, to ‘give the right message’ for the public to return to work. It came just a day after the Commons made history in a successful remote vote of all MPs.

Welsh regulations currently rule out anything but local travel, while the three non-English nations are still urging people to ‘stay at home’. The ERS have highlighted that Boris Johnson is ‘Minister for the Union’, while potentially excluding non-English MPs.

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

“Just as the virtual Commons finds its feet, the government are hitting the brakes.

“Virtual proceedings must be allowed to continue if advice to ‘stay at home’ remains in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Otherwise, this risks becoming an England-only Parliament, with other nations locked out. This is a grave threat to political equality and the principles of parliamentary democracy.

“MPs have shown they are able to work well from home. There should be no rush to scupper the successful innovations we’ve seen – from video-link to remote voting.

“MPs from across the nations have expressed support for maintaining the ‘hybrid’ proceedings until the pandemic is over. Closing that off unnecessarily will weaken parliament, not strengthen it.

“Speaker Hoyle has made it clear MPs and staff should not be forced to return until it’s properly safe and legal to do so. The government must not ride roughshod over these concerns.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jacob-rees-mogg-coronavirus-mps-work-westminster-virtual-parliament-a9511936.html More info here: https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/parliament-has-set-the-right-example-to-the-public-dont-undo-all-that-good-work

[2] See e.g. https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/snp-say-plans-end-virtual-parliament-could-put-lives-risk-2851118

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