Rees-Mogg claims ‘compromises of virtual parliament are no longer necessary’
Motion from leader of the House of Commons will be voted on today, as MPs from all parties voice opposition
The leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has claimed that the virtual parliament is no longer needed and that parliament “can do so much better”.
In the face of vociferous opposition from a cross-bench assortment of MPs, Rees-Mogg has maintained his commitment to ending the current so-called hybrid parliament. This means that, when parliament returns from its Whitsun recess today, members will be required to physically attend in Westminster.
Writing exclusively for PublicTechnology sister publication The House, the Commons leader said: “The virtual Parliament brought us through the peak of the pandemic but it is no longer necessary to make the compromises it demanded. We can do so much better.”
Rees-Mogg stressed that MPs’ staff will continue to work remotely, meaning that, even if the vast majority of MPs themselves return to parliament “the total numbers on the estate will not increase significantly”.
He added that returning to a physical parliament will allow what is still a newly elected government to better continue its work in progressing a total of 36 new bills. This legislation will also benefit from an increase of two thirds in the amount of time MPs are able to debate the proposals.
“The resulting laws will be greatly improved as a result,” Rees-Mogg said.
Despite his evident desire to return to in-person proceedings as swiftly as possible, the North East Somerset MP praised the work of Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and House of Commons staff in enabling the virtual parliament.
“Parliament’s digital and broadcasting teams performed superbly,” he added. “The country’s parliamentary democracy has not been defeated by the pandemic.”
Rees-Mogg also acknowledged that many of his colleagues are concerned about the move – particularly those “who have been told to shield or are receiving specific government advice about their health”.
“The government is working with the house authorities to see how they can continue to contribute to proceedings within the house,” he said. “This situation will remain under review while the views of others, including the Procedure Committee, will be sought.”
But he concluded that “politics is better done face-to-face”.
“Even if the whites of the ministerial eyes are six feet away,” he added. “In the chamber, frontbenchers will have to keep on their toes as interventions are once again made possible. This exceptional aspect of British democracy, curtailed under the hybrid halfway house, can once again flourish.”
A motion tabled by Rees-Mogg stipulating that members “may only participate physically within the parliamentary estate” will be voted on by MPs today.
But it faces a number of proposed amendments, including from Procedure Committee chair – and Conservative former Northern Ireland and DCMS secretary – Karen Bradley, who wishes to retain the option for MPs unable to attend parliament to take part in debates via videoconference, and to vote remotely. The chairs of 16 other select committees are supporting her proposals.
Labour and other opposition parties have also put forward amendments to persist with the hybrid parliament.
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