Jacob Rees-Mogg warns Parliament cannot scrutinise Government if MPs are not in Commons

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Jacob Rees-Mogg assured MPs Parliament would be 'Covid-19 secure' when they return - AFP
Jacob Rees-Mogg assured MPs Parliament would be 'Covid-19 secure' when they return - AFP

Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned that Parliament cannot properly scrutinise Government unless MPs are present in the House of Commons. 

The Leader of the House sought to assure MPs that the Commons would be "Covid-19 secure" by June 2, and added that MPs would not return to the "crowded, bustling chamber of old".

Mr Rees-Mogg said social distancing would continue with the number of MPs allowed into the chamber capped at 50 and that virtual proceedings would be dropped. 

One senior Tory MP told The Daily Telegraph that while it was important to return to Parliament, it should be done so “when the time is right”. 

“We should be led by the science,” he said. 

“We should be a good example, rather than rushing back.”

However opposition parties MPs failed in their bid to take control of the Commons agenda to enable a vote on how the chamber operates post the Whitsun recess, after their amendment was not selected.

In what appeared to be a protest vote to the Government's move to end virtual proceedings next month the MPs forced a vote on Wednesday’s original timetable motion, which did not include any mention of virtual parliament, but it was approved by 350 votes to 258, affording a Government majority of 92.

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP, accused the Government of “reckless, cavalier and downright dangerous” by forcing “members to make a choice between standing up for those who elected them and putting their own health and the health of others at risk”.

“Switching off the computer and barring members from participating online will reduce the ability of members of parliament to scrutinise Government,” he told the Commons. 

“It is simply orwellian to pretend that it will enhance it.” 

Mr Rees-Mogg said MPs' staff will be "strongly advised to continue working from home" while work is ongoing to assess how those with underlying health conditions who have been told to shield can contribute to proceedings.

It follows five weeks of sittings in which MPs have contributed either in person or over Zoom.

Mr Rees-Mogg added that “under the hybrid proceedings the time this House is able to spend debating legislation faces being cut by around two-thirds”, which prevented the “proper level of scrutiny” being given to the 36 Bills put forward by the Government in the Queen’s Speech.

He said the present arrangements prevented progress being made in “a timely fashion” and told MPs that “in line with Government advice for those who cannot do their jobs from home, I am asking members to return to their place of work after Whitsun”.

"We will not be returning to the crowded, bustling chamber of old, we will be observing social distancing."

He cited a test carried out on Tuesday for a new system for divisions that would ensure MPs are able to vote whilst remaining 6ft apart, and added that there was extra cleaning on site and that the congestion charge would be “paid for members of staff so they can drive in”. However, Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP, said by imposing such measures the Government would make MPs undertake "non-essential journeys" to return to Parliament. 

"If ever there was a case of do as I say, not as I do, then this is it,” he said. 

Returning to work: what does life look like after lockdown?
Returning to work: what does life look like after lockdown?

Meanwhile Valerie Vaz, the shadow Commons leader,  cautioned that MPs were still working, despite being at home. "He keeps saying if others are going to work, the Government expects us to go to work - we are at work, we are at work at all times, and the Government's own advice is if you can work from home then do so,” she said. 

Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said trade unions representing parliamentary staff had offered to work with the Government on a phased return to a physical parliament from now and the summer.

"It is incredibly disappointing that the Government has chosen to ignore the voice of staff and impose a full return to parliament in two weeks, including physical voting, that will mean hundreds of people packed into parliament's narrow corridors putting MPs and staff at risk,” he said. 

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