The government’s attempt to postpone debates which require MPs to attend parliament in person has been defeated by two Tory backbenchers.
Westminster Hall debates are continuing to take place during the pandemic, but MPs are not allowed to contribute via Zoom and must be in the room if they want to speak.
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has previously argued it would cost more than £100,000 to extend virtual participation to the secondary debating chamber, arguing there are “limits” on how much taxpayers’ cash can be spent on remote proceedings.
Social distancing measures are in place for Westminster Hall – where local and national issues are considered, including popular petitions – and debates have taken place this week.
Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle last week urged MPs to stay away from parliament unless “absolutely necessary”, although the government did not decide at this point to bring forward a motion to halt Westminster Hall.
But on Tuesday, the government tabled a motion in a bid to suspend sittings in Westminster Hall from Wednesday.
However, it was defeated after Conservative backbenchers Sir Christopher Chope and Peter Bone responded by laying an amendment to enable sittings to continue into February.
There was no time to debate the motion on Tuesday, meaning the tabling of the amendment automatically registered as an objection and blocked the motion.
Chope and Bone also tabled an amendment to a government motion which sought to postpone eight Friday sittings of the Commons in January, February and March, thereby blocking this proposal too.
MPs are allowed to contribute to all proceedings in the Commons via Zoom if they so wish, although the government has previously cancelled Friday sittings – when MPs consider legislative proposals from backbenchers – during the pandemic to limit the number of people on the parliamentary estate.
It is open to the government to provide time for a debate on the two motions and the amendments or find an alternative resolution – which could involve talks with those MPs opposing the proposals.