Jacob Rees-Mogg told by committee to make virtual parliament arrangements available to all

Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons

Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons - Credit: Parliament Live

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has been urged to make virtual participation in parliament available to all MPs as soon as possible.

The government has been criticised in recent weeks for its reluctance to bring back hybrid proceedings for the House of Commons, as per the first coronavirus lockdown in the spring when MPs could participate via video links if they were unable to travel to parliament.

Rees-Mogg announced this week plans to extend virtual participation to allow extremely vulnerable MPs to take part in debates until the end of March but stopped short of making it universal.

He confirmed the changes would be made following an appeal from Conservative former minister Tracey Crouch, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June and had been unable to contribute to a breast cancer debate last week.

But now the Commons Procedure Committee has called for those changes to be applied to all MPs, no matter their circumstances.

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The report concludes that there is “no justifiable case for eligibility for virtual participation in debate to be determined by reference to clinical vulnerability to Covid-19” and calls for the allowance of contributions by online video software to be made “uniform at the earliest opportunity”.

Committee chair Karen Bradley said: “Virtual participation must be extended to those who need it, so the government faces the full scrutiny of all members of the House of Commons, and not just those members it wants to scrutinise it.

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“Colleagues with caring responsibilities or who have family members who are clinically extremely vulnerable are not covered by the Government’s current proposals. This is unacceptable.

“MPs should not be faced with a choice between representing their constituents in key debates and protecting their loved ones.”

Politicians, including committee chairs, have complained that they do not feel they are able to properly represent voters due to fears over travelling during the pandemic.

Conservative chairman of the Liaison Committee Sir Bernard Jenkin said “a significant number” of fellow chairs felt “unable to carry out their constitutional function because they cannot risk exposing themselves or their families to Covid infection”.

Fellow Tory MP Philip Dunne, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, told a debate this week: “I haven’t been able to participate in a debate since the middle of March and I do not feel that I am fulfilling my function as a member of parliament properly.”

A government spokesman said: “The government firmly believes that constituents are best served when parliament meets physically to the fullest extent possible.

“The speaker has worked hard with the House authorities to create a safe Covid-secure workplace for all who need to attend so that, just as teaching and medical professions are working in person to keep the country moving, so are MPs and peers.”

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