Politics

Debate begins as to whether MPs should ‘set an example’ by returning to Commons

An empty House of Commons: Debate has begun as to whether MPs should return to work. Source: UK Parliament (via Wikimedia Commons).

By Tom Kingsbury

On Tuesday the 12th of May, MPs made history by casting the first ever remote parliamentary
vote.

The vote cast was not to implement a new law, however Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has authorised remote voting on
legislation, so we can soon expect to see voting remotely on laws come into effect.

The cross-party Commons Procedure Committee approved the move but said the security of
the system should be kept under review.

The implications of Coronavirus on politics and diplomacy could be significant, with many
events and meetings that would previously have taken place in person now needing to be
conducted remotely.

Social distancing measures are being applied in the House of Commons, with a maximum of 50
MPs allowed in the building at any one time, with many MPs conducting their work remotely.

Jessica Tuchman Mathews, a Governing Board member of the international organisation SIPRI
said on Monday that “we will have to learn how to function in a very different world.”

“The importance of interpersonal relations,” she said, “is going to be very very difficult to
surmount.”- Jessica Tuchman Mathews

But Commons leader Jacob-Rees Mogg has encouraged parliament to “set an example” to the
rest of the country by returning to the commons following the Whitson recess of the House,
which ends on the 2nd of June.

He said:

“it is vital that when we are asking other people to return to work and go to their places of
work if they cannot do so from home we should not be the ones exempt from that”

“Indeed, we should be leading by example.”

A member of the SNP, Tommy Shepherd, rejected this idea, suggesting the Commons follow the Scottish
parliament in committing further to online proceedings.

Whilst this idea has been reviewed, there are concerns Westminster, a much older building
than the devolved parliaments, lacks the same infrastructure and technological capabilities to
successfully transition online.

On May 13, some members of the public in England began to return to work, as the
Government begins its plan to start gradually lifting the lockdown.

Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, who are devolved nations with control over their own health services, are more hesitant to begin lifting restrictions. They have sought stricter lockdown measures throughout the pandemic than those put in place by England.

The Government’s plan, announced on Sunday May 10, is a ‘conditional’ plan. There have already been
concerns in London about the number of people taking public transportation, with scenes of
buses and tubes so full people are not able to follow the government’s social distancing
guidelines.

In the coming days and weeks, we will see how feasible the idea of the UK work force –
including MPs – returning to work is.

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