BBC News

Covid: All MPs should take part in debates online - report

Published
image copyrightEPA
image captionBoris Johnson answered questions from MPs via video link for the first time on Wednesday

All MPs, not just those deemed highly "clinically vulnerable" to Covid-19, should be allowed to take part in Commons debates online, a report says.

Parliament's Procedure Committee recommends changing the rules at the "earliest opportunity".

It also suggests asking MPs to divulge their state of health could represent an "invasion of privacy".

But the government says most MPs should still attend debates in person if they want to contribute.

House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has argued that they should "behave as other key workers do".

  • Johnson appears at PMQs via video

Currently, all MPs can take part via video link in Commons proceedings relating to ministerial statements or when asking questions. But this right does not extend to speaking in full debates.

Earlier this week, Mr Rees-Mogg agreed to allow clinically vulnerable MPs to contribute remotely to debates.

But on Wednesday his proposal failed to get backing in the Commons, which was unable to pass it "on the nod". Objections were raised, meaning it needed a full vote, for which there was not time.

The government is expected to introduce another, similar proposal in the next few days.

'Not appropriate'

The Procedure Committee's chair, Conservative MP Karen Bradley, said Mr Rees-Mogg's position would leave the public "baffled", adding: "This is an entirely farcical situation."

She also told the Commons: "I ask the government to stop using short-term tactics that require constant U-turns and instead let that quarter of MPs [unable to attend in person] take part in debates [online]."

Mrs Bradley said of Mr Rees-Mogg: "Nobody, not even my righty honourable friend, has a monopoly on being right."

She asked the government to schedule a free vote on widening virtual participation in full debates to all MPs.

Fellow Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom said: "It's absolutely unacceptable that members are unable to fulfil their jobs properly in Parliament."

'Keep country moving'

The Procedure Committee is also asking Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to review the current system "not later than the week of 14 December".

A spokesman for Mr Rees-Mogg said the report would be considered "carefully" and that a response would come "in due course".

He added: "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."

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson gave his answers via Zoom during Prime Minister's Questions for the first time.

This happened because he is self-isolating after coming into contact with another Conservative MP who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Related Topics

  • House of Commons
  • UK Parliament

More on this story

  • Coronavirus: Return to hybrid Parliament in lockdown, says Labour