Campaigners have called for a return to virtual voting at Westminster due to fears that Welsh MPs could be “locked out” of the House of Commons due to the new lockdown.
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford announced yesterday that Wales will go into a two-week lockdown from this Friday, 23 October until midnight 9 November.
London also moved into the ‘high risk’ Tier 2 English category over the weekend.
MPs cannot currently take part in legislative stages or debates remotely – despite only 50 MPs being allowed in the Commons chamber.
Meanwhile, MPs continue to vote in person, or must self-certify that they are unable to attend due to health reasons to obtain a proxy vote.
While some MPs can take part in some proceedings remotely (oral questions, urgent questions and ministerial statements). remote participation extends only to MPs who have self-certified as unable to attend Westminster for medical/public health reasons related to the pandemic.
“With most of Wales currently in local lockdown, and a national ‘firebreak’ beginning this Friday, Welsh MPs and their staff are at risk of being shut out of Westminster,” Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said.
“No one should be pushed to travel hundreds of miles to-and-from high-risk areas – the risks are simply too great.
“Remote voting and virtual contributions were working well before the UK government prematurely shut it down. They continue to work well in the Senedd and in the Scottish Parliament.
“The government should listen to the cross-party calls to restore fully hybrid proceedings, until the risk levels in the nations and London are back to safer levels. Anything else risks sending the wrong message to voters – and a worrying opportunity for a super-spreader event among our representatives.”
Some Welsh MPs, however, have called for in-person proceedings to continue despite the pandemic.
Virginia Crosbie, Tory Ynys Môn MP said: “We sat during the war. We must sit now at this the most important time for this country.”
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has also urged the government to back the return of virtual proceedings, as well as senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said that Parliament had a duty to safeguard staff as well as voters’ representatives.
“A super-spreader event in the Palace of Westminster would be incredibly damaging not just for health but for public trust too,” he said.
“With London now a high-risk area, Parliament must respond swiftly and efficiently. We must ensure all MPs can fully participate, before they risk being locked out. The government must listen carefully to these cross-party calls for a return to virtual proceedings.
“The power to switch to virtual proceedings rests with the government. There is a strong case that this should be transferred to a cross-party Speaker’s commission to ensure the power is not used with partisan interests in mind.
“Remote voting was working well before the government shut it down. Reinstating this would be a good start
“With two out of four UK nations now facing full lockdowns, and Scotland considering travel restrictions, it is clear that the government must work with the Speaker and backbenchers who are rightly concerned about the risks of being shut out of participation by the pandemic.”