The ability for MPs to take part in and vote at Westminster remotely should be continued “indefinitely” in order to save taxpayers money on sending MPs back and forth to London, a Welsh party leader has said.
Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said that keeping the arrangements in place would also save on the need to construct a temporary debating chamber while £4bn refurbishments are carried out.
Yesterday House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said that MPs would once again need to travel to Westminster after June 2, once a two-week recess was over.
MPs’ staff will be “strongly advised to continue working from home” and social distancing measures that cap the number of parliamentarians in the chamber at 50 will continue, with physical voting taking up to 45 minutes to keep MPs at least six feet apart in voting lobbies.
But the move has been opposed by many opposition MPs who say that a resumption of ‘business as usual’ would force them to travel hundreds of miles to London to take part.
The Electoral Reform Society warned that MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be effectively “locked out” if advice remains to ‘stay at home’ in those nations.
And Jane Dodds said that remote working had “worked” and there was no good reason beyond “nostalgia” to go back to the old ways of doing things.
“It allows people to juggle their work and personal commitments, cut out repeat journeys to and from the office, and enable everyone to participate – no matter where they live,” she said.
“The House of Commons has shown that this is possible for MPs too. Due to new digital measures MPs can now contribute to debates, ask questions and vote from their constituencies.
“However, Jacob Rees-Mogg now wants to scrap these new measures, just weeks after it was implemented. He wants us to turn our back on all the progress we’ve made to modernise our Parliament.
“With the Palace of Westminster needing extensive renovations, surely now is the perfect time to be embracing these new methods of online working. By doing so we can avoid wasting taxpayers money on temporary debating chambers and allow Parliamentary business to continue.
“Westminster needs to move with the times and show the public that it is changing the way it works, just as they have had to do. MPs need to stand up and make sure this progress is not thrown away due to Mr Rees-Mogg’s nostalgia.”
The Electoral Reform Society said that virtual proceedings should continue until lockdown rules ease further, with scope to continue aspects which work well after the pandemic.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said that “shutting down the virtual Parliament to get more MPs cheering the PM on is blinkered and partisan”.
“Opposition parties are right to ask the government to think again before guillotining these virtual proceedings,” he said.
“Over the past month, MPs have shown that they can work from home, while the ability to attend remains there for those who can.
“In fact, it can be even more effective than working from Parliament in some ways – voting times have been cut down from up to an hour with social distancing measures, to just 15 minutes.
“We have to keep learning from these innovations as we come out of the pandemic, so we can build a stronger, more effective parliament that reflects the diversity of the whole UK.
“It would be a travesty if ministers shut down a good thing – simply because they were afraid it was working too well.”