Coronavirus (COVID-19)—Government resists calls for a further extension to temporary hybrid proceedings

Coronavirus (COVID-19)—Government resists calls for a further extension to temporary hybrid proceedings

The House of Commons adjourned for the Whitsun Recess on 20 May 2020, but before that, the Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was called to respond to an urgent question on the conduct of parliamentary business after recess. Despite concern of MPs that an 'over-hasty' return to physical proceedings from 2 June 2020 may put MPs, their staff and households at risk, the government is resisting calls for the extension of temporary measures introduced to allow hybrid proceedings and remote voting in the Commons. The provisions introduced in light of coronavirus (COVID-19) were 'envisaged as temporary' and 'restrict the House's ability to perform its functions fully', particularly in terms of legislative business, which has been restricted during lockdown. With the lapse of subsidiary motions providing for continuation of the temporary measures, physical proceedings and voting are expected to resume, with procedures adapted to allow for social distancing.

Responding to questions on the return to Parliament after recess, Rees-Mogg insisted that ending the hybrid proceedings is essential in order to make progress with the legislative programme:

'I am sure all Members will agree that each and every one of the 36 Bills put forward by the government in the Queen's Speech deserves the proper level of scrutiny. We have to recognise that if we persist with the present arrangements, it will become harder to make progress in a timely fashion. That is why, in line with government advice for those who cannot do their jobs from home, I am asking Members to return to their place of work after Whitsun.'

The government insists that social distancing can and will be observed in Parliament:

'What is being proposed for the House is completely in line with what is being proposed by the government generally. It is a question of working through the five tests and of those who can go back to work, because they cannot work effectively from home, being encouraged to go back to work. We are in the same situation as everybody else. Measures are being taken, have been taken and will continue to be taken to ensure that coming to the House of Commons is as safe as it possibly can be.'

Preparations are being made to ensure that Parliament is 'COVID-19 secure' in accordance with the government's workplace guidance, including systems and procedures to restrict access and allow social distancing to be observed on the parliamentary estate. Staff will be encouraged to work from home where they can, but MPs will be expected to return to physical proceedings 'in a way that is advised, and properly orchestrated and organised'.

To view the transcript, see: Hansard, House of Commons, 20 May 2020—Conduct of Business After the Whitsun Recess.

Before rising for recess, MPs also debated a motion to establish and appoint the members of the Liaison Committee. The motion was contested because the government introduced its own candidate (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for chair, rather than allowing selection among current Select Committee Chairs by Liaison Committee members. Despite criticism from opposition MPs, the motion passed unamended.

To view the transcript, see: Hansard, House of Commons, 20 May 2020—Liaison Membership.

Source:  Hansard, House of Commons, 20 May 2020

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