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Government faces calls to ‘extend virtual participation effectively’ in new report

Government faces calls to ‘extend virtual participation effectively’ in new report

The House of Commons Procedure Committee has urged the Government to 'extend virtual participation effectively' and 'listen to reason'.

The Committee, which is made up of ten Conservative MPs, 5 Labour MPs and 2 SNP MPs, considers the practice and procedures of the House of Commons and can make recommendations on such matters.

The Committee has today published a detailed report as part of its ongoing review of the impact that Coronavirus restrictions have had on the chamber, in which it has made a number of recommendations for the Government.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of people allowed in the House of Commons chamber at any one time is limited and some people are unable to attend at all due to health and other reasons. Some virtual participation in the Commons is allowed, however, the current rules for it have been criticised by some MPs. Currently, MPs can put questions to ministers by video link, including during Prime Minister's Questions, however, they cannot contribute to general debates on legislation or debates in Westminister Hall.

The report comes after a motion to extend virtual participation to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable failed to be approved by MPs. In the report, the Committee says;

"We do not consider that there is a justifiable case for eligibility for virtual participation in debate to be determined by reference to clinical vulnerability. Nor do we consider it appropriate to determine eligibility on a basis different from that for virtual participation in scrutiny proceedings. We therefore recommend that the criteria for eligibility for virtual participation in all House proceedings be made uniform at the earliest opportunity"

Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, said:

"The Government must think strategically, listen to reason, and heed MPs on all sides of the House. Virtual participation must be extended to those who need it, so the Government faces the full scrutiny of all Members of the House of Commons, and not just those Members it wants to scrutinise it.

"The Procedure Committee report calls on the Government to recognise the concerns of many colleagues and extend virtual participation effectively, so MPs who cannot attend debates due to reasons arising from the pandemic can continue to represent their constituents and participate virtually.

"Colleagues with caring responsibilities or who have family members who are clinically extremely vulnerable are not covered by the Government’s current proposals. This is unacceptable. MPs should not be faced with a choice between representing their constituents in key debates and protecting their loved ones."

The report comes in a week where the current arrangements for virtual participants in the Commons have been criticised by some MPs.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch who is currently being treated for breast cancer said she was “disappointingly unable to participate” in a Westminster Hall debate on breast cancer because of a ruling by Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees Mogg.

Mother of the House Harriet Harman said on Sunday that "all MPs should be able to speak remotely or in person."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared via video link in the chamber for the first time during Prime Minister's Questions due to him self-isolating.

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