MPs have voted to end the “virtual” Parliamentary proceedings they have been enjoying since the lockdown started.
From June 2, they will have to attend in order to take part in debates – even though the limit of 50 people in the Commons chamber at any time will remain.
How’s that going to work, then?
Jacob Rees-Mogg, laughably the current Leader of the House, reckons the change will restore sufficient scrutiny of policy matters, but it is difficult to understand his reasoning.
With fewer people allowed in the Chamber, there will be less opportunity for our representatives to have their voices heard.
Rees-Mogg whined that virtual proceedings slowed down debates to one-third of normal pace – but isn’t that better than excluding MPs from debates altogether?
And then there’s the question of whether the decision is effectively one to “euthanise” MPs:
Jacob Rees-Mogg has been told by a senior Conservative backbencher that an attempt to return to a “physical” parliament will in effect “euthanise” MPs who are sick, shielding and self-isolating.
Former minister Robert Halfon said the proposals would discriminate and threaten the lives of some MPs.
“Is it really morally just to say in effect to MPs, because you are not Tarzan-like and able to swing through the chamber, beating your chest shouting to your constituents: ‘Look, I am here!’ that you are effectively euthanised from the Commons?
“MPs who are disrupted by this awful pandemic are not just old horses to be sent to the knackers’ yard,” he said.
Some of you may be confused by Mr Halfon’s speech.
It seems he was not suggesting that MPs would catch the coronavirus and die in what some members of the public might consider a mercy-killing (as far as the UK’s citizens are concerned).
Instead, it seems he was suggesting that MPs would be excluded from proceedings, meaning they might as well be dead as far as the good of their constituents is concerned. It’s opaque.
More to the point, perhaps is a letter signed by 35 MPs, arguing that a return to a “physical” parliament could mean that those in high-risk categories including BAME MPs, older MPs or those who are pregnant will be disproportionately restricted.
One very dangerous aspect will be the return of physical voting, in which MPs will be packed into small spaces as they file through the “aye” or “no” lobby. That creates a threat of contracting Covid-19, that could be fatal for some.
But Rees-Mogg was never likely to listen to arguments against it. That is the traditional way in which MPs vote and, as the “Member for the 18th Century”, his emotional tie to it far outweighs any concern for the wellbeing of others.
ADDITIONAL: A reader has just reminded me that MPs were all given £10,000 to facilitate working from home. Are they going to give any of that money back? Ten big ones for just eight weeks’ lockdown seems exorbitantly excessive to This Writer!