My blog yesterday explored why Parliament needs to be radically overhauled, primarily in the light of COVID-19 but also in the context of a 300 year tradition that has needed changing for many decades. This point in history is an ideal opportunity to test some new ways of operating over the next 12 -18 months while we wait for C-19 to be dealt with and while many of us are having to also change the way we work and indeed enjoy social opportunities. As I wrote yesterday, it was very noticeable on Monday that certain MPs were resisting the changes that have been presented to them even though their rejection of these new approaches will place them and their colleagues under much greater risk than is needed at the moment. They are anxious to return to conventional ways of working by the 2nd June when they return from a week away beginning on 21st May which will demand that all 650 MPs must attend the Westminster Chamber setting that under COVID-19 can only accommodate around 8% of Parliament at any one time and due to the physical nature of their voting system it will take far longer to count votes than in the past, while the digital voting system which was tried out for the first time on Monday night and worked very well would allow all 650 MPs to vote including any based in their constituency offices or even from Hospital beds which will dramatically improve their prospect to serve their electors and protect themselves.
On Tuesday Sir Lindsay Hoyle set out his view which supports my own comments. Of course it is not a shock that some traditionalists like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Graham Brady take a very different approach, but what is most disturbing is that they both ignore that we, the people of the UK who pay their wages, and who they are supposed to work for are not being given the opportunity to propose the best way forward. It is because some of the traditions have been temporarily suspended due to COVID that there is now a chance to explore new ways of working that can be adapted in the future. Sadly the response from Brady ended with the phrase “I strongly endorse the comments of the Leader of the House. I very much welcome his commitment to bringing this temporary measure to an end on 20 May.” However that attitude is far more modest than the deeply mistaken approach taken by Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House who stated “Our constituents would expect nothing less…this House cannot be as effective in carrying out its constitutional duties without Members being present.” Clearly a Parliament that does not hold a face to face setting would be very different to the current arrangements but then Parliament as it currently exists was formed many decades ago with far fewer MPs than currently exist and there was no technology to allow people to communicate over many miles in a visual way. We now have a much more diverse range of voters and MPs than was the case 120 years ago and yet most of the provision in Parliament is based on what had been the case for the several hundred years earlier than 1900. We are now well into the 21st Century and it is time our Parliament was given a proper overhaul with the views of the public not just those of a small number of senior MPs. A classic example is that until COVID-19 is fully resolved the following comments as included in the image above makes a debate incoherent if these men insist on the debates involving all 650 MPs in the same premises as the House of Commons.
My priority, and the priority of all I am sure, is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated….I may suspend sittings between items of business to allow safe access to, and exit from, the Chamber. I am also quite prepared to suspend a sitting if I believe that the safe number of hon. Members in the Chamber risks being exceeded. If physical Divisions replace remote Divisions, they will take much longer than usual—probably around 30 minutes and possibly up to an hour—to ensure that social distancing can be observed.
Along with the rest of society, the House of Commons needs to change its way of working and given that MPs are supposed to represent their constituents and that they should vote but also engage with their community, it makes a great deal of sense for those that have no need or wish to take part in debates but need to vote, to be able to vote from their constituency office rather than having to travel into London to vote. This sort of change would have a significant improvement on the lives of all of our representatives and giving them the chance to participate in debates from their homes or constituency offices via video streaming could dramatically improve matters for the workers and their electors. In doing so this would remove many hours of delays as explained by Sir Lindsay Hoyle.