So nearly all of the Conservative MPs for Sussex have once again voted to prevent MPs from being able to take part in debates from outside of Parliament and for the voting to also to have to take place from within Parliament using no other systems. To be fair two Conservative MPs did abstain. It would of course have potentially been different had they not needed to actually attend the premises to vote for this as one of them was Nick Gibb who would never vote to oppose the Government, or in this case the Leader of the House of Commons so it his abstention indicates he was not present. Another abstainer was Caroline Lucas and again that seems strange because she was opposed to this proposal but perhaps she too was unable to attend the debate or the vote. Thankfully Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle did vote against this and the other Conservative abstainer was Tim Loughton who it is reasonable to assume opposes the demand that Jacob Rees Mogg explained yesterday in Parliament:
Nobody is banned from attending Parliament by law. The ancient right of MPs, which dates back to 1340, entitles Members to attend. However, I accept that, for some Members with particular health conditions, it is very difficult to attend—No law exists that stops Members from attending Parliament.
Parliament is the assembly of the nation. The public expect it to deliver on the mandate provided by last year’s general election, and they expect it to conduct the kind of effective scrutiny that puts Ministers under real pressure. Neither expectation can be fully realised while we are not sitting physically. That is why we are returning to work safely at the first opportunity in order fully to conduct the essential business not possible from our homes. This assessment is based on the facts. The stopgap of a hybrid Parliament was a necessary compromise during the peak of the virus, but, by not being here, the House has not worked effectively on behalf of constituents. Legislating is a key function of Parliament, yet there has been no ability for legislative Committees to meet since 23 March.
Why should Divisions be physical? Why is it important for votes to be physical? It is because we are coming here together as a single Parliament and voting on things that have a major effect on people’s lives. Every piece of legislation affects people’s lives one way or another. We should not vote quietly and secretly. Some people tweeted that they were doing it while going for a walk and things like that. Is that really the way to be voting on laws?
The temporary Standing Orders for remote voting were only ever temporary, and I do not think they would have been agreed had the scheme been put in place for longer; many people have always been opposed to remote voting, and we got a consensus for a brief period. I do not believe I would be acting in good faith if I were to extend it beyond the time that people understood when it was first introduced. It is important that we treat decisions of the House with the importance and accord that they deserve, and the decision was to do this on a temporary basis.
I think the system of catching Mr Speaker’s eye is a preferable system, but needs must, because we can have only 50 Members in the Chamber at any one point. However, this is a temporary expedient, and some of the other courtesies and normalities are being suspended.
It is clear that Parliament or at least, part of Parliament believes in sending out a clear message to our nation. That there is one set of rules and guidance for UK residents and another set of rules for themselves. Because it worked fine in 1340, it is good enough for 2020. Let us hope that within the next 20 years there will be an opportunity for MPs and Ministers to review the way that Parliament operates and learn from the current experience of businesses and Universities. They are finding all sorts of creative ways to use 21st Century technology to operate in a way that protects the individuals and environment at a time when lockdown version 2 is still underway. The nonsense that the only way of engaging with people is via a physical contact is one of the lessons that Rees-Mogg needs to learn from. Come 2040 when his historic ideas will be 700 years old it would be encouraging if they have been replaced with some modern ideas.