Commons Leader Rees-Mogg signals no early recall of Parliament on the cards

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg

Ministers are resisting demands for an emergency recall of Parliament to respond to urgent questions about the coronavirus outbreak.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted MPs will return on April 21, the date agreed before the Easter recess.

MPs approved the Easter adjournment timings on March 25, minutes before the chamber rose, at a time when the increasing impact of Covid-19 was clear.

The motion was unopposed although several concerns were raised by opposition parties about their inability to scrutinise major decisions in this four-week period.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded “urgent talks” with the Government to discuss how MPs can put questions to ministers given the rising death toll and concerns over personal protective equipment supplies to NHS staff, among other issues.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for a return as soon as possible. Credit: PA

He added Parliament must be recalled “as soon as possible” when asked about the issue on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

A letter signed by a cross-party group of MPs demanding an “immediate virtual recall of Parliament” has also been sent to First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from Covid-19.

Talks involving Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the government, opposition parties and parliamentary officials are expected to continue this week about proposals for a “virtual Parliament” and what role technology can play as social distancing measures remain in place.

But only the government can request the Speaker to recall the Commons.

A spokesman for Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Parliament will return on April 21 to fulfil its essential constitutional functions of conducting scrutiny, authorising spending and making laws.

“In these unprecedented times, technological solutions have already been implemented for select committees and options are being prepared for the Speaker, the government and other parties to consider next week.

“It is important that we have a comprehensive solution that does not inadvertently exclude any members.

“The Leader of the House of Commons will respond to the leader of the opposition’s letter in the usual way.”

Parliament will return virtually on April 21 Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA

It is unclear whether a small group of MPs will still attend the chamber after recess, with others allowed to question ministers from their homes by webcam.

Work has been commissioned by Sir Lindsay to ensure a “virtual” chamber can be up and running after the Easter recess so MPs can return to duty.

MPs and peers are required to be physically present to walk through voting lobbies when passing legislation, with proxy voting allowed in some circumstances, but the Speaker has indicated exceptions could be made to ensure Parliament can function during the pandemic.

Before the recess, opposition parties and the Government sought to reach compromises to avoid votes although concerns about emergency legislation connected to coronavirus were left unresolved.

MPs also aimed to sit two metres apart, in line with social distancing guidelines, limiting the number of those in the chamber.