MPs told to return to Parliament by June 2 despite health concerns

MPs should return to Parliament by June 2, the leader of the House of Commons has said, despite social distancing concerns rising from how crowded the chamber usually is.

Jacob Rees-Mogg believes MPs should move inline with the government's ambition to move to phase two of lockdown relaxation, which ministers hope will see some children back in school as early as June 1.

He said hybrid Parliamentary proceedings - which involve most MPs contributing via video-link - do not provide sufficient scrutiny of policy matters.

“Under the hybrid proceedings, the time this House is able to spend debating legislation faces being cut by around two thirds," he said.

“We have to recognise that if we persist with the present arrangement it will become harder to make progress in a timely fashion.

“That is why, in line with Government advice for those who cannot do their jobs from home, I am asking members to return to their place of work after Whitsun.”

In normal times the House of Commons chamber can get very busy. Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

A spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said MPs and their staff should be allowed to continue to work from home after the Whitsun recess, which ends on June 2.

He said Labour's "priority is about the safety and wellbeing of staff" - as such, the party and others in opposition tabled an amendment to "continue the hybrid virtual arrangement after the Whitsun recess, to keep the current arrangement in place".

The amendment failed, paving the way for MPs to return to Parliament.

“Parliament has developed a successful system using technology to ensure the scrutiny of Government, while allowing people to work remotely," added the spokesman.

“The Government has yet to provide an honest explanation as to why they want to bring this virtual system to an end."

Mr Rees-Mogg responded to a suggestion that a return was planned to bolster support for Mr Johnson at PMQs, saying it is a “fundamentally trivial one”, and he would “ignore” it, adding the chamber’s return will be in line with Government advice.

In an attempt to allay fears over social distancing, Mr Rees-Mogg said MPs "will not be returning to the crowded, bustling chamber of old, we will be observing social distancing".

He made a previous impassioned speech in the Commons last week making the same points.

He said he was “reassured” on Tuesday by the progress being made in ensuring the parliamentary estate is “a Covid-19 secure workplace” and that MPs’ staff will be “strongly advised to continue working from home”.

Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “Only yesterday Mr Speaker, you organised a test of a new system for divisions that will ensure members can vote whilst remaining six feet apart.”

He added: “I would finally like to reassure those members with underlying health conditions who have been told to shield or are receiving specific Government advice about their health – we are working with the House authorities to see how they can continue to contribute to proceedings within the House.”

He did not answer whether MPs and parliamentary staff would have access to tests and masks when they return after recess.

He indicated the Commons may use a “roll call” system of voting once the digital hybrid proceedings end.

“As regards to how numbers will be kept down, there is a well-tried and tested pairing system and discussions are going on between the whips.

“So I expect that any member who is concerned about coming here will not have to attend or will not be whipped to attend.”