MPs face huge voting queues as they return to Commons amid coronavirus concerns

Social distancing during Prime Minister’s Questions Credit: House of Commons/PA

MPs intending to vote in the Commons on Tuesday will be made to form huge, winding queues through Parliament after the government dropped virtual proceedings, forcing Members to attend in person if they wish to participate.

The government scrapped a hybrid system - in place since the end of April -which enabled parliamentarians to either attend the Commons in person or contribute to proceedings from afar via Zoom.

The system allowed those who are 'shielding' - people considered clinically vulnerable to Covid-19 - to participate in proceedings without causing risk to their health.

But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted MPs must return to physical-only proceedings, claiming the ability to scrutinise had been diminished by the hybrid system.

The move has been followed by an outpouring of anger from MPs across the House who say their "democratic rights are being snipped away".

Provisions have been made in Parliament to allow MPs to form voting queues. Credit: Jeff Smith MP/Twitter

Senior Tory MP Robert Halfon, who has cerebral palsy, said the plan would turn shielding MPs into "parliamentary eunuchs".

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, 75, described the move as "damaging" and said it will "limit accountability & create a toothless Parliament".

She added: "As somebody in the ‘vulnerable’ category, I am unable to join them. I am furious that for the first time in my 25 years as an MP I am being denied the right to vote!

"The Govt wants 650 MPs to stand in a giant queue to vote on how the Commons makes decisions from now on," she wrote on Twitter.

Former shadow leader of the house Chris Bryant said the queues “would be like Alton Towers”.

MPs must still stay two metres apart in the Commons, but MPs will no longer be able to dial in via Zoom. Credit: Parliament

Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone, who is a carer for his wife, said the move was forcing him to choose between his family and participating in votes.

"You’re asking me to choose between the health of my family and abiding by your poxy stubbornness.

"I choose to fulfill my duties as a husband and family man," he wrote on Twitter.

Mr Rees Mogg has tabled a motion preventing the resumption of virtual voting that allowed MPs to have their say from afar during the pandemic.

If the House approves the plan on Tuesday, MPs may have to form kilometre-long queues in order to obey social distancing rules when voting – despite the Lords planning a move online.

Mr Rees-Mogg argued that democracy would “once again flourish”, having been “curtailed under the hybrid halfway house” which allowed MPs to take part in debates and vote remotely while up to 50 were in the chamber.

And he insisted that the government is working to establish how shielding MPs could continue to take part.

But the proposal has faced fierce criticism – with the Electoral Reform Society warning it poses a “real threat for democratic representation and political equality” if extremely vulnerable MPs are unable to vote.

Last month, the government pushed ahead with plans for MPs to return to the Commons on Tuesday. Credit: PA

Labour and opposition parties have tabled an amendment to the motion seeking to retain remote voting.

Shadow leader of the Commons Valerie Vaz warned Mr Rees-Mogg’s “discriminatory proposals” would result in “two classes of MPs”.

“Those who can physically attend and those unable to owing to the government’s own rules, including having an underlying health condition or shielding responsibilities.

“The abolition of the hybrid remote Parliament which allowed all MPs to take part regardless of their personal circumstances is discriminatory and would not be acceptable in any other workplace.

“We remain ready to work with the Government and all parties to reach a consensus that would allow all MPs to participate on an equal basis.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said that – if MPs need to vote on Tuesday – they will do so by filing past the left side of the despatch box table to vote Aye, and to the right side to vote No.

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

They will pause at the despatch box to state their name and voting intention.

Votes on subsequent days will be carried out under the arrangements agreed by MPs on Tuesday.

Sir Lindsay said it was “clear” that the House cannot conduct divisions safely via the usual voting lobbies, as it would be “difficult to maintain social distancing”.

MPs will be asked to only attend the chamber when they are listed to be called to speak during a particular proceeding.

In a statement, Sir Lindsay said: “While we will return to fully physical proceedings in the House tomorrow – they will not be the same as before.

“Ideally, I would have liked the Government and Opposition to have reached agreement on how we should conduct our proceedings and voting procedures – unfortunately this has not been forthcoming.

“As remote voting has lapsed and Public Health England have deemed our Division lobbies unsafe, I have had to devise a temporary way forward to break the deadlock – because the House must be able to have its say.

“It is not perfect, it will take time, and Members will need to be patient.

"But, it is the safest method I can think of to enable Members and supporting staff to maintain social distancing.

“However, I still remain hopeful that colleagues will agree on a method of participation that enables all Members to take part, especially those who are shielding, vulnerable or have caring responsibilities.”