27th May 2020
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Forcing MPs to return to Parliament risks communities’ safety, says Shetland’s Alistair Carmichael

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The UK government’s push to resume physical proceedings in Westminster risks “marginalising” outlying communities, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has warned.

Mr Carmichael has written to the Scottish secretary Alister Jack, urging him to support the continuation of remote working procedures for Parliament, due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The letter follows comments by the leader of the house, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, who said Parliament must return to physical proceedings at the start of June following the Whitsun recess.

Mr Rees Mogg said previously Parliament should “set an example” by returning.

However, the calls have sparked widespread opposition – particularly from politicians representing outlying regions.

Mr Carmichael said:“It is a simple fact that during this crisis we should work from home where possible to reduce the spread of coronavirus and keep people safe.

“Forcing MPs to choose between the safety of our communities and equal representation is unacceptable.

“Parliament must be a forum where every part of the United Kingdom can participate equally.

“The secretary of state knows this better than most and the challenges posed to communities that are more distant from Parliament. We are calling on him to be a voice for equal representation in government.”

His letter, co-signed by Scottish Affairs Committee member Wendy Chamberlain MP, added that their “primary concern was for the safety of communities”

“There are clear risks in travelling long distances by public transport to and from London every week, ” the letter stated.

“In the initial peak of the crisis, Westminster was a hotspot for the virus. As a result of this risk, many members feel that they cannot afford to put their constituencies in danger.”

The letter went on to highlight differences between the public health guidance for England and advice for the rest of the UK, which continues to be to stay at home.

The Electoral Reform Society has also raised concerns that the move to axe the “virtual Parliament” would mean fewer MPs would be able to contribute.

It said MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may be effectively “locked out” if they continue to follow their governments’ advice to “stay at home”.

ERS chief executive Darren Hughes said: “What are ministers afraid of?

“Shutting down the virtual Parliament to get more MPs cheering the PM on is blinkered and partisan.

“Opposition parties are right to ask the government to think again before guillotining these virtual proceedings.

“Over the past month, MPs have shown that they can work from home, while the ability to attend remains there for those who can.

“In fact, it can be even more effective than working from Parliament in some ways – voting times have been cut down from up to an hour with social distancing measures, to just 15 minutes.

“We have to keep learning from these innovations as we come out of the pandemic, so we can build a stronger, more effective parliament that reflects the diversity of the whole UK.

“It would be a travesty if ministers shut down a good thing – simply because they were afraid it was working too well.”

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