End to virtual parliament described as unacceptable and dangerous

The UK government has come under criticism after the virtual parliament system created in light of the coronavirus pandemic was brought to a halt, heralding a situation which has been described as “unacceptable and dangerous”.

In recent weeks MPs have been able to participate remotely in parliamentary proceedings, allowing those in vulnerable categories and those who would need to travel long distances to work from home in line with public health advice.

But Isles MP Alistair Carmochael has spoken out after the government imposed an end to the virtual system.

The decision, he says, fails to take into account the needs of rural areas such as Shetland.

An amendment aimed at restoring remote voting for those shielding was rejected by 37 votes.

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said: “In order for me to get here today, it required a journey of 18 hours. I cannot and will not do that every week.

“Apart from anything else, the return journey will be 26 hours long and would require me then to go into self-isolation for 14 days — the only responsible way to live in a community such as mine.

“Having come here, I cannot go back until it is safe to my family and my community for me to do so.

“I think it is important that this House should be a Parliament for the whole of the United Kingdom.

“What the Leader of the House brings to us today is a recipe for us being a Parliament essentially of people who live within driving distance of London, and that is simply as unacceptable as it is dangerous.

“We know that it is only a matter of time before somebody who ought to be shielding and should not be here will find that there is some big incident in their constituency, and they will want to be here articulating the case of their constituents, because that is what we do. Inevitably, they will end up coming here when they should not, putting themselves, their family and their community at risk.”

Speaking after the government rejected amendments that would have continued remote participation, Mr Carmichael said: “By putting party interests ahead of everything else the government has made the “mother of parliaments” a joke. They have shredded parliamentary values in the name of protecting parliamentary tradition.

“There was something deeply distasteful about government ministers marching through Parliament to say that they want to bar their colleagues who are shielding from voting remotely. I suspect that history will not look kindly on their behaviour.”


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • June 3rd, 2020 11:22

    Anybody know why it took him 18 hours and will take 26 hours to go back to Orkney?

    • Peter Hamilton

      • June 3rd, 2020 13:12

      That is simple Geography as any dentist could tell you Johan. It is easier going down hill than up.

      • John Thomas

        • June 5th, 2020 15:21

        I recently read an interesting article by Andrew “Freddy” Flintoff claiming the Earth was flat. If true, this would surely mean that he would have been merely moving along a flat surface, so the up or down effect you claim would not be called into play. I suppose the difference in travel times observed would tend to undermine Freddie’s case a little here, so I am still not convinced myself, although I retain on open mind.

    • Suzy V Jolly

      • June 3rd, 2020 13:18

      Flight to Aberdeen, train to Edinburgh, overnight sleeper train to London on the way down; there’s not so many flights at the moment to London.

  • Ian Tinkler

    • June 3rd, 2020 11:46

    I think he meant by return, both ways.

  • Martin Tregonning

    • June 3rd, 2020 13:17

    I believe it was because of the lack of flight schedule options, combined with the real risk from being in a confined space with potential COVID-19 carriers, which meant that the obvious choice was the train, where you could socially distance. But it was all explained in full on the Facebook posts.
    Rather than focus on Mr Carmichael’s travel arrangements, I think it is more important to change the farce being carried out in Westminster, with long queues to vote, only 50 out of our 650 MPs being allowed in the chamber at any one time, and (until the u-turn today by the PM) shielding MPs being forced to attend in person to vote.

    • John Thomas

      • June 3rd, 2020 17:20

      I completely agree, the whole situation is a farce. I am not the biggest fan of technology, as our beloved grandson will tell anyone who will listen, but in this case the ‘virtual’ parliament was a boon to faraway and vulnerable MP’s and it seems ridiculous to remove it. As always, there could have been a compromise to allow both sides to be satisfied if they were willing to put their party political differences aside. For example, MP’s could follow the medical profession’s lead with so called ‘Robo-doctors’. This is essentially an Ipad mounted on a robotic base with wheels, controlled by the user. Such off the shelf technology could be used here. Such ‘Robo MP’s could be operated remotely by the user, while the unit itself files through the lobbies in an orderly queue, a nod to parliamentary procedure and precedent. Social distancing would still have to be observed to prevent the spread of viruses, but I feel all sides could be happy with such a compromise were they able to listen to British Common Sense.


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