Emergency debate called by Shetland MP over return of Parliament

Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has called for an emergency debate, which will be held in Parliament today over concerns around the requirement for members to be physically present.

Mr Carmichael has been a vocal critic of the return of the physical Parliament – having argued previously that it was unnecessary and risked excluding MPs who were having to shield due to Covid-19.

Parliament had been taking place “virtually” during lockdown, with procedures agreed to allow electronic voting.

However, MPs returned last week, following a call by Commons leader Jacob Rees Mogg.

Social distancing requirements saw MPs queuing to vote in a line that snaked its way over more than a kilometre through Westminster.

Concerns were heightened on Wednesday when business secretary Alok Sharma  appeared to be unwell during a speech in the Commons.

Although he later tested negative for Covid-19, the situation demonstrated the potential disruption that could be caused should an MP contract the virus. Due to the the government’s new contact tracing, it would mean anyone the MP had been in close contact with would need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Ahead of today’s debate, the Liberal Democrats have warned that Mr Rees Mogg must be “ready to resign” if MPs fall ill.

Mr Rees Mogg has previously defended his decision to bring back Parliament. He said the public expected Parliament to “deliver on the mandate provided by last year’s general election” and conduct effective scrutiny of the government. He argued that “Neither expectation can be fully realised while we are not sitting physically”.

Last week, government motions were agreed to allow virtual participation for some MPs who were restricted by Covid-19.


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