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politics

Carmichael pressures Scottish Secretary to support remote representation

Alistair Carmichael MP

The MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael, has urged the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to support the continuation of MPs being able attend parliament remotely.

The Northern Isles MP, who is a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, joined Wendy Chamberlain MP – also a Liberal Democrat and MP for North East Fife – in writing a letter to the Mr Jack, pressuring him to take action.

This follows statements from the leader of the house of commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, saying parliament must return to physical proceedings at the start of June, following the Whitsun recess, but some MPs have voiced concern about the potential impact on representation.

An exchange took place in parliament yesterday which saw Mr Carmichael challenge Mr Rees-Mogg, saying it had been proven that the business of this House could be done with some MPs attending via computer and the only purpose of requiring MPs to physically return would be to “shield the government from scrutiny and the Prime Minister from ridicule.”

Mr Rees-Mogg replied, saying “democratic accountability is fundamental to how our system works” and he thought that MPs had “a duty to return to doing their work thoroughly, properly and effectively” and that is what they would be doing, in line with government advice.

The campaign group, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) also issued a challenge to the government’s decision, raising concerns that number of MPs able to contribute will plummet if virtual contributions are banned – as parliamentary authorities rightly want to keep numbers in the chamber limited.

The ERS is also warning that MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be effectively “locked out” if advice remains to “stay at home” in those nations.

“What are ministers afraid of?,” Darren Hughes, chief executive of the ERS, has asked, “shutting down the virtual parliament to get more MPs cheering the PM on is blinkered and partisan.”

Speaking yesterday, Alistair Carmichael MP 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.”

Mr Jack was questioned on the issue in parliament yesterday, by SNP MP Allan Dorans. Mr Jack said: “Members of Parliament are key workers. More importantly, as a cabinet minister and a secretary of state, it is right that I should be here in the chamber so that I can be properly scrutinised and answer these questions.

“I came down at the weekend and travelled on a train very safely. I will return safely and I will be isolating myself when I do, but that is solely because I go back to family. I do not see why we cannot have proper scrutiny of parliament when we have the virtual proceedings, which work for some, but for me it is absolutely about being here, being scrutinised and being at the Dispatch Box.”

(Thumbnail image: UK Parliament/Jess Taylor)

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