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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Coronavirus: Return to hybrid Parliament in lockdown, unions urge

image copyrightPA Media

Several unions representing Parliament’s staff are calling for a return to hybrid proceedings as England re-enters coronavirus lockdown.

They have written to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg asking him to allow MPs to vote online.

They say a return to the hybrid model would “reduce the very real risk of a widespread outbreak in Westminster”.

Mr Rees Mogg previously said “there is no law and no local lockdown” that can prohibit MPs from attending Parliament.

Since June, MPs have been able to contribute to debates virtually but have had to vote in person, unless they have a proxy vote.

Some MPs have been granted a proxy because they are clinically vulnerable to the virus.

The letter, sent by Ken Gall, the president of the Trade Union Side, adds: “The current arrangements, which require greater physical attendance by MPs, their staff and parliamentary employees, have already caused concerns – including among some MPs – about potential risks.

“Figures also show that the number of staff with Covid sickness absence are rising and staff – having seen the government taking prompt action in response to rising cases nationally – will expect Parliament to respond similarly.”

According to Parliament’s website, the Trade Union Side exists in the House of Commons to provide effective industrial relations.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, which represents some of Parliament’s professional staff, said: “Requiring MPs to travel to Westminster just so they can vote in person is ludicrous.

“Not only is it encouraging unnecessary travel across the country, it means more staff are required to commute into the Parliamentary estate every working day.”

He added: “Thanks to the hard work and expertise of our members hybrid proceedings worked well during the last lockdown and there is no reason they can’t again.”

Mr Graham warned that failing to return to the hybrid model “risks infections getting so high that Parliament has to shut altogether. It’s time for Jacob Rees-Mogg to put the safety of parliamentary staff first and return to hybrid operations, including remote voting, while it is still an option.”

The general secretary of the PCS union, which also represents some parliamentary staff, echoed the sentiment.

Mark Serwotka said a failure to bring back the hybrid model would “show the government has scant regard for the health and safety of parliamentary staff who keep our democracy running.”

This post courtesy of bbc-politics

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This post courtesy of bbc-politics