Forcing MPs to physically return to Westminster and ending virtual sessions in the Houses of Commons risks “locking out” MPs from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, the Electoral Reform Society warned on Wednesday.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said that despite Boris Johnson's role as "Minister for the Union", he could he end up excluding MPS from the devolved regions of the UK.
“Just as the virtual Commons finds its feet, the government are hitting the brakes,” he said.
“Virtual proceedings must be allowed to continue. Otherwise, this risks becoming an England-only Parliament, with other nations locked out. This is a grave threat to political equality and the principles of parliamentary democracy".
He explained that while Westminster has dropped its 'stay at home' message, the original social-distancing guidelines remain in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“MPs have shown they are able to work well from home. There should be no rush to scupper the successful innovations we’ve seen – from video-link to remote voting", he said.
“MPs from across the nations have expressed support for maintaining the ‘hybrid’ proceedings until the pandemic is over. Closing that off unnecessarily will weaken parliament, not strengthen it".
He urged the government not to "ride roughshod" over concerns by Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle who has said that members of the house should not return until it’s properly safe and legal to do so.
Speaker Hoyle said that he may suspend parliament if national physical distancing rules are breached within the Commons chamber.
“My priority and the priority for all I am sure is to make sure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated", he said.
This follows calls by Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg saying on Tuesday that lawmakers should physically attend sessions in the house on 2 June after Whitsun recess, in order to give "the right message" to the public who have been asked to return to work under the government's new guidelines.
MPs have been attending Prime Ministers Questions and other parliamentary procedure through a 'hybrid' system of virtual call-ins with some, including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, attending physically.