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Remote Participation in House of Commons Proceedings (Motion)

Volume 680: debated on Wednesday 16 September 2020

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Leader of the House of Commons to move a Motion asserting the equal right of all Members of the House of Commons to participate in proceedings and establishing mechanisms for MPs unable to attend Westminster to vote remotely and to participate remotely in proceedings, including debates and general committees.

I rise to present this Bill, which was originally tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). He would have presented it today but, ironically, he is self-isolating, and his right to speak in this Chamber remotely was removed by the Government in June. I am pleased to adopt the Bill and to present our combined speech.

This Bill is about the fundamental constitutional and democratic right of all voters to be represented by their elected MPs in this Parliament. It aims to restore democratic participation for all MPs in debates and Committees that shape and decide the laws of our country. Only then will the voices of millions of voters across hundreds of constituencies be heard once again. That is desperately needed at this crucial time when decisions are being made that will shape not only our lives but almost every aspect of the lives of future generations. This country needs our democracy to be fully functioning in order to make the best decisions as we face a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already sadly killed more than 45,000 people; an abrupt end to furlough, which will throw millions of people into unemployment and poverty; and a no-deal Brexit, which this House previously agreed was a bad idea.

At this time like no other, all voters and constituents must have their voices heard equally in this place, the mother of all Parliaments. Debate, dialogue and scrutiny are paramount to help us chart the best possible route through these unprecedented and turbulent times. That was happening in April and May, with MPs from all corners of the United Kingdom successfully participating as equals in debates using video conferencing technology. It is the 21st century; we should be getting with the programme. However, in June, the Government disenfranchised millions of voters by abolishing online participation in parliamentary debates. The Government knew that that was an anti-democratic decision, done in an anti-democratic manner. It is probably illegal for Parliament to vote to undermine its own legitimate democratic mandate in a vote that excludes those constituencies most affected, as the vote itself was not conducted online, so shielding MPs were excluded.

The Government have abused the purpose of parliamentary privilege to prevent the courts from protecting the right of voters to be represented in this place. Parliamentary privilege is meant to protect the right of MPs to represent their voters in Parliament free from the fear of threats of court action, but the Government have used it for their own protection, to prevent the courts from intervening and ruling that removing the right of voters to be represented is illegal. How can that be right? How can that be democratic? How can that be the parliamentary sovereignty that some profess to hold so dear?

The right to participate is crucial as the Government embark on a reversal of our devolution settlement, breaching the Good Friday agreement and potentially breaking international law. At home, the Government are creating a divided kingdom. Abroad, they are destroying trust in Britain and our reputation on the international stage. At such an important time, all our constituencies must have an equal voice in these debates.

The taxpayer has already invested heavily in the technology for remote democracy. We know that it works, and it works really well. It is working in the Welsh Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, so why not in the Westminster Parliament? It is even being used in the House of Lords, so the most obvious question is, why is remote voting not being used in the House of Commons? Why are so many constituents not being represented and millions of voters left voiceless? Why is that happening?

This Bill would resume the equal right of all constituents to be represented by their MP, by establishing mechanisms for those MPs unable to attend and participate remotely in debates. Just yesterday, it would have allowed the self-isolating Leader of the Opposition to remotely oppose the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. Instead, his democratic rights were denied. Last week, the Leader of the House—I see that he is in his place—who abolished remote democracy in the guise of getting us back to work was unable to do his job because he was self-isolating. That will happen more and more as the spread of covid rises.

This attack on our country’s democracy and parliamentary representation is of critical importance, as the weakening of UK democracy is part of a pattern that threatens our fundamental British values. Our Parliament is sovereign. The Government’s action to stifle parliamentary democracy is worrying, and must be considered alongside these things: the proroguing of Parliament, overturned by the Supreme Court last year; the brutal hounding out of heads of our civil service; the attacks on the public broadcaster, the BBC; giving Ministers Henry VIII powers to make laws without the consent of Parliament; the attempt to break international law; trade deals without parliamentary scrutiny; procurement contracts without parliamentary oversight; the creation of a no-deal economic catastrophe; the planned weakening of our judicial and justice system; and the withdrawal from the European convention on human rights. We cannot and we must not allow the Prime Minister’s—and his adviser’s—insatiable lust for power to threaten our fundamental British values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Parliamentary accountability is crucial at any time, but more crucial than ever when Ministers have taken unprecedented emergency measures that limit our liberties, the way we live our lives and our freedoms.

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the Government, has said that no inside queues should be taking place as it is not covid safe. The solution is easy: Mr Speaker and the House of Commons Commission have developed a world-beating remote voting app, which is something that they, the House and the country should be proud of, celebrate and utilise.

This is about taking our democracy back, so I am privileged to present the Bill in my name and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West, to re-establish full democracy in this House of Commons for all our voters, all our nations and all our futures.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dawn Butler, Geraint Davies, Layla Moran, Liz Saville Roberts, Dame Margaret Hodge, Ian Byrne, Caroline Lucas, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Rosie Duffield, Munira Wilson, Paula Barker and Peter Dowd present the Bill.

Dawn Butler accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 September, and to be printed (Bill 183).