U.K. Lawmakers With At-Risk Relatives Told to Attend Parliament

U.K. lawmakers with close family members at serious risk from coronavirus should travel in to Westminster do their “duty” rather than stay at home, a senior government minister said.

House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg set out plans on Monday to allow “clinically extremely vulnerable” members of Parliament to take part virtually in key debates, after he was criticized when an MP with breast cancer was excluded last week.

But those staying away to protect loved ones will not be included, Rees-Mogg told lawmakers. MPs are “key workers” and must go to Parliament if they want to speak in debates because “this chamber does not work effectively when people aren’t physically present,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to take part in the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session virtually on Wednesday, as he is self-isolating in his Downing Street home after meeting with an MP who has since tested positive for the virus.

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The government has come under mounting pressure to allow fully virtual proceedings because, under current rules, MPs at home are not allowed to take part in any substantial debates on legislation or in any general debates. They can only appear via video link during ministerial question times and statements.

More than 150 members of Parliament, almost a quarter of the total, had registered for a proxy vote as of October because they cannot attend sittings in Westminster for medical or public health reasons.

Rees-Mogg said he will introduce a motion “as soon as possible” to allow “clinically extremely vulnerable” MPs to take part virtually in Commons debates. But when Conservative MP John Baron said he needs to stay at home because his wife is vulnerable, Rees-Mogg said he won’t be included because Parliament is a “Covid-secure” workplace.

‘Key Workers’

“We are key workers and we must behave as other key workers,” Rees-Mogg said. “I do not think it would be right of me to stand up here and say we would treat members of Parliament differently as we would our constituents.”

Those MPs who are extremely vulnerable will need to disclose their medical condition to Parliament, Rees-Mogg said. He also ruled out remote voting, which is used in the House of Lords, saying it had not worked properly.

Tony Lloyd, a Labour MP who was hospitalized with coronavirus in April, pointed out that lawmakers travel to London from across the U.K. and it is impossible to ensure their journeys across the country would be Covid-secure.

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In April and May, MPs were allowed to vote remotely and take part in all debates from home. But the rules were changed by the government in June.

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