House of Commons returns from summer break but limit of 50 MPs in the chamber stays due to two-metre rule – amid claims the only way of fitting more would be for them to wear masks and give speeches sitting down
- MPs have been returning to the House of Commons after the summer break
- Rule limiting numbers to a maximum of 50 in the chamber are still in place
- Claims only way of getting more would be masks and speeches while seated
The House of Commons returns from recess today – but the limit of 50 MPs in the chamber at once is still in force despite Boris Johnson’s push to get people back in offices.
Senior figures admit that the two-metre coronavirus social distancing rule means the maximum capacity cannot be increased, despite a backlash from Tory MPs.
The only way that numbers could be hiked would be for politicians to wear masks and give speeches sitting down but that is ‘obviously not practical’, according to parliamentary sources.
One Tory MP told MailOnline that ministers appeared to have fallen for ‘guff that we’re all going to die’ if more people are allowed to attend.
The PM repeated his call for workers to return to offices as he gathered Cabinet this morning, saying the country must ‘get back in its feet’ amid fears businesses in town and city centres are being hammered.
However, apart from Extinction Rebellion protests taking place outside, Parliament was still considerable quieter than normal today despite the new term getting under way.
Only around 50 MPs were in the Commons chamber this afternoon – the maximum allowed under social distancing rules
Apart from Extinction Rebellion protests taking place outside, Parliament was still considerable quieter than normal today despite the new term getting under way
Some MPs tweeted pictures of their return to work today, with blue skies above Westminster
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, pictured arriving for Cabinet today, oversaw the axing of hybrid proceedings in the Commons in June
The PM repeated his call for workers to return to offices as he gathered Cabinet this morning, saying the country must ‘get back in its feet’
The Commons switched to ‘hybrid’ system at the height of the pandemic in April, with virtual participation and remote voting.
However, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg caused fury from many MPs when he axed the arrangements in June, saying people should be physically present at Parliament where possible.
Voting must now be done in person, but those who are unable to attend Westminster for medical or public health reasons can take part remotely in some debates and committee hearings.
MPs can also nominate a proxy to cast their vote if they are unable to come to the Commons.
There have been claims that ministers are secretly encouraging Tory MPs to sabotage the renewal of the ‘virtual’ arrangements when they are put to the House tomorrow.
If one MP shouts object when the rules come up the measures will need to be reintroduced the following day.
The Commons authorities have been following Public Health England (PHE) advice
One senior parliamentary source said there was no sign that PHE intended to alter its advice ‘imminently’.
‘It would say MPs could sit at a one metre distance if they spoke sitting down and wore masks, which obviously isn’t practical so we’re stuck on two metres for now,’ the source added.
Addressing Cabinet today, Mr Johnson claimed that ‘huge numbers’ of people are now returning to offices and ‘quite right too’ amid fears that Professor Chris Whitty could quit over the Government’s push to persuade workers to ditch working from home.
Tory MP Tim Loughton tweeted to say his train in from the south coast to Westminster was almost deserted today
Mr Johnson met with his Cabinet in the grand Locarno Suite at the Foreign Office – chosen because it has more space than Number 10 so that ministers can socially distance.
The opulent setting will be used for the meetings for the foreseeable future after months of Mr Johnson having to speak to ministers via Zoom.
The Prime Minister will be hoping that the meeting, which came on the morning that Parliament returned from its summer break and as thousands of pupils finally returned to schools across England, will set an example to workers across the nation.
Mr Johnson is encouraging employees to head back to their offices but it was claimed today that ministers are holding back on the drive because of fears the Chief Medical Officer could resign.
Prof Whitty is said to be hampering the Government’s efforts to get more workers back to their normal commutes and to physically return to their workplaces.