When the advice to the country was, “Continue working from home if at all possible”, this Government decided that MPs should all return to this place for what we might call a mass gathering. It should not have needed a pandemic to drag this place into modern-day working practices, but thanks to your efforts, Mr Deputy Speaker, and those of the Speaker, as well as the efforts from colleagues here and the hard work of staff in Parliament, we adapted quickly to the hybrid system and we managed well.
Yet now the Government have taken backward steps, simply ditching the online system, stamping all over this fledgling innovative approach. Colleagues here have rapidly learned new working practices, setting a positive example about the value of flexible working. This is particularly relevant to people who are neurodivergent, disabled or with caring responsibilities. We need to move forward, not ditch our learning from this pandemic, so that we can be a more effective Parliament—a more inclusive Parliament leading by example on better working practices.
The Electoral Reform Society has said that Westminster should not return to “business as usual” after the outbreak without considering whether innovations adopted during the crisis should be kept. Darren Hughes, director of the Electoral Reform Society, is on record as saying:
“To cut down remote voting just as it’s bearing fruit would be reckless and wrong. We should be learning from how parliament has adapted during this crisis”.
We should return immediately to hybrid proceedings and remote voting to enable Parliament to work safely and effectively during the pandemic and make improvements from there, not be forced backwards in this way.