Coronavirus: Veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge ‘discriminated against’ by Commons return

A veteran Labour MP has told Sky News she has been “disenfranchised and discriminated against” over the controversial return of the House of Commons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dame Margaret Hodge has spoken of her anger after the government dropped virtual proceedings, which had allowed her and other members unable to attend the chamber to contribute remotely and vote online.

Appearing on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, the 75-year-old compared the ensuing lengthy queues of MPs waiting to vote to “a Gilbert and Sullivan farce”.

The former minister argued the move was political, rather than in the public interest, as Boris Johnson needed “braying” backbenchers behind him during his weekly clashes with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Dame Margaret said the situation meant she would be barred from taking part in an emergency debate on how the Commons operates during the coronavirus outbreak, scheduled for Monday, despite it directly affecting her.

Labour frontbencher Jim McMahon has also urged the need for a review of the way parliament works during the current crisis, branding the long queues for voting “unsafe and inefficient”.

The criticism follows a stream of complaints about requiring MPs to travel across the UK to attend Westminster in person, while social distancing requirements limit numbers in the chamber to 50.

However, in the face of pressure, proxy voting has been extended to those who cannot attend on medical or health grounds.

Dame Margaret said: “What is happening which is makes me so angry is I am allowed to vote but I can’t take part in debates around legislation.

“There is a debate on virtual access and I would like to virtually take part in that debate and I have been told I can’t do that.

“So I am being disenfranchised and discriminated against on a debate that is discussing my disenfranchisement and my discrimination. It is just a nonsense.”

She added: “I want to hold the government to account… and yet I am being prevented from doing so by rules that have been brought in not to make parliament more accountable and better but actually I think for political not public good reasons.”

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