Conservative MPs are growing concerned that their party conference will be cancelled this year due to Covid, with tickets for the get-together still yet to become available.
Raising a point of order in the Commons William Wragg said it was “a little strange” that Tory head office was unable to say with “certainty” that the event would go ahead given Covid restrictions are set to lift on 19 July.
The Conservative Party conference is scheduled to be held in Manchester from 3 to 6 October. Registration for Labour’s conference, which is due to be held around the same time in Brighton from 25 to 29 September, has been open for some time.
Mr Wragg raised the point of order because MPs are set to vote on Wednesday on whether the Commons should go into recess to make way for the event.
“Forgive me for being suspicious, Mr Speaker, but we are at risk of being strung along,” Mr Wragg said.
“How might we be reassured that the conference recess will be used for its intended purpose rather than simply as a means to keep backbenchers away from this House asking awkward questions?”
The conference’s website says registration “will launch soon”.
Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, said: “I do think it’s important that, before the House is asked to take decisions on important matters like it being in recess for three weeks, that it does have available the essential information.
“If there’s not going to be an in-person Conservative Party conference then we wouldn’t need to be in recess for that period. So it seems to me not unreasonable to ask the Government… to set that out before we’re asked to vote tomorrow.”
He added: “There are thousands of businesses across the country that depend on conferences and events, and if the governing party is not able to set out with confidence that an event scheduled for October is able to take place, the sector will draw its own conclusions – which will be very damaging to many thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of employees.”
MPs normally bring the commons into recess so they can attend their party conferences, which are usually scheduled in late September and early October.
This year the proposed recess would start at the conclusion of business on September 23 and run until October 18. Another short recess in November is also planned, with MPs rising for Christmas on December 16 and returning on January 4.
Replying to the Tory MPs’ point of order, Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said: “I can’t comment on the arrangements that parties make for their conferences.
“I can confirm that the motion on yesterday’s order paper was objected to and will be subject to a deferred division tomorrow.”
He added: “There is a genuine concern, there are jobs at stake, it is an industry that really does matter. This is something beyond me, but at least it is on the record, and I do know the whips will definitely be wanting a word with [Mr Wragg] and he’ll therefore be able to pass on his concerns directly to the chief whip.”