Chair writes to Speaker on proposed changes to Commons procedure
7 April 2020
Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, has written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, on the steps to ensure that House of Commons procedures are modified appropriately to allow House business to continue under coronavirus public health restrictions.
She has expressed the Committee’s strong support for the measures that the Speaker and the House authorities have already taken, and has set out further temporary measures the Committee is advising in order to make sure proper scrutiny of the Government can continue to take place in a sustainable way.
Chair of the Procedure Committee, Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, said:
“The Committee recognises the steps which the Speaker has already taken to reduce the number of Members sitting in the Chamber, and applauds the cooperation across the House before the recess which enabled business to proceed in accordance with current social distancing norms.”
“Since it was established on 4 March, the Committee has given the utmost priority to advising on such changes, in accordance with its remit from the House. It is essential that the House’s scrutiny of the Government continues during this crisis, and that core Government business — including the emergency coronavirus regulations introduced on 26 March — is considered promptly. The Committee continues to consider how scrutiny of Ministers, and of key legislation, can best be achieved, either by virtual means or by taking safe measures in the Chamber.”
The letter to Mr Speaker raises a number of key points to consider when the House returns from its Easter adjournment:
- Proposals should be brought forward as soon as possible to change the practice that written questions cannot be tabled by Members during periodic adjournments (recesses).
- The Committee supports the Speaker’s urgent request to the Leader of the House to ensure that Ministers and officials are fully available over the coming fortnight to deal with concerns raised by Members on behalf of their constituents.
- The Committee is ready to advise on any temporary changes to practice and procedure which would allow the fullest possible participation by Members away from Westminster through digital means. However, these changes should not be made to the disadvantage of Members who are able to be present in the Chamber on any sitting day.
- The Committee considers that arrangements which were made between parties not to divide the House on key measures such as the Budget Resolutions and the Coronavirus Bill are not sustainable. Further measures are required to ensure that Members can divide the House on key decisions despite the extended time now required to complete a division.
- The House ought to have the fullest opportunity possible to discuss the emergency measures introduced to provide for the present lockdown, before the Government seeks retrospective approval for those measures.
- The Committee recommends the urgent development and implementation of a temporary system to allow remote balloting in elections for select committee chairs and other House positions.
- The Committee has noted with approval Mr Speaker’s intention to convene a working group to examine how to increase the resilience of the House’s procedures against future emergencies.
The letter also expresses the Procedure Committee’s appreciation for the work by Mr Speaker, and the work of the House Service and the Parliamentary Digital Service, in response to the exceptional challenges which the current situation presents for the House and for the country.
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