Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Procedure Committee calls on Government to listen to MPs and ‘extend virtual participation effectively’

“The Government must think strategically, listen to reason, and heed MPs on all sides of the House. Virtual participation must be extended to those who need it, so the Government faces the full scrutiny of all Members of the House of Commons, and not just those Members it wants to scrutinise it.”

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The House of Commons Procedure Committee today publishes a detailed report scrutinising virtual participation in debate. The report makes a number of recommendations for the Government, and is made as part of the Committee’s ongoing review of the impact that coronavirus restrictions have had on the procedure and practice of the House.

The Committee’s report comes as a Government motion to extend virtual participation to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable failed to be approved by MPs. The motion was tabled by the Government to be considered ‘on the nod’, but was objected to and therefore fell.

Key findings in the report

Some of the key findings in the Procedure Committee report include:

  • The Committee considers that there is no justifiable case for eligibility for virtual participation in debate to be determined by reference to clinical vulnerability to COVID-19; nor does it consider it appropriate to determine eligibility on a basis different from that for virtual participation in scrutiny proceedings.
  • The Committee recommends that the criteria for eligibility for virtual participation in all House proceedings be made uniform at the earliest opportunity.
  • The Speaker, in consultation with the House Service, should arrange for the phased introduction of mixed virtual and physical participation in debate, including on motions and legislation where appropriate.
  • As soon as resources allow, the House Service should scope the additional resource and expenditure required to support concurrent virtual participation in proceedings in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall.
  • The Committee calls for the new proposed system supporting mixed virtual and physical participation in debates to be reviewed by the week of the 14th December, and for the House to have a debate on a substantive motion on the matter as soon as possible in the new year.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, yesterday said:

“The Government must think strategically, listen to reason, and heed MPs on all sides of the House. Virtual participation must be extended to those who need it, so the Government faces the full scrutiny of all Members of the House of Commons, and not just those Members it wants to scrutinise it.”

“The Procedure Committee report calls on the Government to recognise the concerns of many colleagues and extend virtual participation effectively, so MPs who cannot attend debates due to reasons arising from the pandemic can continue to represent their constituents and participate virtually.

“Colleagues with caring responsibilities or who have family members who are clinically extremely vulnerable are not covered by the Government’s current proposals. This is unacceptable. MPs should not be faced with a choice between representing their constituents in key debates and protecting their loved ones.                                                                               
“While we share some of the Government’s concerns about the spontaneity of virtual participation in debates, we cannot allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. And so it is essential the Government act now and give the House a genuine opportunity to determine how virtual participation in Commons takes place as we move into 2021.  

“The Committee will continue to review House procedure and practice during the pandemic as the situation evolves.”

Further information

 

Channel website: http://www.parliament.uk/

Original article link: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/126/procedure-committee/news/132731/procedure-committee-calls-on-government-to-listen-to-mps-and-extend-virtual-participation-effectively/

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