Campaigners urge authorities to move swiftly on ‘virtual Parliament’ – and start grilling ministers right away

Posted on the 2nd April 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Thursday 2nd April 2020. Contact Josiah on [email protected] / 07717211630

The UK’s leading democracy organisation is calling for Parliament to ‘move swiftly’, after the Speaker backed campaigners’ call for a ‘virtual Parliament’ during recess [1]. 

The Electoral Reform Society are calling for a cross-party committee to meet online several times weekly, to grill ministers and officials during the four-week adjournment – a proposal the Speaker has now welcomed. MPs and campaigners say there’s an urgent need to ‘shine a light’ on life-changing decisions during recess.

The ERS say the committee needs full powers to call witnesses and evidence in a way that is not possible with the ‘unidirectional’ press conferences – where follow-up questions are not currently allowed, and where No 10 pick the participants.

The Speaker’s backing for a ‘virtual Parliament’ follows calls from the ERS (and over 100 MPs) earlier this week [2].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Parliamentary authorities have woken up to the need to adapt in a modern, democratic way amid this crisis. It’s welcome that the Speaker has backed calls from the ERS and MPs to create a ‘virtual parliament’ during the shutdown in Westminster.

“It’s clear that in a national crisis, there is an even greater need for proper scrutiny, and in the absence of MPs meeting in person, the right thing to do is move this online.

“With a four week recess – in the middle of a crisis – there is a real risk that vital checks and balances are jettisoned. We cannot let this happen as dozens of life-changing decisions are made by ministers and officials each day.

“The Speaker has called for a virtual committee to meet regularly during recess to hold ministers to account. We urge the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to offer the full cooperation of the government on this, in the interests of the public.

“We’ve seen how other countries such as New Zealand have adapted to the crisis, regularly holding ministers and officials up to scrutiny during recess, with full powers to draw evidence, witnesses and ask follow-up questions, in a way that has not happened in the daily press conferences.”

“Parliamentary authorities must now bring forward proposals that will allow representatives to stand up for voters during this crisis, and shine a light on the enormous decisions being made by the government every day.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52128495

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/speaker-urged-to-chair-emergency-scrutiny-committee-amid-expansion-in-government-powers/ and https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/mar/31/mps-call-for-virtual-house-of-commons-amid-covid-19-early-recess

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