New remote select committee would allow MP scrutiny during Commons shutdown

Posted on the 25th March 2020

ERS urge parliamentary authorities to use recess to draw up proposals for remote/digital working

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Wednesday 25 March 2020
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The Electoral Reform Society have called on parliamentary authorities to bring forward new proposals to allow remote working and scrutiny to continue once parliament returns from recess.

The call comes as parliament is set to be suspended for at least four weeks as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. The plan means parliament will go into recess a week earlier than planned as part of efforts to combat the virus.

In New Zealand lawmakers have set up a new select committee, chaired by the leader of the opposition, that will meet via video-link several times a week during recess – with the full authority of a normal parliamentary body – to keep a check on government decisions [1].

The ERS are urging parliamentary authorities in Westminster to look at similar models and to use the recess to put processes in place that would allow for ‘effective scrutiny’ by MPs of the government to continue remotely once parliament returns – utilising proxy voting, and online technology.

This week Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, warned parliamentary IT teams were unable to cope with demands for video conferencing – platforms campaigns have been quick to point out are used by millions of individuals and even the smallest business every day [2].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society said:

“Closing down parliament to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading is the right thing to do but raises questions on ensuring effective scrutiny during the shutdown.

“However, a month-long recess during a national crisis presents a dangerous precedent for oversight and scrutiny when the government has been granted sweeping new emergency powers.

“Voters need to know that these powers and major life-changing decisions will be held to account in the weeks ahead. That means parliament must adapt rapidly.

“Whether that is via virtual select committee hearings, proxy voting or other online technology, authorities should also use the recess to draw up proposals to allow the work of MPs and committees in holding the government to account to take place remotely once parliament returns.

“At times of national crisis, we need more scrutiny, not less. Parliament must now take the urgent steps to bring Westminster into the modern age, to ensure the safety of both MPs and our democracy.”


Notes to Editors



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