We’re getting closer to a ‘virtual Parliament’ – but there’s more to do

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 16th April 2020

How do we keep scrutiny going when many MPs can’t come into Parliament?

The House of Commons Commission met on Thursday morning to address that challenge. For the past few weeks, calls have been growing for a move to a ‘virtual Parliament’ – letting MPs contribute remotely when the Commons returns next Tuesday.

The Commission agreed proposals for a ‘hybrid’ arrangement – a half-way house between fully-virtual sittings (MPs calling in entirely by video-link, voting remotely) and carrying on as if there was no crisis.

While the proposals show good progress towards a virtual Parliament, it will be up to the parties to endorse the proposals next week. And some significant questions remain.

The elephant in the room seems to be the question of how MPs will vote. What is paramount is that voters are represented, and that members are safe.

That means we must either see a rapid rollout of proxy voting for MPs and Peers, or allowing them to vote digitally. This is an urgent matter of scrutiny, representation and safety. We hope all parties work together to make it happen. (It is currently unclear whether the arrangements for the House of Lords will be similarly robust.)

The changes we saw before the recess were not fit for purpose, leaving votes at the whim of whips or whoever was able to turn up. Votes were taking 30-40 minutes, with considerable risk to members and their staff.

The next step towards a virtual Parliament must be getting to grips with voting. Other Parliaments have managed it (as we’ve highlighted here). So can we.

One thing is clear. We cannot let voters’ voices be diminished when life-changing decisions are being made every day. Parliament can and must rise to the challenge.

The ERS are at the forefront of civil society calls for a ‘modern, democratic’ response to how Parliament handles the pandemic.

See here for how we can maintain robust scrutiny while life-changing decisions are being made each day.

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