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Update on work to ensure Commons scrutiny continues

3 April 2020

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The Clerk of the House has given an update on work to ensure Commons scrutiny is maintained during Covid-19 crisis.

A great deal of work is currently underway by House authorities to allow Members to participate remotely in the scrutiny of Government, the Clerk of the House Dr John Benger has confirmed.

Response from the Clerk of the House

Dr Benger has today responded to two letters – one from the Speaker of the House, and one from a group of MPs - on the work being done to ensure that Members are able to undertake their important scrutiny role, with the support of House staff, once the House returns from recess, if the guidance remains that people should stay at home where possible.

The House Service and the Parliamentary Digital Service have worked rapidly to enable a number of Select Committees to hold important hearings remotely, including the Health and Social Care and Treasury Committees. This followed the House's decision immediately before the Easter recess to allow committees to hold evidence sessions virtually and remotely. By the week of 20 April, and assuming Committees can be flexible on the days on which they hold meetings, as many as 20 virtual committees per week will be supported, which represents a typical weekly volume of evidence sessions.

Teams from digital and broadcasting are working flat-out to identify and deliver a solution that would allow Members to remotely question ministers in sessions such as departmental question time (including PMQs), Ministerial Statements and Urgent Questions.

In his letters, Dr Benger notes that there are a number of technological and security challenges to be overcome, as well as working out what adjustments need to be made to the House's usual practices and procedures in order to ensure any new arrangements work as smoothly as possible.

He also notes that any changes to its way of working is a matter for the House itself.

Dr Benger commented:

“The introduction of a further virtual element to the House's formal proceedings would require a resolution of the House, akin to the resolution which permitted virtual meetings of select committees.

“However the House has already shown it is more than willing to change how it works in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and the recent successful work – done at great speed – to enable committee sessions to take place virtually, shows the ingenuity and commitment of colleagues across the House Service and Parliamentary Digital Service”.

Letters to the Speaker and MPs

Read the full text of the Clerk's letters:

Image: Parliamentary Copyright

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