Letter to the Speaker from Centenary Action Group
22 May 2020
cc: House of Commons Commission
As Parliament considers returning to Westminster, we urge you to ensure all citizens can continue to be represented in parliament through ensuring no MP is unable to participate due to health or caring commitments that have arisen as a direct result of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
We welcome the introduction of hybrid parliament to ensure the continuation of parliamentary scrutiny during lockdown. This is critical to a healthy, legitimate democracy. We also recognise the importance of restoring all forms of parliamentary scrutiny including Westminster hall debates and interventions as well as enabling the participation of more MPs in debates, and the challenges in doing so whilst maintaining a safe workspace for all concerned.
As social distancing measures are reduced in a phased manner this summer, we are concerned that there is a risk of creating two tiers of MPs- those who are able to attend and those who mostly cannot given the ongoing challenges of lockdown and their own personal circumstances. Given what is known about the nature of this virus, and who is a high risk, it is likely that this will mean those MPs who are BAME MPs, older MPs or MPs who are pregnant will be disproportionately restricted.
Government advice also recognises that those with caring responsibilities, those with childcare responsibilities, those who rely on public transport, and those who are shielding, may not be able to return to the workplace. Not only must parliament lead by example by acknowledging how these issues affect all those who work in Westminster and promoting working remotely where possible, it must also make provision for those who would be breaching public health advice by returning to parliament, or are unable to do so due to caring responsibilities. A rapid return to a physical parliament also has consequences for staff who face these same challenges as well as MPs. The working environment for them must also be carefully considered and would require a thorough risk assessment.
It is important that the advantages and disadvantages of the hybrid model for Parliament, or any other remote working practices for Parliament, are documented for the historical record, monitored and fully evaluated in order to assess the effectiveness of enabling equal participation, particularly in relation to gender and diversity. Even in times of crisis, we must aim towards the highest standards in public office and robust parliamentary procedure, and we cannot do that without ensuring equal and diverse participation.
The current public health advice is 'work from home where possible'. The past few weeks have shown us that it is possible to facilitate parliamentary work remotely and that this can be used to ensure those who otherwise would not be able to attend Westminster can represent their constituents in debates. We urge you to consider how best to expand on the lessons from the use of this technology to address concerns engagement of all parliamentarians in debate and in doing so ensure that robust parliamentary scrutiny continues in line with public health advice in a way which means all MPs can participate equally.
Helen Pankhurst, Convener, Centenary Action Group
Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party
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