Emergency Parliament Recall On Afghanistan Is The First Session Since Covid Rules Ended – Here's How It Will Work
The hybrid parliament procedures officially ended on 22 July, the day the Commons went into recess (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)
The House of Commons will host two historic moments on Wednesday — the first time MPs have met since the end of hybrid proceedings, and the first time they’ve met in August since the Syrian crisis of 2013.
It was announced on Sunday that Parliament would be recalled on 18 August from 9.30am until 2:30pm to debate the developing situation in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has taken significant control of the country in recent days after Western forces moved to pull out their remaining troops, with much political attention now turning to the thousands of refugees fleeing the region.
Parliament was set to be in recess from 22 July until 6 September, but the Commons Speaker has the power to bring MPs back to Westminster early if “public interest does so require”.
The emergency proceeding will also be the first time Members have met since the hybrid parliament proceedings — brought in at the start of the coronavirus crisis — ended in line with the latest lifting of restrictions.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
MPs are set to meet in the Commons between 9:30am and 2:30pm on Wednesday to debate the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to open the debate with a short statement. No vote is scheduled during the proceedings, and it is not compulsory for MPs to attend this session.
Peers will also meet in the Lords from 11:00am on Wednesday, but the Upper House is still operating a hybrid system with members able to contribute via video link.
There is no set area of discussion for Wednesday debate outside a general discussion on the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, expected topics include the government's policy on Afghan refugees, the prospect of sanctions on the new regime, and future UK military involvement in the country.
WHAT WAS THE HYBRID PARLIAMENT?
Under the system, first proposed in April 2020, up to 120 MPs were able to participate in Commons debates virtually alongside 50 attending in-person, subject to social distancing, in the Chamber.
Call lists were introduced for the first time, meaning the order in which MPs could speak in debates was decided by the Speaker in advance of proceedings.
MPs were initially able to vote remotely, with the first remote vote in Commons history cast on 12 May, but these measures lapsed a few weeks later and were replaced with a pass-reader system for registering MPs' votes in the division lobbies.
Proxy voting was also expanded during the pandemic, first to include MPs unable to attend the Commons for medical reasons in June 2020, and then to include all MPs from November 2020.
It had first been introduced on a trial basis in 2019 to allow MPs who had become parents to participate in Commons votes.
All these measures — alongside those in line with national guidelines, such the wearing of face coverings — ended on 22 July 2021, the day Parliament went into recess.
HOW WILL THE COMMONS OPERATE NOW?
All contributions to the proceedings on Afghanistan on Wednesday will be made from within the Chamber, with no requirements for masks or social distancing and no limit on numbers.
However, members are “strongly encouraged” to wear a face covering in the Chamber, as well as when travelling around the estate.
There will no longer be a call list for the Chamber, and proceedings will return to how they were previously run.
Members wishing to speak will need to ‘bob’ in the Chamber to catch the Speaker’s eye, and will be expected to be present through the majority of the debate or opening speeches if they want to speak.
Enhanced levels of cleaning are still taking place in the Chamber and across the parliamentary estate, alongside other measures in line with the current Government guidance, such as monitoring levels of ventilation.
WHAT IS A PARLIAMENTARY RECALL?
Under Standing Order No. 13 relating to Commons business, the Speaker can decide to recall MPs during a recess period if it is in the public interest.
Recalls can take place for several reasons, including to pay tributes following the death of a major public figure or member of the royal family. This will be the 34th recall of Parliament during a recess since 1948.
MPs were most recently recalled following the death of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in April 2021, and to pay tribute to the late Jo Cox MP following her death in 2016.
The government may also seek a recall of the Commons in response to major domestic and international events, including in the wake of the USA 9/11 attacks in 2001 and following the London riots in 2011.
The last time MPs were recalled in August was in 2013, following reports that the Assad regime in Syria had used chemical weapons amid the country’s ongoing civil war.
Other reasons for a recall include ensuring the passage of urgent legislation — MPs and peers sat in December 2020 to debate and vote on the UK's Brexit deal just days before the deadline, and also met during recess in January 2021 to debate coronavirus legislation.
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