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EXCL Two hundred peers demand longer Lords sittings to grill Government's coronavirus response

Peers have called for longer sessions during the lockdown

3 min read

Around two hundred peers have demanded they be allowed to sit for longer to allow greater scrutiny of the Government's coronavirus response, PoliticsHome can reveal.

In a letter to the Lord Speaker, the cross-party group of 194 members of the upper chamber claimed debates on the pandemic had been "artificially constrained" with time limits stopping dozens of peers from taking part.

It comes after the roll out of so-called "hybrid" measures to allow MPs and peers to grill ministers via video link during the lockdown.

But the peers, including Labour's Lord Dubs, Lord Adonis and Lord Mandelson, as well as crossbenchers Lord Crisp and Baroness Grey-Thompson, warned further steps had to be taken to allow full participation in the sessions, including urgently introducing a new system for remote voting.

The group, led by the Lib Dems' deputy Lords leader Baroness Walmsley, also called for a return to a full 4-day sitting pattern after the May recess, an increase in the number of daily oral questions and an extension of the time given for debates related to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the group urged ministers to make a daily statement reflecting the measures set out in the Downing Street press briefings to allow peers to scrutinise the announcements.

"We acknowledge that the first two weeks since our return on 21st April have been experimental to meet an unprecedented challenge and we commend the hard work of officers and departments alike," they wrote.

"But with that experience behind us, we can plan appropriately.

"The implications of the pandemic are widespread - so serious and unprecedented that other unrelated issues impacting on the daily lives of our fellow citizens may be neglected.

They added: "The Government and the Commons are focused on immediate Covid-19 problems. But Ministers do recognise that careful scrutiny on a collaborative basis is essential for good governance."

"The Covid-19 crisis raises huge issues of economic damage and the health and safety of our fellow citizens - and particularly of NHS, social care and other front-line staff.

"But it also involves civil liberties and human rights. These cannot be muted.

"The House of Lords has a unique role which should not be artificially restrained."

Meanwhile, the group said the precedent of holding shorter sessions on Thursdays and Fridays to allow for peers to travel home should be scrapped given the ability to work remotely.

"In these abnormal times the majority of us are working at home and this consideration does not apply," they added. "Surely we should work more, and not less.

"Longer hours and an allocation of two days for popular debates would enable each peer to make the contribution he/she wishes."

Baroness Walmsley added: "During the coronavirus crisis it is vital that Parliament ensures the most vulnerable are protected by holding the Government to account.
“It is the duty of all Parliamentarians to be doing more, not less, in raising the concerns of those struggling as the country faces this unprecedented threat. Ministers must remain answerable for their actions."

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