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Labour’s Keir Starmer demands ‘urgent talks’ on recall of Parliament so ministers’ coronavirus decisions can face scrutiny

Labour’s Keir Starmer demands ‘urgent talks’ on recall of Parliament so ministers’ coronavirus decisions can face scrutiny

The Labour leader wants the Commons to return - even if only virtually - after the Easter recess.

3 min read

Sir Keir Starmer has called for “urgent talks” on the recall of Parliament after the Easter break so that ministers can be grilled on their handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Labour leader has written to Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to warn that decisions made by the Government must be “challenged and subject to scrutiny” to avoid mistakes.

The Commons went into its Easter recess early after passing sweeping emergency legislation handing the Government power to shape its response to the pandemic.

While some committee hearings have continued remotely, House authorities are now looking at ways to allow debates, votes and departmental questions to take place without the need for MPs to attend the chamber in line with government orders for the public to stay at home.

The new Labour leader said the “national crisis” of Covid-19 meant the Commons should reopen for business when recess ends on 21 April - even if only via video-link.

Calling for talks with Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Mr Starmer said there was “no substitute for parliamentary scrutiny”.

And he warned: “The best decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny. And by that process issues can be resolved, mistakes quickly rectified and individual concerns addressed. That will help save lives and protect our country. But if parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively that cannot happen.”

Sir Keir added: “I accept that it is difficult for parliament to return to business as usual at the moment, but there are clear examples around the world of parliaments operating effectively by using new technologies and different models."

"The best decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny" - Keir Starmer

The House of Commons Commission, which oversees the running of the chamber and is chaired by the Speaker, told MPs last week that Parliament’s digital, broadcasting and procedural teams were “working round the clock to develop a virtual House of Commons” for the end of the Easter recess.

Sir Lindsay said: “I am so impressed by the endeavours of our House staff, who have achieved so much in such a short space of time, despite their teams being reduced in numbers by self-isolation and sickness.

“I really hope we can return to work virtually and safely after the 21st, subject to the advice of Public Health England.”

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said the lack of parliamentary scrutiny at a time of national crisis was “intolerable”.

And he tweeted: "Pleased other parties & MPs now joining [Lib Dems’] call for urgent recall of Parliament.”

SNP leader Ian Blackford has meanwhile called for Parliament to return in a virtual form from this week, while Tory MP David Davis told The Observer that MPs should be given daily Covid-19 tests if necessary to allow the chamber to fully reopen.

”The House of Commons met when air raids were going on in the war. I think it needs to be reconstituted even if it means MPs being tested every day,” the former Brexit secretary said.

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