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Fri, 29 May 2020

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A new House of Lords Covid-19 committee will focus on the re-building of society after coronavirus

A new House of Lords Covid-19 committee will focus on the re-building of society after coronavirus

We should consider whether there is anything positive about the changes we have had to make to our daily lives – like the fall in air pollution, for example - that we might want to maintain when the lockdown ends, writes Lord McFall | PA Images

3 min read

Our strong hope is that the new committee can focus on the consequences of the disease and its aftermath, identifying problems that lie ahead and how they should or may be resolved.

The last few weeks have, quite rightly, seen a flurry of Covid-related committee activity across both Houses of Parliament, as members seek to scrutinise the Government’s actions and shine a light on the impact that the current situation is having on different sections of our society. 

This is vital work, and highlights the critical role that Parliament must play in holding the Government to account.

But there is also a need to look beyond the here and now. The Covid-19 pandemic poses huge challenges, both to the UK and across the globe. Some of those challenges must be addressed with immediacy, but others will need a more considered, long-term response.

While recognising the very real devastation that the pandemic has brought, and continues to bring, for many people, it is also important to consider ways in which the re-building of society and the economy that will have to take place as we come out of lockdown could give us the opportunity to do things differently, and better, rather than simply aiming for returning to ‘normal’. 

And we should consider whether there is anything positive about the changes we have had to make to our daily lives – like the fall in air pollution, for example - that we might want to maintain when the lockdown ends.

Select committees in the House of Lords – unconstrained by a remit defined by departmental structures of Government – are renowned for their cross-cutting approach to difficult topics, breaking down silos to develop better public and policy understanding of important themes.

Our committees have a well-deserved reputation for focusing on long-term trends and outcomes, rather than hasty responses to the here and now. And the upper House has a wealth of expertise and experience amongst its membership, who are ready to serve on such committees.

It is in this spirit that the House of Lords Liaison Committee has recommended the establishment of a new committee to consider the long-term implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economic and societal wellbeing of the UK.

With so much about the disease still unknown, no one can yet provide a comprehensive assessment of controversial policy decisions, but our strong hope is that the new committee can focus on the consequences of the disease and its aftermath, identifying problems that lie ahead and how they should or may be resolved.

The recommendation will be put to the House in the coming weeks and, if approved, will serve as a vehicle for conducting that essential, cross-cutting, consideration of the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic presents to society and to ask those ‘big picture’ questions about what this could and should mean for the UK’s role in international organisations, for example, or how our industrial strategy could best be reshaped, or what role technological developments have to play in our response to the crisis.

The lives that have been lost, and terrible hardships caused, by this pandemic are heart-breaking and it can be easy to feel despondent, and powerless, in the face of such tragedy. One small part parliamentarians can play is to help bring expert thinking together on how we might emerge from this in a way that brings most benefit to our society. I hope this new committee will be able to play a significant role in enabling us to do that.

Lord McFall is senior deputy speaker of the House of Lords.

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