In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Canadian and UK parliaments have introduced significant changes to the way they conduct their proceedings. The UK Parliament introduced historical changes under its hybrid model, which included the conducting of virtual PMQs and chamber debates, with majority of MPs participating via video link, and remote voting through a specialised portal for members. Canada adopted a mixed approach, with some members meeting in person and additional virtual proceedings for wider participation including for oral questions to ministers, as well as a number of virtual committee hearings.
Alongside the UK and Canada, many legislatures continue to grapple with the fast-changing situation under Covid-19, and in particular how best to ensure they are able to function safely. On this, CPA UK hosted a discussion between two parliamentarians to look at the impact of these changes. The Rt Hon John Spellar MP from the UK Parliament and Mr Bruce Stanton MP from the Parliament of Canada met over video conference, to share their thoughts on these adapted procedures.
With the work of some committees in the UK and Canada going virtual, both MPs took a deeper look at what effect they believe this has had on their ability to perform their scrutiny role during this time. One aspect highlighted was the change in dynamic between committee chairs and members during remote sessions, which can sometimes mean the flow of discussion is not as smooth and follow up questions aren’t accommodated as well as in normal proceedings. On the other hand, remote sessions mean committees are able to hear evidence from further afield.
Mr Spellar and Mr Stanton also touched on the changes they have seen to their constituency work, in particular the large increase in casework on a range of issues from employment concerns to supporting constituents in their repatriation back from all over the world.
With Canada and the UK adopting a range of changes to ensure parliamentary business is conducted in line with social distancing, the discussion highlighted the need to continue sharing experiences going forward. This, Mr Stanton and Mr Spellar argue, will be key to ensuring parliamentarians across the Commonwealth are able to continue to effectively deliver parliamentary democracy and fulfil their responsibilities to constituents, even during a global emergency.
Listen to the full conversation on the CPA UK podcast channel below: