The multi-billion-pound refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster presents an opportunity that comes once in a century-and-a-half to reform the leading institution of our democracy and its environs. What principles should shape reform of its culture and practices? How can innovation blend better with tradition? And how might public engagement be enhanced?
In Ireland, the Covid-19 crisis collided with a ‘change election’, the formation of a historic coalition government and the ‘end of Civil War politics’. But the pandemic sucked much of the oxygen out of a heightened political atmosphere, and also occasioned the physical relocation of Parliament, challenging the institution’s operation and culture.
Submitting evidence before the House was to take further decisions on its Coronavirus arrangements, we decried the Leader of the House’s decision to end hybrid proceedings and remote voting as "over-hasty, poorly thought-through, unwise and unnecessary". Our recommendations covered House business, risk management, delegated legislation and select committees.
The new review of the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal project opens up a range of different outcomes for the future of the building. However, with the alarming state of the Palace not changed by the Coronavirus, the government should not use the pandemic as an excuse to downgrade or delay the much-needed repairs.
Jersey’s States Assembly was the first legislature in the Commonwealth to hold a full virtual meeting, with all members able to participate, in order to get around the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 crisis. Mark Egan, Greffier of the States, describes how this was achieved and suggests that some of the States Assembly’s Covid-19 innovations may stick.
The extensive take-up of remote evidence-taking by House of Commons select committees during the Easter recess is a significant Coronavirus-induced change of practice. It shows how procedural and technological change can help support scrutiny.
There have been many calls for Parliament to become ‘virtual’ during the Coronavirus pandemic, using remote working to ensure proper scrutiny of government during the crisis. But how should a ‘virtual’ Parliament operate?