Earlier today, I took part in a panel discussion organised by the Institute for Government on Parliament and the Pandemic: The Legacy of COVID-19. Also on the panel was a former student of mine, Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford and a former Sports Minister, and Matthew Hamlyn, a senior member of the parliamentary staff. We discussed the challenges and the opportunities posed by the pandemic and what changes may be retained by either House once we are able to return to some degree of normality.
I was able to develop a theme I have pursued before, which regular readers will recognise, of the challenges posed by members not being able to meet informally. We have managed to recreate formal space – proceedings in the chamber and committee – but not informal space; as I mentioned, there is no virtual Bishop’s Bar and no virtual corridors. Meeting informally is crucial for information exchange and lobbying; it is also important for the socialisation of new members. I also delineated other pressures that limit the House in fulfilling its scrutinising functions.
Looking ahead, I drew a distinction between continuity and reversion. By that, I refer to those changes that may be continued once Westminster comes out of the present situation and those that may not be continued immediately, but may be reverted to once both Houses decant (as decant we must) for the restoration and renewal programme. There may be an attempt to revert to some of the current practices for the sake of saving space, as well as for convenience, but not necessarily for the benefit of either House in carrying out its functions. It may also distract from focusing on creating space for members to meet informally as well as expanding public space – that is, the capacity for the public to engage with MPs and peers – which should also be core to the restoration and renewal programme.
You can watch the seminar via the Institute for Government website: