Parliamentary unions demand return to hybrid sitting

15 October 2020

Parliamentary trade unions have today (Thursday) written to Commons authorities demanding that parliament return to hybrid sitting in order to maintain its ability to hold the government to account at this vital time for our country.

House of Parliament

The unions (Prospect, FDA, PCS and GMB) warn that with London in Tier 2 and MPs being asked to travel to Westminster from all over the country including areas in tier 3, there is a real threat to our ability to function as democracy.  If parliament has to close because of escalating COVID levels on the estate then important decisions relating to Brexit and to the pandemic will not be properly debated.

The letter says:

In order to prevent the very real risk of a worsening crisis forcing Parliament to close, it is surely sensible that Parliament returns to remote working to protect staff and MPs and ensure that the important work of Parliament can continue in its vital work of holding the Government to account.

The unions also call for parliament itself to make plans for if a “circuit breaker” is introduced, with as many functions as possible moving online and as little physical attendance as possible.

Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said:

“We are in an incredibly contentious period in parliament with decisions being made about dealing with the pandemic at the same time as final preparations are being made for the end of the transition period. Proper democratic scrutiny of these decisions is essential and if Parliament has to close due to escalating infections then that scrutiny is put at risk.

“That’s why we the parliamentary unions are calling for a planned and urgent return to hybrid working, with full remote participation in debates and votes. This is the only way to ensure both the safety of staff and members, and ongoing democratic scrutiny.

“The Leader of the House has so far rejected such plans out of hand, allegedly in the name of democracy – he must think again.”

Amy Leversidge, FDA Assistant General Secretary added:

“It is absolutely vital that MPs are able to effectively hold the government to account in the coming months. However, the House authorities also have a duty of care to all those who work on the parliamentary estate.

“Therefore, it is crucial that the Government changes course and gives its support to a return to hybrid working. MPs proved earlier this year that it was possible to participate in the proceedings of the House remotely, ensuring continued scrutiny of government decisions, whilst protecting staff.

“As infections continue to rise and areas across the country face tightening restrictions, I would urge the Leader of the House to put the health and safety of all those who work in Parliament first.”