House of Lords demands extra powers in order to scrutinise Boris Johnson over coronavirus

Politicians in the unelected chamber have written to the Lord Speaker requesting extra time so that more members can take part in debates on the pandemic. A cross-party group of 194 members put their name to the letter, PoliticsHome reports. The Prime Minister took part in his first PMQs on Wednesday since returning to work following hospitalization for coronavirus.

He promised 200,000 tests per day by the end of the month as he was grilled by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

In their letter, the Lords said debates on COVID-19 had so far been “artificially constrained” due to the time limits.

They called for a return to a full four-day sitting pattern.

The group led by the Liberal Democrats’ deputy Lords leader Baroness Walmsley said the change should be made after the May recess.

Another key demand was to allow for more oral questions.

They wrote: “We acknowledge that the first two weeks since our return on 21st April have been experimental to meet an unprecedented challenge and we commend the hard work of officers and departments alike.

“But with that experience behind us, we can plan appropriately.

“The implications of the pandemic are widespread – so serious and unprecedented that other unrelated issues impacting on the daily lives of our fellow citizens may be neglected.

They added: “The Government and the Commons are focused on immediate COVID-19 problems.

“But Ministers do recognise that careful scrutiny on a collaborative basis is essential for good governance.

“The Covid-19 crisis raises huge issues of economic damage and the health and safety of our fellow citizens – and particularly of NHS, social care and other front-line staff.

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“But it also involves civil liberties and human rights. These cannot be muted.

“The House of Lords has a unique role which should not be artificially restrained.”

Many members are working from home during the lockdown.

The Lords wrote that given the change in circumstances members should be working more not less as they called for two days of debates each week.

“In these abnormal times the majority of us are working at home and this consideration does not apply,” they added.

“Surely we should work more, and not less.

“Longer hours and an allocation of two days for popular debates would enable each peer to make the contribution he/she wishes.”

The letter comes a week after the House announced the formation of a new committee to scrutinise the Government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

The House of Lords Liaison Committee said the COVID-19 group should work towards developing in well-rounded understanding of the lessons to be learned from the crisis.

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