On 13 January, MPs voted to temporarily suspend Westminster Hall and Fridays sittings. This was done in line with regulations regarding the pandemic and to adhere with social distancing measures.
In a letter, the Leader of the House said the measures were “introduced as a way of reducing the number of people on the Estate, in line with government covid guidance.” This has been done with the safety of MPs and their staff in mind given the current situation with Covid-19.
Friday sittings are opportunities for MPs to debate Private Members’ Bills. As you will be aware, the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is a Private Members’ Bill, introduced by Caroline Lucas MP on 2 September 2020.
The suspension of the Friday sittings means that the CEE Bill will not be debated in this parliamentary session.
As yet, MPs have no idea of the new order for Private Members’ Bills or when Friday sittings will be reintroduced. The move has naturally angered some MPs, as these sittings are a key way in which MPs who aren’t ministers can propose legislation and influence policy.
However, we were well aware that the CEE BIll was highly unlikely to be debated in Parliament in this session. The CEE Bill was already placed 5th on a list of Private Members’ Bills to be debated on 26 March; and it had already been pushed from 12 March. Friday sittings are under time constraint, and MPs seeking to promote other Private Members’ Bills beforehand would invariably overlap into the CEE Bill’s slot.
The suspension of Friday sittings confirms what we already knew - the government will not be allowing adequate debate on the CEE Bill and it continues to stifle opportunities for Parliament to discuss real solutions to the climate and nature crisis.
These are extraordinary times, and we welcome moves to ensure that the safety of MPs and their staff is given paramount importance. However, while many of us have adapted our work practices to comply with government guidelines, the House of Commons appears to be experiencing a lack of creative thinking in this move to suspend Westminster Hall and Friday sittings.
Many MPs already contribute to discussions in the Chamber and in Committees via video-link. The House of Lords, with an average age of 70, has adapted to online working practices with minimal interruption. We see no reason why Westminster Hall and Friday sittings cannot return in remote capacity as soon as possible.
This development, alongside the second delay to the Environment Bill, is the culmination of a system in which citizens’ - and MPs’ - voices are not being heard and real strategies for dealing with climate and ecological breakdown are being pushed back. That is why the CEE Bill puts forward provisions for a Citizens’ Assembly, by which people, working with Parliament and Government, can join together on the pathway towards a sustainable future. At the moment we are all being left in the dark.
The suspension of Friday sittings is by no means the end of the CEE Bill. We want to mark the date when our second reading would have taken place with a Twitter storm that MPs won’t be able to ignore. On Friday, 26 March we’ll be asking campaigners to record a video and tweet your MP asking them to back the CEE Bill (or thanking them if they already do). Campaigners are also planning a banner drop in support of the Bill on the same day. Details of which you can find out about on our website, under events.
There will also be other opportunities for the Bill and its ideas to be heard in the Commons and Lords. CEE Bill sponsor Caroline Lucas MP is leading an adjournment debate tonight on the UK’s response to the climate and ecological emergency, with lead CEE Bill supporting MPs speaking alongside her. Look out for our blog on this in the next few days.
We fully intend to re-introduce the CEE Bill in the next Session of Parliament, which will likely start in May 2021. In the meantime we will continue to remind MPs that we have to go further and faster to achieve what was set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
Our question to the Government, MPs and Parliament remains - two years on from the Climate Emergency Declaration passed by the House of Commons, what have you done to put us on a credible path towards limiting global heating, restoring nature and charting a more sustainable future?