Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers from Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom and KwaZulu-Natal have emphasised the importance of independent Parliaments and Legislatures and the adaptations that have been made, especially during the current COVID-19 global pandemic, during the second webinar on this topic organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The CPA webinar for Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth provided a timely and unique opportunity to examine the nature of Parliaments as independent institutions in the context of COVID-19.
The first panelist was the CPA President, Hon. Anthony Rota, MP, Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada spoke about the Canadian Parliament’s experience of virtual proceedings during the current COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of a healthy and functioning Parliament to democracy. The Parliament of Canada has implemented hybrid proceedings as a temporary measure in consultation with both Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff and required the support of the Opposition to support emergency legislation.
Hon. Bridgid Annisette-George, Speaker of the House of Representatives at the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago spoke about maintaining parliamentary procedures for all Members of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, which was not suspended or restricted at any time. The Parliament had implemented strict screening processes and safety measures, including the reconfiguration of the chamber. Speaker Annisette-George also spoke about the ‘people-centered’ approach to working adopted by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago that included working from home and staggered working for Members and parliamentary staff.
Rt Hon. Dame Eleanor Laing, MP, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, spoke about the importance that the UK Parliament had placed on maintaining parliamentary sittings during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that Parliamentarians were able to continue to scrutinize the Executive. The UK Parliament has implemented ‘socially-distanced’ proceedings and has allowed some MPs to participate via video technology.
The Speaker of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature, Hon. Nontembeko ‘Ntobeko’ Boyce, MPL spoke about the experience of a provincial legislature in South Africa and the coordination with the national Government and local authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislature has continued sittings but also used IT technology and social distancing measures to ensure that safety was maintained.
Matthew Salik, Head of Parliamentary Development at the CPA Headquarters Secretariat spoke about the launch of the CPA’s Model Law for Independent Parliaments earlier this year and the CPA’s work with Commonwealth Legislatures on establishing Parliamentary Service Commissions and ensuring that Parliaments can remain robust, effective and independent institutions.
Speakers and Presiding Officers attended the CPA webinar from many Commonwealth Parliaments including Uganda, Mauritius, South Africa, Zambia, Malta, Alberta, Bermuda, Sierra Leone, Ontario, Lesotho, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Yukon, Saint Lucia, Cayman Islands, Guyana, Malawi, Seychelles, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Falkland Islands, Jersey, Western Cape and Gauteng.
The webinar was closed by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Stephen Twigg who spoke about how Parliaments in the long-term can establish policies, strategies and powers to give them the necessary resources to function independently and effectively. It is important that Parliaments learn from the current pandemic and implement the necessary changes that are required. As democratic institutions, Commonwealth Parliaments must ensure public confidence in their ability to manage their affairs and to conduct their essential legislative, oversight and representative functions, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The CPA Headquarters Secretariat is providing assistance to Commonwealth Parliaments through its programme of seminars and its toolkits like the Model Law for Independent Parliaments and the CPA’s Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures to provide Legislatures with a robust framework of parliamentary procedures.
A recording of the ‘CPA webinar for Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth: COVID-19 and Independent Parliaments’ will be available for the benefit of all Commonwealth Parliaments on the CPA’s YouTube channel at: www.cpahq.org/cpahq/youtube.
To download a copy of the CPA’s toolkit on Model Law for Independent Parliaments please visit www.cpahq.org/cpahq/modellaw.