On Wednesday 25th March, the Petitions Committee will hold an evidence session with Ministers and Government officials, including Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries, to scrutinise the Government’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
The evidence session comes following growing public concern about the COVID-19 virus spreading. In recent weeks, a series of parliamentary petitions relating to the outbreak have received more than 1.8 million signatures.
The Petitions Committee have moved quickly to take action and give a voice to communities across the country, by emailing over one million petitioners asking them for the questions they want to put to the Government on this critical issue. The Committee have already received an unprecedented 45,000 questions from the public, which will inform questions put to a panel of key Government officials and Ministers.
The evidence session, which will be led by Petitions Committee Chair Catherine McKinnell MP, will quiz representatives including the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries and the Minister of State for School Standards Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP. Justin Tomlinson MP – Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work will also answer questions on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, as the Committee assess the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic so far.
Witnesses will be questioned on a range of potential challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, from the closure of schools and other educational institutions to the inclusion of self-employed people in statutory sick pay and the possibility of implementing a ‘UK lockdown’ to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Petitions Committee have invited appropriate Members from other relevant Parliamentary Select Committees to join the evidence session, ensuring experts across Parliament can seize this landmark opportunity to hold the Government to account.
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP, said:
"The Government has been responding to the Coronavirus outbreak for weeks, but as we now see a daily increase in the spread of the virus and fatalities across the nation, we also see a rise in the spread of concern and uncertainty.
“With more than 1.8 million people signing parliamentary petitions about Coronavirus, the Petitions Committee will be putting questions from UK residents and British citizens to a panel of Ministers and senior Government officials, so together we can scrutinise the Government plans to tackle this unprecedented pandemic.
“The impact of this virus – both in the UK and globally – cannot be underestimated, and we will continue to hold this Government to account on behalf of petitioners to ensure it is effective in responding to the Coronavirus and the impact it will have on the lives of every one of us.”
As part of the widespread public participation and crowdsourced questioning ahead of the evidence session, the Petitions Committee have also taken steps to work with groups that support people who might not have access to the internet to make sure their voices are heard too, including older people, homeless people and those with disabilities.
The oral evidence session will take place in Parliament’s Boothroyd Room, from 14:30 on Wednesday 25th March. The session will be broadcast live on Parliament TV.
The Petitions Committee is set up by the House of Commons to look at e-petitions and public (paper) petitions. It can:
- ask for more information in writing—from petitioners, the Government, or other relevant people or organisations
- ask for more information in person—from petitioners, the Government, or other relevant people or organisations. This might be in Parliament or somewhere else in the UK
- write to the Government or another public body to press for action on a petition
- ask another parliamentary committee to look into the topic raised by a petition
- put forward petitions for debate in the House of Commons
The Committee is currently made up of 11 backbench Members of Parliament from Government and Opposition parties. The number of seats each party has is calculated to reflect the membership of the House as a whole. The Chair of the Committee was elected on 29 January 2020. The members of the Committee are:
- Catherine McKinnell (Chair) - Labour
- Martyn Day - Scottish National Party
- Elliot Colburn - Conservative
- Steve Double - Conservative
- Chris Evans - Labour
- Katherine Fletcher - Conservative
- Nick Fletcher - Conservative
- Mike Hill - Labour
- Tom Hunt - Conservative
- Kerry McCarthy - Labour
- Theresa Villiers – Conservative