Covid 19 coronavirus: Parliament’s MP numbers reduced, social distancing imposed

MPs will again be required to physically distance in the Parliament this week, with each party asked to cut the number of their MPs sitting in the House.

Speaker Trevor Mallard unveiled the changes this afternoon in response to the alert level 2 setting in Wellington.

Question Time and House matters will still go ahead tomorrow and Wednesday, but there are still questions about what will be happening on Thursday.

On the Government’s legislative agenda tomorrow is the Covid-19 Resurgence Support Payments bill, which will be rushed through all three stages in the House under urgency.

This is the legislation which gives effect to the suite of Government support payments schemes which would kick in if part of the country went back into lockdown for more than seven days.

The next day, MPs will debate and vote on “approval of four Covid-19 orders” – although it is not yet clear what those orders are.

Parliament tours have been cancelled and no visitors will be allowed in the public gallery in the chamber until Wellington moves back into level 1.

Mallard said the decisions were made after he consulted with the Business Committee – a cross-party group of MPs which help set the rules and agenda of Parliament.

“Physical distancing in the Chamber will be required and so the number of members in the House will be reduced,” Mallard said.

He also said that numbers for each party would be allocated in proportion to their caucus size.

To make up for this, Mallard said there would be an unlimited number of proxies will be available so members will not be required to travel to Wellington.

A proxy question is one asked on behalf of an MP who cannot make it to the debating chamber.

Mallard said that select committees may meet in person provided physical distancing can be practised – but members can attend by video conference.

Members of the public will not be able to attend select committee hearings in person, and witnesses are expected to provide evidence via video conference or teleconference.

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