Tomorrow, MPs are due to return to Parliament from the Easter recess spent working in their constituencies. But with the ongoing coronavirus crisis, historic measures will be taken to ensure they can carry out their work safely.
Overseen by the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Parliamentary authorities have been working to find a way for MPs to be able to virtually participate in the chamber. Pending Parliament’s agreement on Tuesday, they are now set to be able to quiz Ministers via video-link for the first time in the House of Commons’ 700-year history.
On Tuesday, a limited number of MPs will return to the chamber in person to formally agree the new arrangements. There will be a maximum of 50 MPs allowed to attend in person, and all will need to observe social distancing measures. Special guidance has been issued to MPs about how best to socially distance in the chamber.
It is expected that the new measures will be voted through by those present on Tuesday. If they are, then from Wednesday 22 April, some MPs will be able to take part in regular question sessions (including Prime Minister’s Questions), urgent questions and ministerial statements via video link for the first two hours of each parliamentary day.
A number of screens will be placed around the chamber to allow the Speaker and the limited number of MPs present in the chamber to be able to see their ‘virtual’ colleagues around the country.
Once this is up and running, further steps will be taken to move toward MPs being able to take part in debates on motions and legislation as quickly as possible. It will be up to MPs to decide on any change to a system of remote voting.
Committee meetings, including select committees, are already taking place with virtual attendance of MPs and officials.
Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, said:
“During this unprecedented crisis it’s more important than ever that MPs can scrutinise the Government and highlight the issues that are coming up in their constituencies. At the same time, avoiding the further spread of coronavirus remains our top priority.
It’s good news that measures have been put in place to get a virtual Parliament up and running. I won’t be attending Westminster this week, but I hope to be taking part in virtual questions from Wednesday morning and I’ll be following all proceedings closely from Withington.
I’d like to thank the parliamentary staff whose hard work has put this together at short notice and under such challenging circumstances.”