Wednesday, April 21

Covid-19: UK to have virtual parliament to question govt response

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Plans are afoot to enable MPs to question the Boris Johnson government virtually when parliament resumes after the Easter break on April 21, after speaker Lindsay Hoyle and several MPs pushed for using technology to continue parliamentary work.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the government and parliament hoped appropriate technology would be in place by April 21, when MPs may or may not be able to be physically present in the House.

 

He said: “Parliament’s role of scrutinising government, authorising spending and making laws must be fulfilled and in these unprecedented times that means considering every technological solution available. We are exploring options with the parliamentary authorities in readiness for parliament’s return.”

Hoyle insisted in a letter to Rees-Mogg that MPs should be able to take part in Prime Minister’s questions, oral questions to government departments, to ask urgent questions and to hear statements being made – especially if it is ‘not appropriate’ for them to be present.

Several select committee meetings have already been held virtually, which encouraged Hoyle and others to push to expanding technology’s use to cover the main chamber.

“Once the House returns, if we are still in the grip of the crisis where the physical presence of Members, or too many Members, in the Palace is not appropriate, I am keen that they should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually, for example, oral questions, urgent questions, statements,” Hoyle wrote to Rees-Mogg.

“The House Service has already trialled some virtual select committee evidence sessions with witnesses – and I have asked officials to investigate how they would apply similar technology to the types of business listed above.”

Hoyle also asked if it would be possible for the Government to set up a forum of MPs during this recess, possibly via select committee chairs, who could quiz senior Government representatives at set times on different days.

“MPs are being swamped right now with questions and case work from distressed constituents who need answers. Responses cannot wait for the House to sit again”, he said.