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Coronavirus: Set up virtual parliament until pandemic over, Commons Speaker urges

A virtual parliament should be set up if the coronavirus crisis lasts much longer, the government has been urged.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle made the unprecedented intervention to urge that MPs be able to quiz ministers on the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parliament is currently in recess, having broken up a week early over fears about the virus spreading in Westminster and infecting politicians including a health minister.

Image: The regular PMQs joust with Boris Johnson could go online

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his health secretary have now both contracted COVID-19, raising questions about whether MPs will be allowed back when their Easter break officially ends on 21 April.

Sir Lindsay said MPs should still be able to raise constituents’ concerns about coronavirus – which could include being stranded abroad or struggling to access government support schemes – during the remaining three-week break.

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He called on Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to devise some kind of “forum” for ministers to answer urgent queries.

If parliament sits again in a few weeks and the UK is still in lockdown, Sir Lindsay said MPs “should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually” – including the weekly grilling of Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions.

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Some committees have been taking evidence sessions using videolink and Sir Lindsay said: “I have asked officials to investigate how they would apply similar technology to the types of business listed above.”

Mr Rees-Mogg, known for his knowledge of parliament’s centuries-old rules and procedures, signaled he was open to discussing the ideas.

“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,” he said.

“We are exploring options with the parliamentary authorities in readiness for parliament’s return.”

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Labour MP Charlotte Nichols welcomed Sir Lindsay’s suggestions.

She tweeted: “In a time of national crisis, MPs have more questions than we have answers and limited ways to raise these with Ministers when Parliament is in recess to advocate for our constituents as effectively as they deserve.”


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