'Virtual parliament' set up for MPs to work during coronavirus

21 April 2020, 10:24 | Updated: 21 April 2020, 15:08

Strict social distancing arrangements will be in force with MPs required to sit two metres apart
Strict social distancing arrangements will be in force with MPs required to sit two metres apart. Picture: Instagram

By Matt Drake

A "virtual parliament" has been set up for MPs this week while they have to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The unprecedented changes allow politicians to tune into statements and question sessions via video link.

Up to 120 MPs are able to cross-examine ministers via zoom while a maximum of 50 will be allowed into the main debating room itself.

Other measures introduced include large screens lining the chamber walls, hazard tape marking safe social distances and no entry signs telling politicians where they can and cannot sit.

Only about two hours of proceedings will be held this way and the rest happening with the smaller group of MPs permitted to attend in person.

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Only a few MPs are permitted to sit in the chamber
Only a few MPs are permitted to sit in the chamber. Picture: Instagram
MPs must sit 6ft (2m) apart from one another
MPs must sit 6ft (2m) apart from one another. Picture: Instagram

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has urged MPs to "stay at home" as Parliament returns following the Easter recess.

He said: "My advice is please stay at home, let's do it remotely.

"Those that insist on coming - we can have up to 50, I'm not expecting 50 members in at once, far from it, I'm hoping that number is much reduced."

He stressed there would be "no advantage" for an MP in the chamber over one working remotely.

The initial cost of development amounts to £148,793 and the running costs for maintaining the system are estimated at £369,267 per month, according to a memorandum published by House of Commons Clerk John Benger as part of his role as accounting officer.

Hazard tape marking safe social distances
Hazard tape marking safe social distances. Picture: Instagram
Views divided among those who believe they have a duty to be present and others committed to staying away
Views divided among those who believe they have a duty to be present and others committed to staying away. Picture: Instagram
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it would be a "historic" moment for the Commons
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it would be a "historic" moment for the Commons. Picture: Instagram

Strict social distancing arrangements are in force with MPs required to sit two metres apart.

It is unclear how many will attend each week, with views divided among those who believe they have a duty to be present and others committed to staying away from the chamber.

It means the new arrangements will be in place for Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab standing in for Boris Johnson against new opposition leader Keir Starmer.

The motion states the orders relating to the "hybrid" arrangement will have effect until May 12, although they could be extended by a further motion.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it would be a "historic" moment for the Commons, and that if it went well MPs could move to a fully "virtual" House.

"It will be a historic moment in our 700-year history to have MPs contributing to Prime Minister's Questions, urgent questions and statements via video link from the safety of their own homes and offices."

The House of Lords, which also returned on Tuesday, will have a mix of online and in-person proceedings, again with peers encouraged to stay away.

Experts from the National Cyber Security Centre have advised that the use of Zoom will be appropriate as long as the application's use is carefully managed.

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