MPs to quiz government on Zoom after 'virtual parliament' plan approved

Parliament will be held virtually when it returns after the Easter break with MPs doing what many of us have been doing for weeks – using Zoom.

The House of Commons will use the now famous video-conferencing tool to hold proceedings remotely, although about 50 members of parliament will be able to sit on the benches so long as social-distancing guidelines are strictly observed.

The tool will allow up to 120 further MPs to take part.

Experts from the National Cyber Security Centre told the Commons authorities Zoom was appropriate for hearings as long as it was carefully managed.

The measures, which still need formal approval by MPs, will allow parliamentary democracy to continue during the coronavirus crisis when sittings at the Palace of Westminster return on April 21.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who chairs the commission that approved the plan, said: ‘By initiating a hybrid solution, with steps towards an entirely virtual Parliament, we are enabling members to stay close to their communities, while continuing their important work scrutinising the Government.

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‘I do not want members and House staff putting themselves at risk.

‘By working virtually, this is our contribution to the guidance of stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.’

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘These measures will make it possible for Parliament to continue its work of conducting scrutiny, authorising spending and making laws – all of which are essential to tackling coronavirus.

‘I am extremely grateful to Mr Speaker for showing the leadership necessary to make this happen; to the parties, who have worked together constructively to ensure next week’s business will run smoothly with the minimal necessary attendance in Westminster; and to House staff, for working so hard over the Easter break to make these changes technically possible.’

If agreed, MPs will be able to take part in Prime Minister’s Questions, urgent questions, and statements, via video link for the first two hours of each sitting day.

If it works, and if MPs to decide on any shift to a system of remote voting, it could be extended so debates on motions and legislation can be done from home.

Screens around the Commons chamber will allow the Speaker and MPs in Westminster to see their homeworking colleagues.

Those joining remotely will be expected to follow the same rules as MPs in Parliament.

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