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Speaker calls for virtual Parliament during coronavirus crisis

Pressure mounts to build on previous virtual trials in parliamentary committee hearings and enable the House of Commons to operate remotely.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, has called for the introduction of a virtual Parliament before activities resume on 21 April.

Hoyle has written to the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, calling for MPs to be able to legislate, scrutinise and represent constituents remotely during the coronavirus crisis. This follows an open letter led by Labour MP Chi Onwurah and co-signed by more than 100 MPs calling for remote working.

In her letter, Onwurah argued that technology experts “are clear that the technology is there and that digitising Parliament is not rocket science”.

The Speaker sent the letter following concerns from a number of MPs about how House business could continue during the pandemic. He argued that a trial of virtual select committee hearings had already been carried out successfully and said he has asked for support to investigate how such a set-up could be used in the Commons.

“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,” the Speaker wrote.

Responding to MPs’ calls for a virtual Parliament, trade body TechUK said its members have kept the NHS, government and local authorities connected and technology companies “stand ready to do the same for Parliament”.

Julian David, chief executive of TechUK, said: “It is crucial that the democratic business of Parliament can continue unimpeded while ensuring that MPs and Peers too can follow government guidance and stay home to save lives.

“A digital Parliament is possible and, in our opinion, essential. The technology is there to ensure that Parliament can continue its role securely, transparently and reliably.”

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