MPs ready to embrace tech needed for digital Parliament

Parliament is set to reconvene online after the Easter recess, under plans put forward by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons.

Officials are working on technological solutions to enable a virtual Parliament, which could see MPs debating via video link, amid calls from opposition parties to allow proper scrutiny of the government during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Parliament has been shut since March 25 and was due to return on April 21.

However it seems likely that the UK’s lockdown will be extended next week, meaning MPs cannot physically reconvene in Westminster. 

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Parliament will return on April 21 to fulfil its essential constitutional functions of conducting scrutiny, authorising spending and making laws.

“In these unprecedented times, technological solutions have already been implemented for select committees, and options are being prepared for the Speaker, the government and other parties to consider next week.

“It is important that we have a comprehensive solution that does not inadvertently exclude any members.”

It comes after 100 MPs from Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP signed an open letter calling for a digital Parliament. 

Sir Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader, has called for urgent talks to discuss the recall of Parliament, to ensure Boris Johnson’s government is challenged and subject to scrutiny as it responds to the coronavirus crisis.

Ed Davey, the acting Liberal Democrat leader, said it was intolerable for there to be a lack of effective scrutiny given the situation facing the country.

Select committees — groups of MPs that grill experts on topical issues — have met using an online trial over recent weeks. Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, said that it had been successful and could be extended to the entire Commons chamber.

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He told MPs last week that Parliamentary staff were “working round the clock to develop a virtual House of Commons” ahead of April 21.

In a letter to Mr Rees-Mogg, Sir Keir said there was no substitute for parliamentary scrutiny during this time of national crisis.

He said: “The best decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny. And by that process issues can be resolved, mistakes quickly rectified and individual concerns addressed.

“That will help save lives and protect our country. But if parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively that cannot happen.”


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