Call for ‘digital parliament’ gains backing of one in five MPs

Campaign launched by Labour MP Chi Onwurah is supported by 124 other members

Credit: PA

A call for the UK to move to a “digital parliament” for the duration of the coronavirus has attracted the support of almost one in five MPs.

Chi Onwurah, Labour member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and shadow minister for industrial strategy, is leading the campaign. She last week wrote to House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle urging him to “work on making provisions for a digital parliament”. 

“In abnormal times, it is important to show that we are changing our behaviours,” she said.

A follow-up missive, sent yesterday to House of Commons clerk John Benger, was undersigned by 124 of Onwurah’s fellow MPs who are joining her in calling for arrangements to be put in place to allow parliament to sit virtually during the coronavirus crisis.

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With parliament having broken for its Easter recess a week early, the 650 MPs that comprise the House of Commons are not due to return to Westminster for another three weeks.

The vast majority of signatories – 107 – are Labour MPs. But among the 18 from outside Onwurah’s party are five Liberal Democrats, eight representatives of the Scottish National Party and one each from the Green, SDLP, and Alliance parties. 

The campaign has even garnered the support of two Conservatives: Dan Poulter; and Gary Streeter.

“We urge you to work with the Parliamentary Digital Service and our excellent tech sector to design, in the next few weeks, a digital parliament in which all members can participate,” Onwurah’s letter said. “Given the urgency of the task, we recognise that will require using off-the-shelf solutions and may initially be ‘rough and ready’. But people up and down the country have made huge behavioural changes in a matter of days, and we must show that we are capable of it too.”

She added: “With the help of many innovative and ethical tech sector organisations, we can deliver a digital parliament which, through secure videoconferencing, can maintain our democratic traditions in accordance with social distancing.”

The Newcastle MP said that, with a number of her fellow parliamentarians – including the prime minister himself – having already been infected with Covid-19, “it is clear that Westminster is not a safe working environment, and cannot be made so whilst including a representative number of MPs”.

Among those to have already lent their support to Onwurah’s campaign are shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy, ex-Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, and former Cabinet ministers Harriet Harman and Ben Bradshaw.


Sam Trendall

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