House of Commons reveals plan for video PMQs

Written by John Johnston on 16 April 2020 in News

Speaker of the house outlines proposals for virtual sessions to be televised live

Credit: PA

MPs will ask the prime minister questions via videolink during the coronavirus lockdown, House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle has revealed.

The Chorley MP said plans for a virtual parliament were "progressing well" amid mounting demands for the government to be held to account over its approach to the crisis.

The house is currently on its Easter recess, but will return on 21 April – despite the fact that social distancing measures mean MPs are banned from entering. 

Some select committee sessions have already seen witnesses being grilled by MPs via video link.

Under Hoyle's plans, Prime Minister’s Questions, urgent questions and commons statements would also take place remotely.

The speaker, who would chair the daily meetings from Westminster, said the sessions would be shown live on the BBC, but admitted "the scale of the challenge means there are bound to be bumps along the way”.  

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Hoyle said some MPs could initially have to attend Westminster to vote on legislation, but said that if the virtual system "satisfactory and sustainable" the virtual system could be extended to allow for "remote voting".

In a letter to MPs, he wrote: "Planning for certain parts of House business to be taken virtually is progressing well. The main aspect of the proposal will allow oral questions – including PMQs – urgent questions and statements to take place at the beginning of each sitting day by video link."

He added: "I recognise the urgent need to put new arrangements in place and will do everything I can to ensure the house is presented with the opportunity to take a decision on this matter sooner rather than later – giving the house as much advance notice as I am able to do in these exceptional circumstances.

"Separately, I am aware of interest among colleagues in the possibility of using technology to allow members to participate in [votes] without being present on the estate. There is a wide range of views on the merits of changing the house’s long-standing voting arrangements, and it would be for the House itself to agree any change."

The announcement comes after a cross-party demand for the recall of parliament so that ministers could face questions over their handling of the pandemic.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, said: "It’s very important in a crisis like this that parliament is sitting so that decisions can be properly scrutinised."

Meanwhile, Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said whoever was standing in for Boris Johnson (pictured above on screen) while he recovers for the illness should also face a weekly grilling from MPs.

Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis, added: "The House of Commons met when air raids were going on in the war. I think it needs to be reconstituted even if it means MPs being tested every day.”


About the author

John Johnston is a political reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. He tweets as @johnjohnstonmi.

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