Parliament unveils ‘hybrid’ plan including Zoom and video screens

Written by John Johnston on 20 April 2020 in News

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle encourages MPs to stay at home

Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has unveiled plans for a "hybrid" system to allow meetings to be conducted remotely and urged MPs to "stay away" from parliament.

He said there would be "no benefit" for MPs who travel to Westminster, after spearheading plans for business to resume via video link during the coronavirus lockdown.

Government and opposition leaders have already rubber-stamped the plans, which will see up to 120 MPs using Zoom to grill ministers, including at 'virtual PMQs', when parliament reopens this week.

But writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Hoyle said he understood some would see it as "their right to be seen to be present" during the sessions as he warned MPs and staff could be forced to take temperature checks to limit the spread of the virus.

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As many as 50 MPs will be allowed to take part in the sessions from the Commons chamber, but parliament authorities said strict social distancing rules would remain in place, including laying markings to ensure they remain at least two metres apart.

Eight screens are to be setup in the chamber to allow ministers to take questions remotely, with Hoyle saying those attending in person would have the same access as those sitting "with their laptop or iPad in their kitchen".

It comes after a Westminster saw a string of cases of the disease before it shut down last month, with prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock both testing positive for the virus.

Writing in the paper, Hoyle said: "I know some colleagues will feel it is their right to be seen to be present, but I would urge them to stay away. For every member who turns up to parliament, staff have to come in to support them, which goes against everything we are being told to do. I do not want MPs and house staff putting themselves at risk."

He added: "After all, there is no benefit to being here physically. Under this new – and temporary – measure, MPs in the chamber will have no more advantage. The cameras will be on me, the minister at the despatch box and the person asking the question, whether he or she is in the Chamber, or sat with their laptop or iPad in their kitchen."

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg added: "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."

But former Tory minister Rob Halfon said MPs should "practise what we preach" by making virtual attendance mandatory.

He said: "We should set an example to the nation. If we are telling people to stay at home then we should practise what we preach. If we then go into parliament ourselves we are potentially spreading it."


About the author

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

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