Home » News » World » UK Parliament to Use Zoom for Historic Virtual Covid-19 Sittings
2-MIN READ

UK Parliament to Use Zoom for Historic Virtual Covid-19 Sittings

File image of UK Parliament. (Image: Reuters)

File image of UK Parliament. (Image: Reuters)

Under the "hybrid" plans, approval has been given to allow up to 120 MPs at any one time to take part in proceedings virtually through the Zoom conferencing app, with around 50 could remain in the chamber under strict social distancing rules.

British MPs are set to be able to quiz ministers via Zoom for the first time in the House of Commons' 700-year history following an agreement by parliamentary authorities in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, the House of Commons said on Thursday.

Under the "hybrid" plans, approval has been given to allow up to 120 MPs at any one time to take part in proceedings virtually through the Zoom conferencing app, with around 50 could remain in the chamber under strict social distancing rules.

The historic measures will still need the formal approval of MPs when they return from Easter recess on April 21.

"By initiating a hybrid solution, with steps towards an entirely virtual Parliament, we are enabling Members to stay close to their communities, while continuing their important work scrutinising the government," said Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speak of the Commons and Chair of the Commission in charge of its functioning. "I do not want Members and House staff putting themselves at risk. By working virtually, this is our contribution to the guidance of stay home, protect the NHS and save lives."

The Commons said the expectation is that fewer MPs will be present in the chamber as many will have difficulties getting to Parliament. All MPs are encouraged to work virtually, especially as any MP in the chamber will be treated the same as one appearing virtually and would only be called to speak if listed.

The House of Commons Commission, which includes the Speaker, Leader, Shadow Leader and an Scottish National Party (SNP) spokesperson sit, finalised the plan in a bid to keep democracy going during the coronavirus crisis. It said the hybrid model was developed at speed and chosen as an achievable first step towards a virtual Parliament -- having the benefit of meeting current technological capacity.

If the new measures are agreed, it will mean from Wednesday, April 22, some MPs will be able to take part in Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), any urgent questions and statements via video link for the first two hours of each sitting day.

A number of screens will be placed around the chamber to allow the Speaker and MPs present in the chamber to be able to see their "virtual" colleagues.

To ensure all members are treated equally, those joining by Zoom will be expected not to display or draw attention to objects to illustrate their contributions.

The Commission noted that if an MP is called "but cannot be heard or seen for technological reasons, it should be possible for them to be called later in the proceedings and that there can be no opportunity for interventions and no points of order should be raised when hybrid proceedings are underway".

The Commission was told that once the delivery of the hybrid proceedings is judged satisfactory and sustainable, the House will consider extending the model to debates on motions and legislation as quickly as possible. It will also be up to the House to decide on any change to a system of remote voting in divisions of the House.

The Commission was also told that as a result of virtual Commons Select Committees being facilitated during the recess period, it would be possible to support as many as 20 virtual committee meetings a week from April 20.
first published:April 16, 2020, 21:36 IST