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Speaker outlines virtual Chamber plans

14 April 2020 (updated on 14 April 2020)

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Planning for certain parts of House business to be taken virtually when it returns on 21 April “is progressing well”, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said.

Members will be able to take part in Prime Minister's Questions, urgent questions and statements remotely by video link.

The proceedings will be broadcast/ webcast as live – and once the delivery of them is judged satisfactory and sustainable, the House will consider extending the model to debates on motions and legislation, the Speaker said.

It will also be up to the House to decide on any change to “a system of remote voting in divisions of the House,” he added.

Sir Lindsay outlined the behind-the-scenes preparations that have been taking place to return the House of Commons to work on 21 April in a letter to MPs.

He conceded that while “the scale of the challenge means there are bound to be bumps along the way”, the use of technology will allow Members to hold the Government to account, but in line with important public health guidance.

Explaining the measures, he said:

“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.”

Sir Lindsay said he had asked the House Service and Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) ”to undertake preparatory work as a matter of urgency on a system of remote voting in divisions of the House”.

While a “draft operating model” developed by the House Service for how these arrangements will work in the Chamber in practice has been approved by the Speaker, it is now with the Government and main Opposition parties for review. 

A virtual meeting of the Procedure Committee will consider this model on Wednesday, 15 April.

If the House of Commons Commission gives its approval on Thursday, 16 April, it would be for the Leader of the House, following consultation with the parties, to put forward motions setting out any temporary arrangements for the House to consider on 21 April.

“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,” Sir Lindsay said.
“I will send out more detailed information about the proposals after the Commission meeting on Thursday 16 April, but I must reiterate that it is for the House to decide, in accordance with existing processes, the way forward once it returns from 21 April.” 

The Speaker also thanked the House authorities, particularly the Broadcasting Team and PDS for adapting current technology and bringing in new methods “to allow our work to take place in a virtual setting.”

Read the Speaker's letter here.

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