The letter includes details on the following areas:
Consideration of measures to alter the way the Chamber operates to improve social distancing
To reduce the number of MPs required in the Chamber at any one time, the Speaker will consider removing the convention that only MPs present during a statement can ask questions on it.
Speaking lists could be published so that people know the running order and can attend at the relevant time.
MPs would be able to submit a question on a statement in advance, so a rota can be set up that enables MPs to only come in for their question.
These measures, which are being considered, will be reviewed in consultation with Public Health England, the Leader of the House and the Whips before the House returns after recess.
Scrutinising the Government remotely
Following the temporary order made by the House on Tuesday, the Speaker has authorised Select Committee members to participate in proceedings through email, conference calls, and digital conferencing, provided that:
- the means of electronic communication has been confirmed as belonging to the Member concerned
- any written communication is to be made to or copied to the Committee clerk
- the system used for such communication is approved by the Parliamentary Digital Service/ Broadcasting Unit
- in oral evidence sessions Members are able to hear witnesses clearly and to pose questions directly or communicate with the Chair to ask that questions be posed on their behalf
- in deliberation, Members must be able to both hear and contribute to discussions directly
- Parliamentary staff have the capacity to support the session.
These temporary measures to facilitate remote participation in proceedings will be in effect until 30 June, at which point they will be reviewed.
Facilitating MPs and their staff to better work away from office
Deployment of the Skype for Business app on iOS (Apple) products and Android will be rolled out to parliamentary devices in phases from 26 March, and will also be available for registered ‘bring your own device’ tablets and mobile phones. This will enable MPs and staff to use Skype for Business on mobile devices and provides greater flexibility on call answering and forwarding - and video conferencing.
All parliamentary users can now download the full version of Skype for Business from Parliament’s Office 365 site. This allows users to use Skype even if they do not have parliamentary computers.
Lessons for the future
For hundreds of years Parliament has relied on the physical presence of Members in the Chamber and in Committee rooms to conduct its business. Parliament’s ability to change this in a short period of time has demonstrated that there is more the House can do to facilitate agile working while enabling legislation, democratic scrutiny and representation. The Speaker has committed to establishing a Speaker’s Working Group to establish what solutions are needed (technologically, procedurally and logistically) to make us more robust in the future.