UK Opposition wants Parliament resumed virtually from April 21 – Times of India


LONDON: The UK Opposition parties and some ruling Conservative Party MPs have called on the government to resume Parliament after its Easter recess period on April 21 in a virtual form, given the social distancing measures in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer, leading the calls for Parliament’s return, has sought a meeting with the House of Commons Speaker and also written to the Leader of the Commons, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, seeking a confirmation of a virtual Commons sitting.
“Parliament has a responsibility to put questions to ministers at this time of national crisis,” he writes.
“The best decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny. And by that process issues can be resolved, mistakes quickly rectified and individual concerns addressed, which will help save lives and protect our country. But if Parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively that cannot happen,” he said.
All parliamentary business was suspended on March 25, as the UK went into its semi-lockdown after a speedy passage of the emergency Coronavirus Bill.
The Commons website notes that MPs are set for their official return after what is the usual Easter recess on April 21, but there have been doubts about the possibility of physical sessions resuming amid the continued lockdown as the death toll from the deadly virus in the country edged close to 10,000.
“My view is that whatever we come up with needs to be comprehensive and temporary,” said Rees-Mogg.
According to The Sunday Times newspaper, Britain’s spy chiefs have been brought in to advise the government on how a virtual Parliament could function. The National Cyber-Security Centre (NCSC), a branch of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is reportedly assisting with details on how to make a video-conferencing app such as Zoom secure so it can be used in Parliament.
Details were discussed at a virtual meeting of the House of Commons Commission last week where Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and others agreed in principle that Parliament should resume virtually. Details of how the virtual Parliament will work will be finalised at another meeting next Thursday, the report said.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked about Parliament’s resumption during the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday, when she said that discussions were taking place over the issue but insisted that all focus was currently on dealing with the pandemic.
“I think at this particular time, we have to focus the resources of government, all our energies, every single sinew of government, focusing on saving lives and dealing with this awful disease,” she said.
Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, said the lack of parliamentary scrutiny at this time wa “intolerable” and could not be allowed to continue.


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