Keir Starmer says parliament business must resume to scrutinise government over coronavirus response

Keir Starmer calls for parliament business to resume after Easter. Photograph: Sky News.

Keir Starmer calls for parliament business to resume after Easter. Photograph: Sky News. - Credit: Archant

The government must resume parliament business, whether it is in the building or in an online format instead, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is urging.

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded 'urgent talks' as he wrote a letter to leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg saying there must be 'scrutiny' of the government throughout the coronavirus crisis.

In his letter, Sir Keir wrote: 'Parliament has a responsibility to put questions to ministers at this time of national crisis.

'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.'

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The 57-year-old has requested a meeting with Rees-Mogg and Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle next week to discuss parliament resuming on April 21 so such questions can be put to ministers directly.

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His letter comes after home seecretary Priti Patel told reporters during a Downing Street briefing that she did 'not know yet' whether the Commons would meet as planned in little over a week's time.

Sir Keir added: 'I am writing to request urgent talks with you and the Speaker of the House this week about how we can guarantee the return of parliament after the Easter recess.

'I accept that it is difficult for parliament to return to business as usual at the moment, but there are clear examples around the world of parliaments operating effectively by using new technologies and different models.'

Work has been commissioned by Hoyle to ensure a 'virtual' chamber can be up and running after the Easter recess so MPs can return to duty.

It could see MPs questioning ministers from their homes by webcam if the lockdown is still in place, with senior ministers signalling there is no intention to curb the social distancing measures.

The Palace of Westminster currently requires MPs and peers to be physically present to walk through voting lobbies when passing legislation, but the Speaker has indicated exceptions could be made to ensure parliament can function during the pandemic.

A spokesman Rees-Mogg responded by signalling no early return to work for MPs and Lords.

They said: 'Parliament will return on April 21 to fulfil its essential constitutional functions of conducting scrutiny, authorising spending and making laws.

'In these unprecedented times, technological solutions have already been implemented for select committees and options are being prepared for the speaker, the Government and other parties to consider next week.

'It is important that we have a comprehensive solution that does not inadvertently exclude any members.

'The Leader of the House of Commons will respond to the leader of the opposition's letter in the usual way.'

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