Lords call for ‘virtual parliament’ to be swiftly established

PUBLISHED: 13:13 08 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:13 08 April 2020

The House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

The House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

A cross-party group of peers are calling for a ‘virtual parliament’ to be swiftly established to hold the government to account during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Parliament was suspended until April 21 amid the Covid-19 crisis as members in the Palace of Westminster try to abide by social distancing measures to slow the spread.

The peers, including Conservative former minister Lord Bourne, Labour’s Lord Dubs and Liberal Democrat Lady Benjamin, called for “new ways of working” to be introduced.

In a letter, they called on Baroness Evans to move forward with a “virtual parliament as swiftly as possible”.

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The leader of the House of Lords Baroness Evans has been urged to prioritise allowing oral questions and statements to be made using video-conferencing technology.

And the 210-strong group said that, if those measures can be successfully introduced, they then want the use of digital technology to be extended to include legislation and voting.

Lib Dem Lord German, who was key in organising the call, said: “In the months ahead the British public will face challenges like never before and they will expect us to show leadership and fulfil our role as parliamentarians.

“We are clear that parliament must lead by example, not only in taking steps to slow the spread of the virus, but in fulfilling its duties during this difficult time. A virtual parliament is crucial in ensuring that happens.”

Lord speaker Lord Fowler wrote to peers warning that the challenges could go a “long way beyond” April 21 and said authorities are working “incredibly hard” to allow members to participate from home.

In the Commons, speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has also urged the government to allow MPs to be able to work “virtually” if the crisis continues after the date they are due to return.

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