News | Published April 21 2020

New measures introduced to the House of Commons amid coronavirus pandemic

New measures are being discussed to prepare for the return of MPs to the House of Commons.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the house, led a rehearsal yesterday in which MPs faced questions over video link. This follows the cabinet use of online resources such as Zoom to discuss urgent business in previous weeks.

The house has also introduced screens into the chamber, which will enable members of parliament to contribute to the debate remotely. Signs have been placed on seats to ensure MPs respect the obligatory two metres for social distancing.

The House of Commons is expected to operate with these measures until 12 May, though it is possible they will be in place for longer. These measures are also complemented by the government’s decision to reduce contact during the Covid-19 pandemic. Reduced sitting hours, virtual committee meetings, and social distancing measures have also been introduced to respond to coronavirus.

The number of MPs able to sit in the chamber is set to be capped at 50 and is believed to be approved this afternoon. If sanctioned, the measures will be observed from tomorrow.

The video conferencing tool, Zoom, is to be used to ensure some 120 MPs can respond to urgent questions and ministerial debate, also ensuring that those who cannot attend in person are able to participate in debates.

At present, the new system is being trialled, and will not be used to debate legislation, reserved for those who are in the chamber. MPs hope it will be extended to further parliamentary business in due course.

The Commons Procedure Committee have welcomed the changes suggested by the speaker, saying that: "We will wish to give detailed consideration to any system developed to supplement or to replace existing mechanisms for divisions, where such a system will which enable absentee voting.”

It was announced on Friday that parliament will only sit for three days a week for the foreseeable future, in an attempt to limit contact between MPs.

It is expected that business today and tomorrow will directly focus on the country’s response to the pandemic.

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Authored by

Alice Jaspars
Culture Editor
April 21 2020

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