MPs call for ‘virtual Commons’ amid Covid-19 early recess

MPs from across the political spectrum are calling for a virtual House of Commons to be established to scrutinise the government’s response to coronavirus.

Kate Proctor  www.theguardian.com

Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the UK should also look to New Zealand and create a select committee to question the government’s Covid-19 strategy.

He wants a weekly PMQs with Boris Johnson through video-conferencing and an end to the rule that stops MPs from tabling written questions during recess so that the public can get more information from government.

Parliament broke for recess a week early as the number of cases of the virus around Westminster increased. MPs are not due back in the Commons until 21 April.

One hundred MPs from Labour, the SNP and the Green party have written a letter to the clerk of the House of Commons, John Benger, asking for his support in setting up a form of digital parliament.

Davey said: “If it wasn’t a dangerous infectious virus but a major emergency, parliament would have been recalled. We wouldn’t have gone on recess.

“We think scrutiny is good for government policy. We’ve shown opposition parties are prepared to behave responsibly. I think we can find a way to get things cracking and get an online virtual parliament to serve the nation.”

He said a specialist select committee focusing on Covid-19 could mirror the one set up in New Zealand in March, named the epidemic response committee, which is chaired by the leader of the opposition.

The letter to the Commons’ clerk was initiated by Labour’s shadow minister for innovation, Chi Onwurah, who said: “People up and down the country have made huge behavioural changes in a matter of days and we must show we are capable of it too.”

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Ministers and public officials must be held to account by those with a full suite of powers to call evidence, witnesses and use the full clout of parliament.

“Cabinet is showing that politics can continue to function during this crisis. Parliament must show the same, with the Speaker leading the way in providing accountability at this urgent hour.”