• A Digital Parliament

    The Moorlander
    24 April 2020

    As technology has advanced there have been debates about changing the way MPs debate and then vote. But because the issue has never been urgent it has tended to be overshadowed by the more pressing concerns of the day. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, plans for parliament to go digital are progressing quickly. We need our democracy to function as well as it can during these unprecedented times and changing to virtual proceedings is the logical way forward.

    After a key announcement from the House of Commons Commission, MPs are set to quiz ministers for the first time via the video communication software Zoom, and approval has been given to allow 120 MPs to take part in virtual proceedings at any one time. It is possible that around 50 could remain in the chamber under strict social distancing rules. Any MP questioning a minister virtually through zoom would be treated the same as an MP appearing in the House itself so MPs will be encouraged to work from home and make their contribution remotely. Screens will be placed around the chamber to allow the Speaker and MPs present in the chamber to be able to see their colleagues. While there are likely to be some teething problems, particularly when it comes to how this comes across on live television, I am confident it will work well enough to serve its important purpose of scrutinising Government policy. As Chair of the Treasury Select Committee we have already used Zoom to call and question key witnesses and by and large it worked well. I hope that by the time this article is published we will have had the first look at how this will work during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday 22nd April. If this proves successful, the Commission will look at rolling out similar proceedings for parliamentary debates and look at a remote voting system to allow MPs to vote from home rather than all descending on the Commons. Ironically, in order to get these new measures in place the House will need to pass a motion which could of course include a live vote. In practice an agreement, through the 'usual channels', should mean that this goes through without a division.

    While these changes are being implemented the Government has announced that the lockdown will continue until at least early May. I appreciate that many people will be struggling with the measures being imposed but the Prime Minister and the Government have acted on the best possible medical advice throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so. As soon as it is safe to start lifting the restrictions the Government will, but until then please continue to stay home and to only make essential journeys - sticking the course will help the NHS and save lives. Take care and stay safe. 

    For more from Mel follow him on twitter @MelJStride or visit