By Arj Singh
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Ministers are working with parliamentary authorities to ensure the Commons can sit virtually if the UK is still in coronavirus lockdown after the Easter break.
That could mean Boris Johnson taking part in a “virtual” prime minister’s questions session until social distancing measures are lifted.
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the government was “exploring options” and that MPs’ role “must be fulfilled” despite the “unprecedented times”.
It came after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle urged the government to allow the Commons to sit via video link if the attendance of too many MPs is “not appropriate” when it returns on April 21.
Hoyle wrote to Rees-Mogg after numerous MPs had raised issues about how parliamentary scrutiny could continue during the crisis.
“Once the House returns, if we are still in the grip of the crisis where the physical presence of members, or too many members, in the Palace (of Westminster) is not appropriate, I am keen that they should be able to participate in key parliamentary proceedings virtually, for example, oral questions, urgent questions, statements,” he said.
Rees-Mogg responded: “Parliament’s role of scrutinising government, authorising spending and making laws must be fulfilled and in these unprecedented times that means considering every technological solution available.
“We are exploring options with the parliamentary authorities in readiness for parliament’s return.”
Hoyle also urged Rees-Mogg to set out whether the Commons would return on its scheduled date of April 21, insisting it would be helpful for planning “given the growing scale of staff absence whether through social isolation or illness”.
The Speaker also asked if it would be possible for the government to set up a forum of MPs during the recess, possibly via select committee chairs, who could quiz senior ministers and officials on the crisis.
“MPs are being swamped right now with questions and case work from distressed constituents who need answers,” he said.
“Responses cannot wait for the House to sit again.”