Security challenges must be overcome before ‘virtual parliament’ can be set up

Allowing MPs and peers to meet in a “virtual parliament” requires security challenges to be overcome first, the House of Commons clerk has said.

John Benger said MPs would also have to agree to allow for any changes to the way they operate.

On Wednesday, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said Parliament should be able to operate “virtually” if the UK “is still in the grip of the coronavirus crisis” when the Commons is due to return on April 21.

Service for a New Parliament
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has called for a ‘virtual parliament’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

In a letter to the Commons Speaker, Mr Benger said: “As you will appreciate, there are challenges to be overcome, not just technological but also relating to information security and cybersecurity.

“We will also need to work out what adjustments need to be made to our usual practices and procedure in order to ensure the new arrangements work as smoothly as possible.”

He added: “The introduction of a further virtual element to the House’s formal proceedings would require a resolution of the House, akin to the resolution which permitted virtual meetings of select committees.

“However, the House has already shown it is more than willing to change how it works in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and the recent successful work – done at great speed – to enable committee sessions to take place virtually, shows the ingenuity and commitment of colleagues across the House service and parliamentary digital service.”

This morning I chaired the first ever digital Cabinet.

Our message to the public is: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.

— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 31, 2020

On Wednesday, Sir Lindsay said the parliamentary authorities were looking at how video-conferencing software could be used to maintain oversight during the Covid-19 outbreak if parliamentarians are not able to meet in person.

He said MPs should still be able to take part in Prime Minister’s Questions, oral questions to Government departments, to ask urgent questions and to hear statements being made, especially if it is “not appropriate” for them to be present in the House of Commons.

Select committee hearings are already taking place virtually and from Saturday local authorities will be allowed to hold virtual council meetings.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have also met remotely using the video-conferencing app Zoom.

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