Ministers ‘do not know’ whether Parliament will open after Easter break

Top-level discussions have been held about reopening Parliament after Easter but the focus is on “making sure we save lives”, said Priti Patel.

Facing questions about whether the Government would open itself up to scrutiny from MPs during the remainder of the coronavirus lockdown, the Home Secretary said “at some stage” thoughts would need to turn to Parliament starting up again following its four-week break.

Ms Patel said ministerial discussions had been held but she could not “elaborate”.

Priti Patel
Priti Patel (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

Parliament opted to break almost a week early for its Easter recess to make it easier for MPs to follow the Government’s social distancing rules, which ban all but essential travel and instructs people not living in the same household to remain two metres from each other.

The House of Commons is due to return on April 21 but, with the restrictions on movement looking likely to be extended past the initial three weeks, there is doubt about whether business will be able to recommence.

After the daily coronavirus-related death rate rose to just short of 1,000 this week, there has been renewed pressure to ensure MPs can quiz ministers on their handling of the crisis following the recess.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Asked at a Downing Street press conference about Parliament’s return, Ms Patel said: “We do not know yet and there are many discussions, and I can’t really elaborate any further on those discussions about how Parliament will resume and function.

“I think at this particular time we have to focus the resources of Government, all our energies, ministerial responses, Cabinet responses, every single sinew of Government focusing on saving lives and dealing with this awful disease.

“I do think at some stage we will inevitably have to think about the work of Parliament, scrutiny and also legislation but I think right now we are focused on absolutely making sure we save lives.”

Speaker Covid
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has commissioned the Commons tech team to have a virtual Parliament up and running by April 21 (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Work has been commissioned by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to ensure a “virtual” chamber can be up and running by April 21 so MPs can return to duty.

It could see MPs questioning ministers from their homes if the lockdown is still in place, with no exit strategy yet revealed by ministers.

Ms Patel, asked by reporters when the restrictions would end, said it was “wrong” to speculate about a possible date.

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