Coronavirus: House of Commons to reopen for first ever 'virtual' proceedings

The House of Commons is set to reopen for "virtual" proceedings, to allow MPs to scrutinise the government via Zoom video conferencing.

For the first time in the House of Commons' 700-year history, ministers will face questions levelled by MPs speaking in a digital format.

Approval has been given to allow up to 120 MPs at any one time to take part in proceedings virtually, while around 50 could remain in the chamber under strict social distancing rules.

The "unprecedented" move towards a "hybrid" House was taken by the House of Commons Commission - on which the Speaker, Leader, Shadow Leader and an SNP spokesperson sit - in a bid to keep democracy going during the coronavirus crisis.

The "historic" measures will still need approval from MPs when they return to Parliament on April 21, following an extended Easter recess.

House Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “By initiating a hybrid solution, with steps towards an entirely virtual Parliament, we are enabling Members to stay close to their communities, while continuing their important work scrutinising the Government.

“I do not want Members and House staff putting themselves at risk. By working virtually, this is our contribution to the guidance of stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Under the hybrid format, MPs in the Chamber will be treated the same as MPs appearing virtually and would only be called to speak if listed.

If the new measures are agreed, it will mean from Wednesday, April 22, some MPs will be able to take part in Prime Minister’s Questions, any urgent questions and statements via video link for the first two hours of each sitting day.

A number of screens will be placed around the chamber to allow the Speaker and MPs present in the chamber to be able to see their virtual colleagues.

The Commission noted that if a Member is called “but cannot be heard or seen for technological reasons, it should be possible for them to be called later in the proceedings and that there can be no opportunity for interventions and no points of order should be raised when hybrid proceedings are underway".