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UK lawmakers to return to ‘virtual House of Commons’

London, April 17 (IANS) Plans to allow UK lawmakers to take part in some parliamentary business virtually have been approved by the body responsible for administration in the House of Commons, te media reported on Friday.

In a statement on Thursday, the House of Commons Commission said Ministers will be quizzed via the Zoom video app for the first time in the House’s 700-year history, reports the BBC.

This “unprecedented step” will “keep democracy going” during the coronavirus crisis, it said.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who chairs the Commission, 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.”

MPs will have to approve the plan next week when they return on April 21.

If MPs approve the measures, some 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, from April 22.

It will also allow up to 120 MPs will be able to take part in proceedings virtually at any one time, while 50 could remain in the chamber under social distancing rules.

The Commons authorities will mark out the 2-metres distance MPs will have to maintain when they go into the chamber.

The House of Lords will also conduct some non-legislative debates remotely after guidance was changed by senior peers, the BBC reported.

These will only be broadcast from early May, while debates on laws will initially continue in the chamber with the “expectation of limited participation”.

MPs are currently due to debate key Brexit legislation when they return, and the government needs to pass its Finance Bill, enacting measures in the Budget.

Also on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that the lockdown in the UK, which was imposed on March 23, will continue for “at least another three weeks” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, adding any relaxations now will harm both public health and the economy.

The announcement came as the UK recorded another 861 coronavirus deaths, taking the total to 13,729, while the number of cases increased to 104,146.

–IANS

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