MP COLUMN: A virtual Parliament for MPs

MP’s returned after the Easter Recess to a virtual Parliament.

Thursday, 30th April 2020, 6:00 am
Alan Campbell, Tynemouth MP

The challenge of the COVID-19 crisis and the Government’s handling of it demanded more than a daily press conference.

MP’s are encouraged to take part online with two hours of questions and statements then limited debate time.

Only non-contentious business is being taken at present because there is not yet a secure system for distance voting.

Some want these changes to be permanent, citing the distance they need to travel as a problem but that’s more about preferring to be in their own Parliament in their own independent country.

Virtual Committees have been running for some time.

Sessions can be informative and effective like when the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee Hilary Benn challenged Cabinet Minister Michael Gove’s assertion that Brexit will present new opportunities in the post pandemic world economy when no one knows what that economy will look like.

But as Keir Starmer’s success at his first PMQ’s showed there’s no substitute for being there in person able to forensically develop an argument and think on your feet.

Very often speeches in debates improve with the cut and thrust of interventions and capturing the mood of the Chamber.

Also, much of Parliament’s work goes on outside the televised Chamber whether it be lobbying Ministers or forging tearoom alliances often on important cross-party issues.

So, while a virtual Parliament is better than no Parliament at all I hope Parliament, like the country, can get back to normal – as soon as it is safe to do so.

Alan Campbell, Tynemouth MP