Coronavirus: MPs urged to ‘stay at home’ as House of Commons prepares to go ‘virtual’

MPs have been urged to “stay at home” as parliament prepares to turn itself into a “virtual” workplace this week.

Following the end of their Easter break, MPs would normally be set to return to Westminster today.

However, due to the continuing coronavirus crisis and social distancing rules, House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has told them to “please stay at home”.

Instead, MPs are expected today to rubber-stamp plans to use video conferencing app Zoom to allow themselves to debate remotely.

This will form part of “hybrid” proceedings, where contributions from MPs via Zoom – broadcast on large television screens now installed in the Commons chamber – will be taken along with those from MPs present physically but sitting under strict social distancing measures.

Although the Commons will need to sit physically to approve the proposals on Tuesday afternoon, the plans are not expected to be put to a formal vote and means they can be approved without the need for many MPs to be present.

As the Commons prepares to break with nearly 700 years of history by allowing MPs to take part in proceedings without being physically present in Westminster, Sir Lindsay said: “My advice is please stay at home, let’s do it remotely.”

He also expressed his hope that far fewer than the maximum 50 MPs that can now be present in the chamber – under social distancing measures – would turn up to the Commons chamber.

Sir Lindsay stressed there would be “no advantage” for an MP in the chamber over one working remotely.

The Speaker also warned MPs that working from home should not encourage them to drop their usual standards.

“Does the dress code apply online? Yes,” he told The Times.

“The rules and the courtesies of the House will be extended to the virtual parliament.”

He told Michael Fabricant to abandon plans to appear on screen in pink shorts, after the Conservative MP put his choice of clothing to a poll on Twitter.

Sir Lindsay also warned MPs to think carefully about what is behind them – such as on their bookshelves – when they appear via zoom.

“I think, quite rightly, that the journalists will be having a field day,” he added.

How will parliament sit during the coronavirus crisis?

If the plans for “hybrid” proceedings are approved, a maximum of 50 MPs will be present physically in the Commons chamber under social distancing measures.

A further 120 MPs will be able to participate via Zoom on large screens.

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