UK Parliament to hold virtual debates amid virus lockdown

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s Parliament is going back to work, and the political authorities have a message for lawmakers: Stay away.

United Kingdom (UK) legislators and most parliamentary staff were sent home in late March as part of a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. With more than 16,500 virus-deaths in Britain and criticism growing of the government’s response to the pandemic, legislators returned yesterday – at least virtually – to grapple with the crisis.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle presided over an almost-empty chamber, with space being made for a maximum of 50 of the 650 Members of Parliament. Other lawmakers asked questions from home using videoconferencing programme Zoom, beamed onto screens erected around the wood-paneled Commons chamber.

Hoyle acknowledged “there are bound to be bumps along the way” as the tradition-steeped 700-year-old institution takes a leap into the unknown. But he urged lawmakers not to travel to Parliament.

“I do not want members and House staff putting themselves at risk,” Hoyle said.

A small number of legislators met in person yesterday to approve the new digital arrangements. Tape has been put on the floor to ensure they keep two metres apart.

The virtual Parliament will have its first big best today during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will stand in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is still recovering from COVID-19.