News from Westminster - Virtually
Last month I mentioned that Parliament was about to become a partially virtual Parliament, with much of the proceedings online. That process has now started, and we have a hybrid system. In order for these changes to be implemented, the House of Commons returned after Easter and formally approved using remote technology for some Parliamentary business, including Urgent Questions, and questioning of ministers, including Prime Ministers’ Questions.
Up to 50 MPs can be physically present in the Chamber of the House – maintaining social distancing – or be remote, via Zoom. The Mace has to be on the table for Parliament to be allowed to sit, so it is still used, and the Speaker or Deputy Speaker sits in his (or her) chair as usual. Due to hard work behind the scenes, you can still watch what is happening online, or on the Parliament channel. I have been physically present in the House for some of the sittings, but like most MPs I have also been working from home. I was also part of the vital testing for getting virtual Bill Committees up and running – this is where MPs can scrutinise legislation line by line before they are made into law.
We are now also able to vote remotely, following careful and rigorous testing. It is important that only elected MPs vote on the laws which govern this country, and the National Cyber Security Centre have been consulted to make sure this is the case. We are expecting our first official vote this evening – so far testing has been limited to questions like “This House believes that spring is better than autumn”.
Of course, like the rest of the country, the virtual sittings of Parliament are not without their technical glitches. Connection issues and slow broadband are problems across the country, and MPs are not exempt. It is not an ideal situation when a Minister cannot hear a question, or a back-bench MP does not get the chance to participate due to technical problems. We have been assured that if there are issues when voting that measures have been put in place to ensure that every MP who wants to vote can do so.
As always, my job as an MP is in two parts – that of a legislator in Parliament, and my role more locally. I have continued to support local businesses, charities and individuals. I have spoken to hundreds of people, giving support and finding answers to their questions wherever possible. I have been sending out updates with links to useful resources and organisations – to find out more please see my website.
My constituency office is still closed, but my staff and I are providing support and assistance to many different people. Due to the situation, it may take a little longer than normal to respond to queries, but please do keep in touch if you need help or support. You can contact me via email email@example.com or call my office on 01202 624216. I send out a regular email update – you can sign up on my website www.michaeltomlinson.org.uk where you can also find links to the latest coronavirus advice.