British lawmakers will upend 700 years of history on Wednesday when they question ministers by video link – an unprecedented and largely untested ‘hybrid parliament’ arrangement forced by the coronavirus outbreak.
As Britain endures its fifth week of a national lockdown, with businesses shuttered and citizens ordered to stay at home, parliament returned from an extended Easter break on Tuesday and will question stand-in leader Dominic Raab at 1100 GMT.
A maximum of 50 lawmakers will be physically allowed in the debating chamber, with another 120 permitted to join in via Zoom video conference beamed onto television screens dotted around the walls of the 18th century wood-panelled room.
“Fingers crossed it’s going to work well today,” Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who will be directing proceedings from within the chamber, told Sky News. “It’s symbolic, isn’t it? 700-years of working, and then suddenly we change to something new.”
Raab, deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is recovering from a spell in intensive care with COVID-19, will face up to 50 questions from lawmakers over 45 minutes. Once he is finished, health minister Matt Hancock will make a statement on the government’s response to coronavirus outbreak.
The new arrangement is so-far limited to questioning ministers, although officials are looking at ways that legislation can be discussed and even voted upon digitally.
“This is a starting point, this isn’t the end. What we want is a robust system that we build up from this point,” Hoyle said.