UK ‘virtual’ Parliament

Health not hubris

It was only a few short months ago that the concept of a hybrid/virtual UK parliament was almost inconceivable. But, as often happens, necessity has proven to be the mother of invention.

We currently have a solution in place that allows me to carry out my Parliamentary duties from my living room. This means I can take part in meetings and committees with MPs and staff around the U.K., I can take part in the proceedings in the House of Commons including asking questions of department heads and I can take part in debates and votes. The new methodology has not been without its problems and there have been occasions when sound quality has been poor. But that is understandable given the the short timescale that was available to put a system in place. Rather than technology specialists identifying the best of breed and then implementing that in MPs offices we have had to, as a matter of expediency, encompass a range of platforms and broadband providers. MPs have adapted to use what ever was available and in some cases their rather inelegant solutions have been found wanting. Despite its shortcomings, we should not throw away all that we have achieved in a misguided clamour to get back to the old normal at Westminster. Once parliament has fully physically reconvened at Westminster, as it will, we need to push forward. Turning back at this stage would undo all the good work that has been done.

Rather than look upon the current hybrid parliament as a temporary solution we should be using it as a platform to build on. The current hiccups should be addressed and rather than MPs having laptops, iPads, Macs and smartphones propped up on books with the ubiquitous library background and some very dodgy lighting, we should provide tried and tested kit to all MPs. After this crisis MPs having micro studios in their offices should be the norm. We continually tell the public that broadband speeds are good and will improve. Well lets prove that by ensuring each MPs office has superfast broadband. The benefits are many. MPs will travel less which saves time, effort ,money and reduces the damage that travel does to our planet. MPs can combine constituency work with chamber work on a daily basis. Access to a parliamentary life or career would be more accessible to those with a physical impairment. The technology could also be utilised for MPs to ‘meet’ during recess. Now is not the time to halt progress in some misguided attempt to prove that normal service has been resumed.

There have been a few problems and it always looks bad when an MPs sound is poor or a connection is lost while they are asking a question or contributing to a debate. But we must look at what we now have as the starting position and improve upon it. This is eminently achievable if we have the will to make it so. To abandon what we have or to stand still and not move forward would be a gross misjudgment.

I am suspicious of the need to physically have all MPs back in London and I shall not be rushing down. I suspect the real reason is that the UK Government is looking for a display of hubris, one that is designed to put pressure on businesses across the UK to also return to work. We are asking the pubic to accept a new normal and that is why when we attempt to lead from the front, we should be leading in a responsible manner, not grandstanding. Any rush back to Westminster, with the added pressure on transport and house staff that would entail, is irresponsible, ill conceived and potentially dangerous. And we have proven over the last few weeks that by embracing the technological solution and showing greater self discipline, the UK parliament can continue unhindered. It would be wrong of me to travel from Inverclyde to London and back again on a weekly basis. This virus has been contained to a lesser and greater extent by people isolating and I have no desire to undermine that. The UK parliament should be subjected to a public health risk assessment before anybody considers whether 650 MPs from all four corners of the U.K. should risk becoming infected and worse spreading the virus during travel and ultimately within our own constituencies.