United Kingdom

Welsh Assembly to debate over Zoom as MPs demand Parliament do the same

The Welsh Assembly will today become the UK's first major democratic institution to debate using Zoom video conferencing software amid growing calls for the Houses of Parliament to follow suit.  

The assembly in Cardiff will meet virtually this afternoon to hear statements from the First Minister, Health Minister and Economy Minister about the Welsh government's coronavirus response. 

Members of the assembly will then be able to ask questions with each party having agreed to limit the number of its representatives to ensure smooth running of proceedings. 

The Welsh Assembly would normally currently be in recess but has decided to keep its democratic functions up and running because of the current crisis. 

That decision has piled the pressure on Parliament in Westminster to restart after MPs broke up a week early for the Easter recess. They are not due to return until April 21. 

The Welsh National Assembly will meet virtually this afternoon using Zoom video conferencing software 

The assembly is continuing to sit during the coronavirus crisis but the Houses of Parliament are in recess, with MPs now demanding Westminster get back up and running digitally

MPs are now demanding that Parliament and the government agree to set up some form of virtual scrutiny so that they can demand answers from ministers. 

Sir Ed Davey said in any other major emergency Parliament would have been recalled as he demanded democracy go digital. 

The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats wants Boris Johnson to commit to holding PMQs every week via video conference and for MPs to be able to ask written questions of government departments during recess.  

He is also pushing for Parliament to set up a new select committee solely tasked with scrutinising the government's coronavirus response. 

Meanwhile, some 100 Labour and SNP MPs have written to Parliament decision makers pushing for a digital House of Commons to be set up. 

Sir Ed told The Guardian: 'If it wasn't a dangerous infectious virus but a major emergency, parliament would have been recalled. We wouldn't have gone on recess.

'We think scrutiny is good for government policy. We've shown opposition parties are prepared to behave responsibly. 

'I think we can find a way to get things cracking and get an online virtual parliament to serve the nation.' 

Mr Johnson has already been using Zoom for Cabinet meetings so that ministers can take part while working remotely.  

Sir Ed Davey, pictured in the House of Commons in December 2019, said decision-makers need to 'get things cracking and get an online virtual parliament to serve the nation'

Number 10 has been using Zoom for Cabinet meetings so that ministers can take part while working remotely. Pictured is yesterday's Cabinet meeting

A statement issued by the Welsh National Assembly said it was 'changing how it works' and is introducing a 'series of emergency provisions' to allow 'essential' business to continue. 

The Assembly's Business Committee has decided to 'switch to fully online virtual plenary meetings using the video conferencing facility Zoom'. 

All of the parties in the Assembly have agreed to limit their attendance, with Labour nominating six people, the Conservatives nominating three, Plaid Cymru two and the Brexit Party one. All independent members are entitled to attend.

'The National Assembly would usually now be in recess,' it said in the statement. 

'However, due to the coronavirus emergency and the urgent Welsh Government measures, the Assembly will continue to meet (virtually) to legislate and to scrutinise decision-makers.'  

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