A “roadmap” is being drawn up to steer the House of Commons back to normality as the coronavirus crisis eases and frustrations grow about most MPs having to participate virtually.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle revealed to the Guardian he was putting together a plan that would retain the “bonuses” of parliament’s rapid modernisation, but drop some of the tough restrictions on proceedings.
He said the document, due to be discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission next Monday, would follow the latest advice from Public Health England.
Hoyle voiced hopes that it could follow the government’s roadmap to ease measures in England by 21 June – the earliest point that England can enter the final phase of unlocking.
“That would be fantastic because I want normality,” he said during a tour of parliament’s new broadcast unit, where officials try to keep debates and statements running smoothly and iron out technical hiccups.
“We will do it with a roadmap, a way out of this. But the good things don’t have to be lost. What we’ve got to decide is: which parts do we want to keep as we go forward in the future? And which do we want to get rid of?
“We’ve got some real choices ahead. What’s worked? Has it helped parliament? Has it made a difference? It’s not my decision – it’s for the house to decide. But I think there’s been some bonuses.”
He added: “We’ve got an opportunity to renew, reflect and review where parliament will be in the future. I want the chamber back to normality. I want the house back to normality, but let’s not throw the good out with the bad.”
The Conservative backbencher James Gray said he “very much welcomed” the news, but added that he hoped that, given coronavirus deaths and cases “seem to be going down very sharply”, if the government’s own roadmap is sped up, then the Commons should follow.
He explained he planned to return to Westminster from 13 April and told his staff to expect the same – from the day after the bank holiday Monday when non-essential retail may be allowed to open.
Labour’s Peter Kyle also said it was “good for me to hear the Speaker is clarifying when we can return” and explained why he was so keen for more in-person proceedings to begin.
“For strong people who have weak arguments, it is a very good bullshit detector – but virtually it isn’t,” he said.
In a sign that some form of virtual proceedings could last, the House of Lords finance committee revealed following a meeting in November 2020 that emergency equipment that had been leased when the pandemic began had now been bought.
“Some members expressed their desire for remote working to continue beyond the Covid-19 pandemic,” minutes from the meeting show.