Sir Keir Starmer has demanded urgent talks to ensure parliament returns after the Easter break so ministers can face questions over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new Labour leader said the Commons must be open for business after recess officially ends on 21 April – even if it means MPs asking questions over webcams.
In a letter to Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Keir Starmer said the UK was facing a “national crisis” over COVID-19 and decisions taken by the government should be “challenged and subject to scrutiny”.
He wrote: “If parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively that cannot happen.
“I accept that it is difficult for parliament to return to business as usual at the moment, but there are clear examples around the world of parliaments operating effectively by using new technologies and different models.”
Sir Keir Starmer, who will appear on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme from 8.30am, said Labour supported many of the measures implemented by the government but set out a list of questions that “need to be answered”.
He called for clarity over an exit strategy from the lockdown imposed on the UK, along with answers over the “ramping up of testing” for coronavirus and the supply of personal protective equipment for frontline NHS staff.
The Labour leader has now requested “urgent talks” with Mr Rees-Mogg and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the coming week to discuss parliament resuming.
Home Secretary Priti Patel told reporters during a Downing Street briefing on Saturday that she did “not know yet” whether the Commons would meet as planned in little over a week’s time.
Parliament shut down on 25 March a week early because of fears over the spread of coronavirus.
It later emerged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock had contracted the virus.
Work has been commissioned by the speaker to ensure a “virtual” chamber can be up and running after the Easter recess so MPs can return to duty.
It could see MPs questioning ministers from their homes by webcam if the lockdown is still in place, with senior ministers signalling there is no intention to curb the social distancing measures.
The Palace of Westminster currently requires MPs and peers to be physically present to walk through voting lobbies when passing legislation, but Sir Lindsay has indicated exceptions could be made to ensure parliament can function during the pandemic.
MPs are being given an additional £10,000 work from home allowance to cover increased costs, but more than 130,000 people have signed a petition calling for this “perk” to be scrapped.
On Saturday, it was confirmed another 917 coronavirus patients had died in hospitals in the UK – including an 11-year-old – bringing the country’s total number of deaths to 9,875.[contfnewc]
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