As UK Parliament heads back to in-person voting, select committees are told they can continue working via Zoom

Critics worry mass return to House of Commons is unsafe

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UK Parliament select committees will continue in a "virtual" format until mid-September, House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has confirmed.

The current framework, which allows members and witnesses to participate remotely via Zoom, will continue until 17 September before the Commons enters recess for the usual party conference season.

This extended deadline will afford members the certainty that they can continue operating as usual, said Hoyle.

Parliament, which has historically clung to convention and tradition, has been forced to modernise its practices to continue functioning during the coronavirus pandemic.

On 21 April, Parliament agreed to conduct sessions under a hybrid format with a limited number of MPs attending in person, while adhering to social distancing rules, and a further 120 attending via Zoom.

Those attending remotely had to adhere to a code of rules that prohibited (among other things) informal wear, distracting backgrounds, and virtual Zoom backgrounds.

At the time, Leader of the House of Commons and part-time vaudeville villain Jacob Rees-Mogg stressed that the arrangement would only continue as necessary, with Parliament eventually returning to exclusively in-person sessions.

Rees-Mogg has since watered down the hybrid system, and this month introduced new rules that required votes to be delivered in person, rather than remotely, arguing that it was necessary to hold the government to account. MPs previously used the MemberHub online system to cast votes.

This decision has proven unpopular in some quarters, with one Labour MP describing the new socially distant voting rules as "ridiculous, dangerous, and unsafe" in an interview with the BBC. The Scottish National Party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford also noted that requiring members to attend in person to vote undermined the government's advice on remote working. ®

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