MPs take part in first virtual Parliament (with the odd wobble over technology)


Dominic Raab faced off against Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons today as MPs returned to work in the first ever ‘virtual’ parliament. 

The Labour leader and Boris Johnson’s stand-in were among the few MPs in the chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions’ this afternoon as the hybrid legislature met for the first time.

With just 50 MPs allowed on the famous green benches the vast majority of parliamentarians who would usually provide a cacophonous background to proceedings mainly followed and asked questions from home.

The session marked Sir Keir’s first PMQs since replacing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader earlier this month.

But the session was not without technical problems. David Mundell, the Tory former Scottish Secretary, was due to ask a question but Speaker Lindsay Hoyle informed MPs ‘we have been unable to connect’ to his home in his Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat. 

Peter Bone was later cut off as he finished asking a question about the behaviour of the banks, with Mr Raab smiling and saying he had got ‘the gist’ of the question.

But overall the technology appeared to work well, and also provided viewers with a glimpse into the homes of MPs. 

The Labour leader and Boris Johnson ‘s stand-in were among the few MPs in the chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions’ this afternoon as the hybrid legislature met for the first time

With just 50 MPs allowed on the famous green benches the vast majority of parliamentarians who would usually provide a cacophonous background to proceedings mainly followed and asked questions from home

With just 50 MPs allowed on the famous green benches the vast majority of parliamentarians who would usually provide a cacophonous background to proceedings mainly followed and asked questions from home

Taking the place of Mr Johnson, who is recovering from coronavirus at Chequers, Mr Raab said the PM was 'making a good recovery and is in good spirits'

Taking the place of Mr Johnson, who is recovering from coronavirus at Chequers, Mr Raab said the PM was ‘making a good recovery and is in good spirits’

The session marked Sir Keir's first PMQs since replacing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader earlier this month

The session marked Sir Keir’s first PMQs since replacing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader earlier this month

Peter Bone was later cut off as he finished asking a question about the behaviour of the banks, with Mr Raab smiling and saying he had got 'the gist' of the question

Peter Bone was later cut off as he finished asking a question about the behaviour of the banks, with Mr Raab smiling and saying he had got ‘the gist’ of the question

SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford showing off signed memorabilia from his beloved Celtic Football Club, with two footballs clearly seen behind him

SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford showing off signed memorabilia from his beloved Celtic Football Club, with two footballs clearly seen behind him

Order in the house! Conservative politician Stephen Crabb was one of  several MPs to position himself in front of a bookcase to ask a question during PMQs

Order in the house! Conservative politician Stephen Crabb was one of  several MPs to position himself in front of a bookcase to ask a question during PMQs

Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey and a former minister, also went for the bookshelf look at her home in Wirral

Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey and a former minister, also went for the bookshelf look at her home in Wirral

Co-ordination? Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher had perhaps the most vibrant background, with a floral patterned wallpaper almost matching his suit

Co-ordination? Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher had perhaps the most vibrant background, with a floral patterned wallpaper almost matching his suit

Ahead of PMQs Labour former minister Kevin Brennan experienced technical difficulties during Welsh Questions.

Much of his question broadcast in the chamber from his Cardiff West constituency was inaudible, which prompted some laughter.

Speaker Sir Lindsay said: ‘I hope the Secretary of State can make the most of that question, the line did go down.’

Mr Hart said he got the ‘general gist’ of the question about the coronavirus.

Taking the place of Mr Johnson at PMQs, who is recovering from coronavirus at Chequers, Mr Raab said the PM was ‘making a good recovery and is in good spirits’.

After  saying the nation owed a ;debt of gratitude’ to the NHS he added: ‘Thank you Mr Speaker for all your efforts to ensure parliament can meet and apply the scrutiny to the government that we expect and we embrace. 

A different kind of cabinet! Labour MP Stephen Kinnock shared this photo of his IPad stacked against a pair of trainers as he got to work today

A different kind of cabinet! Labour MP Stephen Kinnock shared this photo of his IPad stacked against a pair of trainers as he got to work today

David Mundell, the Tory former Scottish Secretary, was due to ask a question but Speaker Lindsay Hoyle informed MPs 'we have been unable to connect' to his home in his Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat

David Mundell, the Tory former Scottish Secretary, was due to ask a question but Speaker Lindsay Hoyle informed MPs ‘we have been unable to connect’ to his home in his Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat

Ahead of PMQs Labour former minister Kevin Brennan experienced technical difficulties during Welsh Questions

Ahead of PMQs Labour former minister Kevin Brennan experienced technical difficulties during Welsh Questions

 ‘This house meets in challenging times, together we can and we will defeat this virus.’

Taking to his feet for the first time, Sir Keir sent his best wishes ‘for a full and speedy recovery’ to Mr Johnson.

But he soon got down to business, laying into the Government’s testing figures.

He said: ‘The First Secretary says that there is capacity for 40,000 tests a day and I think it’s really important that we fully understand what the First Secretary just said.

‘Because that means that the day before yesterday, 40,000 tests could have been carried but only 18,000 tests were actually carried out.

‘Now, all week I heard from the frontline, from care workers who are frankly desperate for tests for their residents and for themselves, desperate.

‘They would expect every test to be used every day for those that need them.’

Mr Raab replied: ‘It is about demand, we need to encourage those who are able to take the test to come forward.

Keeping it subtle: West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards showed off pot plants, photos and books in her neatly arranged living room

Keeping it subtle: West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards showed off pot plants, photos and books in her neatly arranged living room

‘He is right to say it is also about distribution, and some of the logistical and frankly transport challenges that people, particularly some of those that he described, will have in terms of getting to the tests.

‘We are working with the local resilience forums to make sure that we can distribute the tests as effectively as possible.

‘I do think it is important to have a target and to drive towards a target. We are making good progress, we’re confident we’ll meet it.’

Sir Keir said: ‘Can the First Secretary tell us how many NHS workers have now died from coronavirus and how many social workers have now died from coronavirus?’

Mr Raab replied: ‘On the latest figures, my understanding is that 69 people have died within the NHS of coronavirus. I don’t have the precise figure for care homes, they’re more difficult to establish in relation to care home workers as opposed to care home residents.’

After their to-and-fro it was the chance for smaller party leaders and backbench MPs to ask questions of Mr Raab.

Brentford and Isleworth Labour MP Ruth Cadbury showed off her passion for art - and a map of the Thames - a stone's throw from where she lives - as she joined the Commons sitting

Brentford and Isleworth Labour MP Ruth Cadbury showed off her passion for art – and a map of the Thames – a stone’s throw from where she lives – as she joined the Commons sitting

Labour MP Yvette Cooper seen during the 'hybrid' sitting, with a white wall with a door visible in the background

Labour MP Yvette Cooper seen during the ‘hybrid’ sitting, with a white wall with a door visible in the background

And viewers tuning in to watch the debate live were treated to a little insight into their lives at home with sporting memorabilia, sketched comedy caricatures, traditional upholstery and some bold wallpaper among the highlights. 

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock even offered his own alternative take on the term ‘cabinet business’, balancing his iPad against a pair of Adidas trainers on a chest of drawers.

While many MPs chose to play it safe and appear in front of a pedestrian-looking white wall, others clearly chose the backdrop to reflect a little of their personality. 

Hastings and Rye Tory MP Sally-Ann Hart appeared in front of a gold-framed oil painting, a brass candelabra and some luxurious-looking curtains as she asked a question remotely during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Meanwhile Brentford and Isleworth Labour MP Ruth Cadbury showed off her passion for art with a series of paintings and a map of the Thames – a stone’s throw from where she lives – as she joined the Commons sitting.

Perhaps wishing to show off just how busy life as an MP is, there were a fair amount of cluttered cabinets showing official papers stacked up in folders. 

And of course, there were plenty of bookshelves, offering a high-brow background for those looking to create the right impression to their colleagues.  

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