Politicians back keeping at least some virtual meetings after Covid lockdown is lifted

Politicians should at least partially embrace the changes brought about by coronavirus to make national and local government more accessible, Yorkshire figures have said.

The pandemic has seen the House of Commons and House of Lords move online, while council meetings across the country have also migrated to being held virtually.

And politicians from all sides of the party divide have said there are lessons to be learned.

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Conservative leader of North Yorkshire County Council Carl Les said there would be some meetings where it would be essential to get back in person.

Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of the Chamber during the International Women's Day debate in the House of Commons, London. Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

But he said: “It's very useful not to have to travel to get to some meetings. I managed to do three meetings in a row last week where if I would have to travel between each one, there's no way I'd be able to do that. So I think there is a value with virtual meetings.”

And he said: “I think one advantage that we will see is that where we do have these meetings around the county, if you need to get an officer to give a report that makes an awful lot of sense to be there for that 20 minutes, and then let them go again.”

And he hoped a hybrid approach would be adopted in the future where for some meetings, virtual participation could be made an option, and he said he had heard anecdotal evidence also that public attendances at meetings had also increased due to people being able to tune in online.

Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, has been shielding since the beginning of the pandemic and said the use of programmes such as Zoom has allowed him to continue representing his constituents.

Mr Sheerman said the move to allow MPs to take part in debates virtually had “saved the sanity” of many, and he said any pressure from Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg for MPs to return quicker than Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle suggested would be “dangerous”

Sir Lindsay has outlined how he wants the Commons to return to normal, on an albeit slower trajectory than the Government roadmap.

“We will do it with a roadmap, a way out of this,” he said previously. “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 said: “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.”

And Mr Sheerman agreed, although he said he did miss getting involved in spirited debates in person.

“In some parts of our parliamentary life this has been a great enabler,” he said.

Pointing to a parliamentary group he is a member of which has recently been working on access to justice, Mr Sheerman said previously that would have entailed booking meeting rooms and making witnesses travel to contribute.

“We have used the new technologies, Zoom and everything else, marvelously to do that, to reach out to more people."