You will probably have seen that Parliament is introducing virtual meetings. These have already started at committee level at the time of writing this, by the time you read it I expect that we will have had the first virtual sittings of the chamber, including questions to the Prime Minister.

At a personal level this affects me in terms of being present in the chamber for debate but also as regards the operations of the BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) select committee.

Whilst arrangements are still being finalised the latest information I have is that MP’s are being strongly encouraged not to attend Westminster unless it is essential. Normally this would provide an excellent opportunity to get out and about the constituency but clearly that can’t happen at the moment.

When it comes to debate in Westminster and asking questions these will be facilitated virtually as it is clearly a critical platform of democracy that MPs can question the government ministers on their plans and actions. I will as always continue to submit questions in the hope of being drawn from the shuffle. This “shuffle” is a lottery type draw by the Vote office, which is non political, and is the well established process.

As regards my select committee work, this had a complication as a result of the change of Labour leadership. With a new Labour leader comes a new shadow administration.

This meant that a significant number of Labour MPs changed their roles, one of these was Rachel Reeves who chaired the BEIS committee, she is now a member of the shadow cabinet.

You are not allowed to chair a select committee if you are a Minister or Shadow Minister. We therefore had our first virtual meeting last week to appoint an interim chair whilst another Chair is chosen.

The work of this committee has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus in that we have a need to focus on the immediate situations arising rather than continue with the work plan we had. We will consider over time the actions of government in regard to business and the economy as we entered this crisis but I expect that in the short term our focus will be on what can be done to ensure that the economy recovers as well as possible as we exit the lockdown.

This will require debate on everything from how we make sure as many businesses as possible survive, but also how we make the economic environment as supportive as possible.

I would also like to reassure anyone that had particular interest in the work program we had previously, that this will not be forgotten and we will address it at the earliest possible time.

I think in particular of the review of the Post Office IT Systems that we were halfway through when Parliament rose, the importance of these has not diminished and we will not forget.

The BEIS committee will be sitting virtually on a weekly basis from now and you will be able to see this on line or on the Parliament channel.

Paul Howell MP

Member of Parliament

for Sedgefield

07464 898442