ALISTAIR Carmichael has today called for an urgent all-party meeting to discuss turning Westminster into a “virtual Parliament” ahead of its scheduled return in two weeks’ time following the Easter recess.

The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip has sent a letter to his counterparts in all the other main parties to discuss remote working for the UK Parliament, including establishing a special committee of MPs, chaired by Sir Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, to scrutinise the Government’s coronavirus response.

In his to the Commons Chief Whips, Mr Carmichael warned the necessary constraints caused by the spread of outbreak meant “we must consider alternative arrangements.”

His letter follows the support from Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, for calls to establish a "virtual Parliament” to allow MPs to keep scrutinising the Government during the pandemic.

“People deserve reassurance that their representatives can fulfil their duties wherever they are in the country, even in these exceptional circumstances,” declared Mr Carmichael.

“MPs have to agree a plan that is fit for purpose for Parliament to return from recess on April 21.

“The Speaker of the House announced important steps towards remote working for Parliament this week. Leaders from all parties must now meet to urgently discuss these and other measures, in a spirit of co-operation in the national interest,” insisted the former Scottish Secretary, who represents Orkney and Shetland.

He went on: “The proposals for a special committee to evaluate the Government response are just as important. In uncertain times and with sweeping powers enacted, democratic accountability demands that the parties outside of government are at the heart of the discussion.

“I believe that it is right and proper that the Leader of the Opposition chair this committee,” added Mr Carmichael.

This week, the House of Commons Commission was told that parliamentary digital, broadcasting and procedural experts were working “round the clock” to develop a virtual House of Commons for the end of the Easter recess.

The plans would enable MPs to use videoconferencing tools to call in remotely to some parliamentary proceedings, to scrutinise Government during the lockdown.

The aim would be for MPs to be able to take part in question times – including what would become a virtual Prime Minister’s Questions – urgent questions and ministerial statements.

Sir Lindsay praised staff for developing e-solutions so quickly, saying: “I am so impressed by the endeavours of our House staff, who have achieved so much in such a short space of time, despite their teams being reduced in numbers by self-isolation and sickness.”

He added: “I really hope we can return to work virtually and safely after the 21st, subject to the advice of Public Health England.”

Earlier this month, more than 100 members signed a letter written by Labour's Chi Onwurah, calling for Westminster to go online for the duration of the pandemic.

In the letter to John Benger, the Commons Clerk, Ms Onwurah, who represents Newcastle upon Tyne Central, said: "In a national crisis when 30 million households are being instructed to stay at home and save lives we must show that we too have 'got the message'.

"A number of parliamentarians, including the Prime Minister, have already been struck down by the virus and it is clear Westminster is not a safe working environment and cannot be made so whilst including a representative number of MPs. We must lead by example."

Ms Onwurah called for a digital parliament to be created with the help of the technology sector in which all MPs could participate and "maintain our democratic traditions in accordance with social distancing".

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, has made clear the Government is looking at "every technological solution available".