WESTMINSTER must seize the opportunity to “drag itself into the present,” the SNP has insisted, as MPs prepare for the first digital Prime Minister’s Questions today.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, will be at the Commons dispatch box, standing in for the recuperating Boris Johnson, and will face Sir Keir Starmer, who will attend his first PMQs as Labour leader.

MPs yesterday backed a motion to enable them to contribute to certain parliamentary proceedings via the Zoom video-conferencing system in light of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Up to 50 MPs will from today be allowed in the Commons chamber with up to a further 120 contributing remotely to departmental questions, urgent questions and ministerial statements in what has been described as a “hybrid Parliament”.

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP deputy leader, said the UK Parliament must seize the opportunity of change to modernise the democratic process, declaring: “The first ever virtual PMQs should be a catalyst for real change and provide a moment of significant realisation for the UK Government.

“The House of Commons has never been keen to endear itself as a parliament fit for the 21st century but these vital changes in light of the coronavirus crisis highlight the opportunity for Westminster to drag itself into the present day.

“If we want to be able to make political life - elected office or those working behind the scenes - accessible for all, we have to lead by example. It’s time for Westminster to wake up to the huge potential that these changes unleash and commit to reforming the Commons for good,” she added.

As a small number of MPs debated the motion the chamber had black and yellow taping on the floor and seats were marked with a no-entry sign or a tick to show where they could sit, ensuring they kept to the two-metre social distancing rule.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, told MPs said the new digital Parliament might not be perfect and technical glitches were likely to occur but he insisted: “We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

The Cabinet Minister stressed that he would not have supported the measures to allow Parliament to sit virtually if they were not temporary, insisting: “I want Parliament to be back operating properly in its normal way.”

He noted that the current arrangements would continue until May 12 but might have to be renewed at that point. “But the motions are temporary and will remain temporary," insisted the Commons Leader.

Mr Rees-Mogg explained that he expected to bring forward further motions shortly so MPs could extend the virtual ways of working for a longer period and to “more substantive business” including legislation.

Karen Bradley, who chairs the Commons Procedure Committee, pointed out it had not looked thoroughly at remote voting, noting how “some others have tried the trial run of it and can't say it was absolutely brilliant. A lot more work will need to be done".

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle pointed out no decision had yet been taken with regards to voting and that any considerations to do so would be “completely checked" before being implemented.

In exchanges, Labour’s John Spellar said the Commons had to be the "epicentre of the democratic system" and its role scaled-up in the coming weeks to ensure questions are answered by ministers, noting: "Otherwise, what is the point of Parliament?"

Tory backbencher Sir Desmond Swayne, commenting on the limiting of numbers in the chamber, claimed it would be "outrageous" if MPs were excluded from debates.

"This is the precedent that we're now setting and it would be outrageous if members elected to this House were unable to come and bring their concerns to this chamber because there were already a sufficient number of members within it," he said.

Meanwhile, the House of Lords held its first-ever virtual sitting.

Instead of a packed chamber for question time, peers took part remotely from their homes by internet link.

The historic change led to less rowdy exchanges as members were called individually by the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, to speak rather than having to bob up and down in their seats in the House.

Earlier in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg raised a smile among MPs when he joked: "In 1349, when the Black Death affected this country, Parliament couldn't sit and didn't; the session was cancelled.

“Thanks to modern technology, even I have moved on from 1349 and I'm glad to say that we can sit to carry out these fundamental constitutional functions. And I'm enormously grateful to many who are just as traditionalist as I am, who have accepted these constraints."