Consequential amendments

– in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 22nd April 2020.

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That the following amendments be made to the orders of 21 April (Hybrid scrutiny proceedings):

(1) In Order A (scrutiny proceedings), leave out paragraphs (1), (6) and (7);

(2) In Order C (supplementary provisions):

(a) In paragraph (3), leave out ‘Nos 7, 8 and’ and insert ‘No’;

(b) Leave out paragraphs (4), (5), (6) and (7).

The motion builds on the House’s decision yesterday to allow hybrid proceedings for oral questions, statements and urgent questions. Should the House agree to the motion today, we will from next week also be able to debate substantive proceedings remotely. As I announced in my business statement yesterday, the House will have the opportunity to debate the Second Readings of the Finance Bill on Monday, the Domestic Abuse Bill on Tuesday and the Fire Safety Bill on Wednesday next week. By agreeing this motion, it will be possible for Members not present in the Chamber to contribute to the proceedings on those important Bills.

I accept that we have had to move quickly to bring forward these motions. The Commission agreed last week that the new hybrid proceedings approach, as delivered for the first time today for questions and statements, ought to be extended to debates on motions and legislation as soon as possible. The Procedure Committee also recommended rapid extension.

Rapid change inevitably comes with risk, but these are exceptional times, as we all recognise. I entirely concur with the concerns expressed by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee yesterday about making such changes so quickly. I reiterate that these must be temporary changes that will allow the House to carry out its important legislative functions while we comply with the current UK medical advice.

Mr Speaker, may I reiterate the thanks we have given to you and the House Service for ensuring that this morning’s proceedings managed to pass off so remarkably smoothly? It gives us confidence that we are able to build on this next week and to ensure that these changes work.

I turn to the motion and will explain the approach taken. I encourage Members to make reference to the explanatory note that has been published alongside the motion. Section E extends the provision for remote participation by defining hybrid proceedings as comprising both scrutiny proceedings—oral questions, statements and urgent questions—and substantive proceedings. Section F then lists the categories of business that are included in substantive hybrid business, which will include Government legislation.

Paragraphs (4) and (5) of section F set out a mechanism for organising substantive business. For each sitting day, a business motion will set out the proposed arrangements for business, including the timing of debates and any necessary voting arrangements. If that motion is signed by the Government, the Opposition and the third largest party, it will be declared to be agreed to and will govern that day’s business. That approach arises from the clear need communicated to us by the House authorities that, in order to facilitate remote proceedings, they need as much advance notice as possible about the arrangements for business. The Government are committed to working with both the House authorities and the other political parties to ensure that the arrangements made are workable from a technical perspective and meet the needs of Members across the House.

With time in the hybrid Chamber likely to be limited by technical capacity, the House may expect to rise each day earlier than we are used to. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of section F make consequential provisions for notices of motions to be given later in the day, if necessary. Section G allows Bills to be presented, read the First time, printed and set down for Second Reading without the formal physical proceedings in the Chamber, which are currently not compliant with social distancing requirements—although I note that we did remarkably well with the ten-minute rule Bill a few moments ago. It is modelled on the procedure for Bills brought through from the House of Lords, and it will apply to both Government Bills and private Members’ Bills.

Finally, sections H and I replicate or substitute many of the supplementary provisions to which the House agreed yesterday for the hybrid scrutiny arrangements. As this motion extends the new way of working to legislation, further provision is made here to suspend the English votes for English laws Standing Orders and to ensure that you, Mr Speaker, have the power to alter the practices of the House regarding the conduct of debate. That is essential if we are to facilitate the effective conduct of hybrid proceedings and do everything we can to make a success of the new arrangements.

I understand that some Members have concerns about the changes that we are making this week. That is why it is so important that we accept that they must be temporary and keep them under review. The Procedure Committee has an essential role in this, and I certainly intend to do the same, in order that we can be sure that these procedures are working for the House.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:13 pm, 22nd April 2020

I thank the Leader of the House for setting out the motion on hybrid substantive proceedings. We have got to an incredible place today, and I want to place on record my thanks and the Opposition’s thanks to everyone who has made it possible. I know that it has been an enormous effort. We are, I was told yesterday, the first Parliament to become a virtual Parliament, so I congratulate everyone on that.

Members who were taking note yesterday will know that the House agreed to hybrid scrutiny proceedings, and we now move to hybrid substantive proceedings, which will enable the Government to put through their legislation. The motion applies to the other part of our work, beyond the scrutiny side, which will also take place using the virtual and physical process.

It is useful for Members to see exactly what the substantive proceedings comprise of in section F of the motion. There is the ability in paragraph (2) for the Government to add to the list of proceedings, if they so wish. Like the Leader of the House, I want to touch on paragraph (4) of section F, which enables the usual channels, the Government, the main Opposition and the second Opposition party to work together to ensure that, if they agree on a particular motion and they all sign it, it is agreed. This is a very useful way of working.

This motion allows us to scrutinise and pass legislation and to vote in this absolutely extraordinary time. It enables us to ask the Government why, if there is personal protective equipment in Birmingham, it has been exported instead of being used here. It enables us to ask why, if there is a capacity of 40,000 for testing, we are only meeting 18,000 tests today, as was highlighted earlier in Prime Minister’s Question Time, and why, if Ferrari can test its workers, we cannot do that here. Democracy is the winner today, and Her Majesty’s Opposition support this motion.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee 2:15 pm, 22nd April 2020

I rise to speak on this motion in particular. I know there is great interest in the next motion, but I want to be clear that I am speaking on behalf of the Procedure Committee with regard to hybrid substantive proceedings.

It would be fair to say that the proceedings so far have gone well. From the Procedure Committee’s point of view, we are pleased with the progress that has been made. Mr Speaker, you will know that we have opened an inquiry to evaluate the continued operation of the hybrid system, and I am sure that colleagues across the House will want to share their views and experiences with that inquiry.

I will make a small number of points. We note that the first substantive business to be dealt with will relate to Government business almost entirely. Could the Leader of the House give some indication of when Opposition days, Back-Bench business days and other categories of business may be considered for debate? Those are all important parts of our proceedings in the House and part of how hon. Members are able to represent their constituents.

My hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin made exactly that point yesterday about her Adjournment debate on flooding. That is incredibly important to her constituents, and she needs to have a forum in which she can make those points in a timely fashion and get responses from Ministers. I realise it is not a business statement, but will the Leader of the House consider whether there will be time for an urgent debate on the approval required for the lockdown regulations, which I believe is required in any event by 15 May? That is something that the Procedure Committee would like to see the Government do sooner rather than later.

We are very grateful that the House has been able to achieve virtual proceedings in such short order. However, it is important to put on record that I do not think that any of us would feel that, after the length of recess we have had, only being able to question the Health Secretary for, I think, 45 minutes and with only around 40 Members able to take part is sufficient scrutiny and gives Members the level of contribution and debate that they would like.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I echo, and perhaps the Chair of the Procedure Committee would agree, that this is not necessarily about trying to be critical of Government, but about ensuring that Members can get answers from Ministers quickly, and often more directly, in the Chamber, be that virtually or by being here. That would be quite constructive. The Health Secretary, in fairness, has always said that he welcomes the challenge and welcomes the questions, but we need that with more Ministers. That sort of debate would be very helpful to Members across the House.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Health Secretary in particular, who was my deputy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport some time ago, never shied away from an opportunity to be at the Dispatch Box. I am sure he would welcome every opportunity that came, because he wants to get the message across and he wants to answer those questions —and there are a lot of them.

There is a lot of confusion. People are understandably concerned and frustrated about the situation they find themselves in. They have come to their Member of Parliament wanting answers, and we need time to be able to get those answers for them. My final point is a plea to the Leader of the House to consider giving priority to a general debate on the Government’s response to the covid-19 crisis. That would not require a Division. It would not require any of the concerns, which I know will be expressed in the debate on the next motion, relating to remote voting. It would, however, mean that Members had the time to be able to raise important points on behalf of their constituents. If this place is for anything, it is for Members to express their constituents’ concerns and to get responses from Ministers.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:19 pm, 22nd April 2020

May I first I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward this motion? I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on the way the business has been conducted. Issues were raised in Wales questions, Prime Minister’s questions and the Health statement that are very important to all those involved. We saw some of the technical difficulties that may arise. Some Members—for whatever reason, whether to do with broadband or other technical issues—were unable to convey their questions in the manner in which they hoped. I therefore seek some assurance from the Leader of the House that, when it comes to such technical issues, we will be in a position where we find ourselves able to navigate that technological methodology. Will assistance from House staff also be available to Members across the way?

I was reassured by the comment from the Leader of the House that the measures are temporary and under review. I insist that they are temporary. I do that personally, but I think the whole House likes that the Leader of the House has said that. If the virtual Parliament is not seen to be working in a way that encompasses all the viewpoints in this House, we will have to ensure that it will.

Karen Bradley referred to issues that come up every day. Today, the issue I wished to raise was about cancer patients. There are 3 million people in the UK living with cancer. There is a possible impending crisis, with tens of thousands of cancer deaths possibly occurring inadvertently due to the unavoidable focus on covid-19. We need to have a system of scrutiny that will enable me and others to bring forward questions. Those questions will not be brought forward in a critical fashion—let us be quite clear about that—but with concern and to seek the support, help and assistance of Ministers. We will be asking Ministers, for instance, what will be done for those who are waiting for life-saving surgery and treatment that has been postponed, and what assurances the Health Secretary will be able to give to those who need to attend hospital that it will be safe and secure.

The real issue is how do we do that? I understand that the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, are very keen to ensure that that happens. I welcome and support totally the system that has happened today. It shows that we are able to adapt. I hope that I will be able to adapt in the same way as everybody else. I wish to do so. I want to ensure that everyone, myself included along with all other right hon. and hon. Members, can be a part of the process to scrutinise Ministers and Departments, and to ensure that accountability is there for all.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 2:23 pm, 22nd April 2020

A number of important points have been made. In response to my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, Backbench Business and Opposition days are obviously important, and the motion does provide for those to be added. That will really depend on the technological capacity as to whether it is possible to extend the time available. That also applies to Adjournment debates. The team working on the technology is a very small team and what they have done is absolutely fantastic. We have to support them and be grateful for the work they have done to expand it as far as they have.

On the lockdown requirements and a debate on them, there are a couple of affirmative statutory instruments which will at some point have to come to the House for approval. I will take away the point that a general debate would be welcome. As my right hon. Friend correctly pointed out, this is not business questions so at least I do not have to give a formal answer on that, but I did hear my right hon. Friend’s point.

Jim Shannon says he will be adaptable, and I am very impressed by that. I hope that he manages to adapt so that his presence virtually is as frequent as it is physically, because I think the whole House would miss him were it otherwise. He asked for technical assistance and whether that can be provided to Members. That is a matter for the House authorities rather than the Government, but the Government are working with the House authorities to provide technical assistance. He is right to say that this is temporary, and I cannot reiterate that strongly enough, but he also asked what other ways there are of holding the Government to account. It may be worth noting the really terrific work being done by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who has been holding daily calls with Members of Parliament where any issues can be raised, and then has been acting as a filter, in the absence of Parliament, to get answers from Ministers. Her action has been enormously well received, and I think it is a positive alternative form of scrutiny.

Question put and agreed to.