Hybrid Proceedings (Extension of Temporary Orders)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:28 pm, 12th May 2020

To pick up the point about our constituents’ expectations, I suggest that the constituents we all represent will expect us to order our business in a way that allows us all to contribute on an equal footing. That is the essence of how Parliament is supposed to function, and it must surely have a bearing on how we order our business going ahead.

I too add my thanks to those members of staff and others who have worked so hard to make these virtual proceedings technically possible, while I recognise their temporary nature and limitations. I hope, though, that we will see this as an opportunity to learn lessons and see what might be possible for the future, to show that as a Parliament we are able to accommodate those with caring responsibilities, who are on parental leave or who are suffering from illness, and to allow them to continue to represent their constituents as they would want to but for those limitations.

None of us knows what the future will hold over the next few weeks. If there is to be any suggestion of a renewal of these provisions, I make this plea to the Leader of the House: there should be proper and better consultation with the small parties than there was ahead of the implementation of these procedures. The smaller parties have been able to have a voice through them, but principally as a result of your good offices, Mr Speaker, and for that I place on the record my appreciation and that of my colleagues.

Let us not pretend that this has been an exercise in holding the Government to account in the way that we might normally have expected—and that is principally because of the attitude of the Government themselves. That is exemplified when we consider the Prime Minister’s statement to the nation on Sunday. That should have been made first here to this House; there would have been every opportunity to address the nation after that.

But the biggest limitation and my real concern is the range of business that the House is able to deal with. There are no Westminster Hall debates and the Backbench Business Committee is not functioning, but still the world continues to evolve. Israel is considering the annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories; we have very little opportunity to have a say on that. In Hong Kong, China is walking ever further from the joint declaration. These are all matters of great importance; whatever we do after the recess, this House must be allowed to have our voice in respect of all of them.