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Hybrid Proceedings in Parliament

House of Commons Commission – in the House of Commons on 19th May 2020.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

What assessment the Commission has made of the effectiveness of the implementation of hybrid proceedings in Parliament.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Whether the Commission plans to bring forward proposals for the continuation of hybrid proceedings after the end of the covid-19 lockdown.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Commission has made no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the implementation of hybrid proceedings in the House. I should like to put on the record—on your behalf, too, Mr Speaker, as you have led on these issues—our appreciation of the broadcasting service and the digital service for delivering the hybrid functions and services at breakneck speed. It is quite extraordinary that they have done it under these circumstances.

The Commission has no responsibility for making changes to the House’s procedures. That is a matter for the House itself. The hon. Lady may wish to make a submission to the Procedure Committee’s current inquiry into the operation of proceedings. The Commission has responsibility for the staff of the House and the provision of services to Members and their staff on the estate. It is currently working to ensure that the House meets the Government guidelines to become a covid-19-secure workplace.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Thanks to you, Mr Speaker, the parliamentary digital service, the Clerks, the Commission, the House authorities, broadcasting and other staff in the House, the digital Parliament has been a huge success, but now the Leader of the House wants to abandon it and instead insists that 650 MPs—potential super-spreaders—should travel from across the country to cram into Westminster, putting constituents and staff at risk. Why would the Government choose to ignore their own advice that those who can work from home should, unless it is to cast a protective cloak around their floundering Prime Minister?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and I note her long-term interest in this issue. Unfortunately, it is a matter not for the Commission, but for the Government. The Commission’s responsibility begins and ends with our obligations and service to the staff of the House. I note her concerns, and she may wish to take them to the Procedure Committee. There are likely to be further announcements about the operation of the hybrid virtual proceedings in the course of the next couple of days, and I encourage her to engage fully with all debates and discussions concerning them.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I echo what has been said, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for making hybridisation happen in a Parliament where just getting TV cameras in took centuries. Given that social distancing is here to stay, it will take 40 minutes of votes to incorporate it into our jobs. We are told, on issues from ending air pollution to destroying capitalism, that we cannot go on with what was happening before. Is there any reason why the Government seem in such indecent haste to rush back to the bad old days? Is it to disguise the drubbings that the PM is getting every Wednesday from our new leader by having a few more of his own around him to cheer him on?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Unfortunately, the answer is going to be pretty much the same as the previous one. That is a matter for the Government; it is not within the responsibilities and obligations of the House of Commons Commission. All I can say to the hon. Lady is that I note her concerns. We have obligations and responsibilities to the staff of this House. The staff unions have been making representations to the Commission on behalf of their members. I encourage her to take up these issues with the relevant Ministers.