Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 1:57 pm on 2nd June 2020.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 1:57 pm, 2nd June 2020

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Some 25 petitions are waiting to be debated in Parliament, with more than 5 million signatures from the public represented in them. However, as you know, petitions debates were suspended when we moved to remote proceedings. This morning I received a disappointing response from the Leader of the House suggesting that Government business would be the priority while social distancing is in place, which is likely to be some time.

Petitions are a crucial means by which members of the public and Back-Bench MPs hold the Government to account, and the sacrifice in bringing us all here in person has been very real for very many people, but it cannot be entirely on the Government’s own terms. So can you, Mr Speaker, advise the House what more we can do to ensure that this vital route of scrutiny for the public is resumed as soon as possible?

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

As the hon. Lady knows, that is not a matter for the Chair. The business of the House is for the Chamber to decide. No doubt today there will be an opportunity to raise the matter, and I would have thought that Business Questions on Thursday would be a good place to raise it with the Leader of the House. That will allow him to tell us what measures he will be putting in place, if any.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

This is the new normal, Mr Speaker.

As you know, you, as Speaker, are defender of the liberties and freedoms of MPs— Government Members and Back Benchers, everybody equally. One of the historic liberties that the Speaker has always sought is not only freedom of speech but the freedom to attend and participate, which is why the House in the 14th century, 16th century, 17th century and at many other times has insisted that no Member of Parliament can be arrested by the Crown, except on indictable offences, and thereby prevented from attending Parliament.

The law at the moment requires—not just advises, but requires—those who are shielding or who have shielding responsibilities not to leave their home and therefore not to be able to come to Parliament if they are Members of Parliament. Mr Speaker, I just wonder what your feeling is about the liberties of this House if significant numbers of our Members are prevented from participating in debate or in Divisions by virtue of the decisions of the Government.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I will say that my sympathy is with those people who are shielding or who are of a certain age who cannot attend the House. I have been very clear and have put that on the record, but the business of the House is a matter for the Government, as we well know. They set the agenda. What I would say is that I hope those conversations are taking place now to try to come to an arrangement. I hope that those conversations will be very fruitful and done as quickly as possible, but there is a decision for the House to take, the House can take control of it, and there is no better champion than the hon. Gentleman to lead that.

What I would say is, let those discussions continue. I do believe there is a way to move forward. I think there needs to be a bit of give and take from different sides in order for the House to progress and to ensure that nobody’s franchise is taken away. We are working very hard to try to see how we can help with the voting system to match that as well. I am not going to take any further points of order on that; I think the House has time to deal with it later. I will now suspend the House for five minutes.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—