House Business during the Pandemic

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 6:10 pm, 8th June 2020

I believe it is fair to say that the Scottish Parliament has not got remote voting. The voting still has to be done physically, within the Scottish Parliament, and that is an important point to bear in mind. Voting is still done within the Parliament. If people look in the Division Lobbies, they may get an indication of the way Mr Speaker’s mind is working in making the Division system more effective. That, of course, is part of the process—that things improve and evolve as we work our way through this crisis.

Let me now turn to why scrutiny actually matters from the point of view of the Government, as well as of Back Benchers. By the time a Bill reaches the Floor of the House, many hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours have been dedicated to working up its policy details and drafting its clauses and schedules, yet it is only when parliamentarians are able to consider those clauses and schedules that our process of lawmaking begins in earnest. The Minister responsible for the Bill naturally wants to know what all Members think the legislation will mean for their constituents. Those views can be heard on Second Reading, upstairs in Committee and on Report.

Under the hybrid proceedings, we were only sitting for three days a week, which would never be enough for us to make progress on our legislative priorities. On the days when we were able to debate a Bill, the limited time for debate—cut by two thirds compared with a normal timetable—would have been deeply frustrating. In the fairly typical week commencing 2 March, there were 648 minutes of debate in the Chamber and Committees on primary legislation, compared with just 216 minutes in the hybrid week commencing 11 May. On secondary legislation, there was an additional 165 minutes of debate.

During my years sat in my old spot over there—I think it is a spot that still has a tick on it, so it is reserved—I became accustomed to Back-Bench MPs complaining about the limitations on the time for debate, so it comes as something of a surprise to me, now that I am standing here as Leader of the House, that it falls to me to make the case for more scrutiny against many of those same voices who actually want less time for scrutiny. For a Minister, these exchanges are not an adjunct to our democracy—they are our democracy in action. On any given day in Parliament, there is not only one issue considered; the issues are legion.