Business of the House - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 28th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour 1:30 pm, 28th July 2020

My Lords, following on from my noble friend, can the Chief Whip tell us precisely how many noble Lords will be able to take part physically in the Grand Committee proceedings?

I want also to raise an issue on procedure. We all understand the need for accommodation to be made in respect of hybrid proceedings and, for as long as there are safety considerations, that will need to continue. However, there is a fundamental contradiction between the first and the second line in the Motion before the House. The first line states:

“The procedure shall follow, so far as practical, procedure in Grand Committee”.

However, the second line states that

“no member may participate unless they have signed up to the Speakers’ List”.

It is stark staring obvious that Members do not need to have signed up to the speakers’ list in order to participate in person. That is not true in the Chamber, nor is it true in Grand Committee. This is a particular issue in respect of Committee stages, which of course is what the Grand Committee largely exists for, although some other debates can take place, because of the give and take in Committee. At the moment, we now have the utter absurdity that in order to intervene after the Minister, if you are in the Chamber, you need to email the clerk who will email the Lord Chairman sitting on the Woolsack, who will then call you. If, as I found once, you do not get your email in fast enough, you cannot be called after the Minister even though you are actually in the Chamber and you can catch the eye of the Lord Chairman. This is palpably absurd. The reason for it is the levelling-down mentality that nothing that cannot be done in the virtual House should be done in the physical House.

We are all trying to make the best of these procedures and I even had some sympathy for that concept when only a handful of Members were participating in the Chamber and it might have been thought unfair that noble Lords who were taking part virtually would not have the same opportunities as those who were present in the House. However, now that we are encouraging Members to come back to the House where they can and we will have Members physically present in the Grand Committee, it seems utterly absurd and contrary to good practice to deprive noble Lords of their rights in the Chamber and in Grand Committee because of the understandable need to bring other noble Lords in remotely.

The Chief Whip cannot change procedures in response to this debate, but I do not think that the arrangements that have been proposed are either correct or sustainable. It is regrettable that they have been replicated in the arrangements being made for the Grand Committee proceedings from September, so I hope that the noble Lord may be able to give us an undertaking that this issue will be considered further—perhaps even before the beginning of September.

On that note, I wish him a happy holiday. I say to him and to the staff of the Clerk of the Parliaments that we are all enormously appreciative of the work that they have done to make the House operate as well as it has over recent months. It is the aim of us all to make it work better and not to take away in any way from the phenomenal contribution that those who have enabled us to continue working during this time of crisis as we have.