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Business of the House

Volume 676: debated on Monday 11 May 2020

Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a short business statement. Today’s general debate on covid-19 has understandably generated a significant amount of interest from Members wishing to participate. With that in mind, and to allow more Members to take part, tomorrow will now be a continuation of the general debate on covid-19 followed by a motion relating to the extension of the temporary standing orders. Wednesday will be the remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill. I shall also make a further business statement on Wednesday.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I appreciate that there needs to be more discussion about covid-19. I have a couple of questions for him. There are two statements tomorrow: one on covid and business and one on transport and users. Will the Leader of the House also facilitate a statement on covid and care homes? Secondly, there are two very important statutory instruments that have been moved. When is the Leader likely to get those statutory instruments back before the House? Otherwise, I support the statement.

The Government are trying to provide as many statements as is reasonably possible. There was one by the Prime Minister earlier, and there will be one from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and one from the Department for Transport tomorrow, so we are running through a pattern of statements. The Health Secretary has been very good at keeping the House up to date on matters that fall within his Department. I am sure we will continue to be kept up to date on all these matters.

As regards the two SIs, there is no date for them at the moment, but the one relating to Northern Ireland has to be brought before the House in due course, because of the requirements of the Act under which it falls.

The events of the past 24 hours must surely have brought home to the Prime Minister the benefits of seeking to engage Parliament, rather than using staged media events to take forward the Government’s response to the current crisis. Had he done that, we might not now be in a situation where the public health message in most of the UK has been compromised and confused.

There is, however, also an onus on Parliament to improve the way we receive and debate Government proposals. I welcome this decision to extend the general debate, but the Leader will know that, even with this, there will still be a great number of Members who would want to contribute and who are unable to do so. My plea is not only that we devote more time for Parliament to discuss the Government’s response, but that we do so in a more joined-up way. Tomorrow, our business comprises two statements, one urgent question and one debate, all on the same subject. For the most part, Members will only be able to ask questions and not comment on or discuss the Government’s proposals. The public must be wondering why we do things in such an apparently haphazard and unstructured way. It is repetitive and inefficient, and it hinders the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the Executive.

Given that our world has turned upside down and that we have changed so dramatically the way we conduct our proceedings, is it not time to alter our rules of debate, to allow the Government to outline their proposals and for those to be debated with urgency? We will discuss the extension of emergency Standing Orders tomorrow. I ask the Leader of the House to consider at that time ways in which we can better debate and agree the most important steps in responding to the crisis.

I would not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the last 24 hours. What the Government have set out is extraordinarily clear and sensible. As we move out of lockdown, inevitably we are trusting people more to make judgments for themselves. It is, of its nature, less prescriptive than the lockdown had to be, and there is a great deal of clarity within that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the way we debate things. That is why we are so keen to get back to a physical Parliament rather than a hybrid Parliament—because the flexibility of a physical Parliament allows for the interventions, the cut and thrust of debate and the natural progression of discussion from statements through to business around statutes being introduced that make Parliament so effective and such a good place for scrutiny and legislative procedures. I commend to hon. and right hon. Members alike the excellent article by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) setting out why, to her surprise, a hybrid Parliament has not been as satisfactory as the real deal. I am keen that we should get back to the real deal as soon as possible.