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?
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.
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.
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.
Business of the House (Today)
That, at this day’s sitting the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on (1) the Motion in the name of Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg relating to proceedings during the pandemic not later than 90 minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order, and (2) the second reading of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill not later than 8.00 pm; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings relating to the motion on proceedings during the pandemic and the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Tom Pursglove.)