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Procedure of the House

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 6 October 2011

Motion to Resolve

Moved By

That, as proposed by the Procedure Committee, and notwithstanding the normal practice of the House in the conduct of Divisions, any Member of the House with restricted mobility who satisfies conditions A and B below shall be entitled to vote in his or her place in the Grand Committee in any Division in the Chamber occurring while the Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill is sitting in Committee Room 4A;

Condition A

The Member has notified the Clerk of the Parliaments of his or her intention to take part in the Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill and to make use of this entitlement at least 24 hours in advance of the sitting of the Grand Committee in which he or she first proposes to make use of the entitlement;

Condition B

The Member is present in the Grand Committee room in order to be told by the Clerk by the time the question is repeated three minutes after a Division is called in the Chamber.

My Lords, the second Motion in my name on the Order Paper is largely self-explanatory but perhaps I may give some background to it. We are conscious that, if there should be a Division in the House while the Grand Committee is meeting in Committee Room 4A, and many Members with restricted mobility are taking part in that Grand Committee, it could be challenging for them all to make their way to the Chamber in order to vote within the eight minutes allowed. The Motion therefore seeks to address that concern by allowing Members of the House with restricted mobility to vote in their place in Committee Room 4A during sittings of the Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill, subject to certain conditions, and only if they so wish.

A paper in my name setting out the proposal embodied in this Motion was circulated to the Procedure Committee during the Recess and received the unanimous support of the members of that committee.

I should emphasise that this entitlement would be a one-off, limited to the Grand Committee on this particular Bill, and deviating from the normal practice of the House in the conduct of Divisions only on account of the potential concentration of Members with mobility restrictions participating in the proceedings.

A Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill presents a unique set of circumstances, in the light of which I believe that we should make what adjustments we can to allow all noble Lords, including those with mobility restrictions, to play a full part not only in the work of the Grand Committee but also in any Divisions that take place in the Chamber. That is what the Motion is about and I hope that the House will support it today. I beg to move.

I hesitate to try the patience of the House, having had such a useful discussion earlier in relation to Scotland. I welcome this Motion from the Leader of the House, as it will be of great help to people of reduced mobility in the Grand Committee to enable them to vote in the House. However, it is unfortunate that we have had to go this way. It has happened only because the Government, and the government Chief Whip in particular, saw fit to force on this House that all sittings of the Welfare Reform Bill Committee should be held upstairs in Committee Room 4A. That has resulted in what I understand to be substantial expenditure of many thousands of pounds on that Committee, when a number of the sittings could have been held here in the Chamber of the House. That would have been much more convenient for all of us, much better for the public, much better for people of reduced mobility and much better in every way.

I was in the Grand Committee the other day and the possibility was raised, as it has been raised elsewhere, that if the Grand Committee itself were to ask that certain parts of the Bill be held on the Floor of the House, particularly those that relate to people with disabilities, the House might reconsider the question and have at least one or two sessions dealing with these particular items on the Floor of the House. There appears to be some time. On Monday, the House rose before six o’clock; on Tuesday, it rose before eight o’clock; and there are in the forthcoming programme days on which there are no matters of any great substance to debate compared with the Welfare Reform Bill. Therefore, it would be really helpful to all of us if issues of particular contention could be taken on the Floor of the House and if the House could be given an opportunity to reconsider this matter.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s support of this Motion. I am glad to have that, but I cannot agree with him on most of the rest of what he said, mainly because the House has already decided that the Committee stage of the Bill should be in a Grand Committee. Earlier today we had a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Soley, about the amount of legislation that we have. It was decided a long time ago that, if we are to try to close at 10 o’clock at night, we need to put Bills into Grand Committee. There are many important Bills before us and the principle of Grand Committee has been well established.

I understand that there is also an advantage in going to Committee Room 4A. More Members can participate overall compared with the Moses Room; more members of the public who wish to view the proceedings can get in compared with the Moses Room; and, indeed, there are more places for wheelchair-using members of the public to view proceedings than in either the Moses Room or the Chamber. Moreover, there are more places for Peers in wheelchairs to listen to the proceedings in Committee Room 4A than there are in the Moses Room or, indeed, in the Chamber of this House. Therefore, at every level there is an advantage to being in Committee Room 4A and this added Motion will be of extra benefit to those who have mobility issues.

Motion agreed.