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Business of the House

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 14 May 2020

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That until further order Private Notice Questions asked in a Virtual Proceeding shall be time limited to 15 minutes not 10.

My Lords, at Monday’s meeting of the Procedure Committee, it was agreed that the time limit that applies to Private Notice Questions should be increased from 10 minutes to 15 minutes. This Motion gives effect to that decision. The Procedure Committee has updated and reissued its guidance on Virtual Proceedings, and I urge all noble Lords to read through it. One of the main updates is to when speakers’ lists will close. For all types of business, speakers’ lists will close earlier, so I once again urge noble Lords to look at the guidance.

The Procedure Committee continues to keep our current working practices under review. Many noble Lords have asked about a hybrid House and remote voting. The House authorities, the Procedure Committee and the commission are working through these issues at pace and will update the House in due course. Both will be introduced as soon as practically possible after the Whitsun Recess. The administration has just started collecting the additional information that it needs from Members to facilitate the rollout of remote voting, and noble Lords will receive an email within the next 24 hours inviting them to complete an online form to help with this work. I beg to move.

My Lords, we are very grateful for the work of the Procedure Committee and the Leader and once again, the officials of the House. The team in Millbank is doing absolutely sterling work in bringing people into play for the Virtual Proceedings. I have three specific questions for the Leader in response to her statement. First, is she able to give a date as to when Virtual Proceedings might start? Secondly, as she may be aware, in the Virtual Committee on the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill yesterday, it became clear that there is likely to be a desire to press amendments to a vote unless the Government modify their position on Report. Therefore, it will be essential either that a remote voting system is in place after Whitsun or that no Report stage is taken until we have a virtual House, so how are we getting on with proposals for online voting?

In light of the proceedings in the House of Commons yesterday, where apparently the Chancellor of the Exchequer and 21 other Members managed to vote the wrong way in what I understand was the third vote, will the noble Baroness reassure us that we will be trialling our system in such a way that ensures that we do not repeat the mistakes of the other place?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this Motion. I was going to say what my noble friend Lord Adonis just said. The broadcasting staff who have been working are unseen as we only get to hear their voices, but I hope that they hear our voices when we thank them as well as all the other parliamentary staff who are doing their usual work, because it has been extraordinary.

I only dipped into the Committee yesterday and I heard the particular point raised by my noble friend. But as far as that Committee went, I felt rather sorry for the Minister. Members seemed to be literally face to face and the Minister had to put up with quite a lot, particularly from the noble and learned Lords. He probably did not feel too comfortable with that. In terms of what is possible, it worked well at that stage, although I take the point that was made. I also thank the Procedure Committee for its decision to extend the time for Private Notice Questions. Because we are not having many Statements at the moment, they have become really quite important, and that extra time is welcome.

I apologise to the noble Baroness for stepping up too soon—obviously I am not used to dealing with people any more either. I echo the thanks of both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to the broadcasting team and indeed all the staff across the House. I have in fact been over to see their operation—at a safe distance—and thank them on behalf of us all. They are doing a fantastic job and we all greatly appreciate it.

On the noble Lord’s question, I am afraid that I cannot give a specific date on Virtual Proceedings. We have a commission meeting at the end of next week, which I think will finalise the details so that things can move forward. It will take a little bit of time after that for the House authorities to set up the screens and so on. I assure the noble Lord that we are all very keen to move to a hybrid House, not least for some of the issues that he raised. We will do it as soon as we can after Whitsun, but I do not want to put undue pressure on the authorities by giving him a date now—I cannot. After that commission meeting, I am sure that we will provide further information to Members; we will of course keep everyone updated.

The noble Lord is absolutely right: as I said, remote voting is being developed. The party leaders and usual channels have had a practice and a look through the House of Commons system, which seems pretty simple to me. I cannot speak for our colleagues down the other end. I am sure that your Lordships will master the technology very well. It is, I believe, a good system, and work is ongoing to build that. Again, we are doing it at pace because, as he rightly says, we will have votes coming up and we need to make sure that your Lordships’ House is in a position to register its views on issues. As a Government we obviously want to move forward with our legislative agenda, so it is in all our interests. I assure him that work is ongoing and we are again looking to bring it in as soon as is practicable after the Whitsun Recess. We will keep Members updated with timings when I can be specific.

Motion agreed.