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Arrangement of Business

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 27 April 2021


My Lords, I thought it might be helpful to make a short statement about the arrangement of business today and tomorrow. We expect to receive a message from the Commons in respect of the Fire Safety Bill in time for us to consider the Bill again at a convenient point after 4.40 pm today, as set out on the Order Paper. Should everything go to plan, we expect the window for noble Lords to table Motions or amendments to be open between 3.15 pm and 4.15 pm. I urge noble Lords to keep an eye on the annunciator for any updates and to consult the Legislation Office at the earliest opportunity should they need further information.

In addition to the business already set down for tomorrow, we will consider the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill again. The message from the Commons should arrive today and the window for noble Lords to table Motions or amendments will remain open until 11 am tomorrow. Subject to the progress of business in both Houses, we may consider further Commons messages tomorrow. I will update the House at the earliest opportunity if that is the case.

My Lords, does the Government Chief Whip agree that this is going to cause tremendous problems for people working remotely, and that it underlines the unsatisfactory nature of hybrid proceedings? How are they going to find time or know how they can table amendments within that one-hour period? Will the Government Chief Whip, through the usual channels, look at every possible way to get this House back to working normally, so that everyone can participate fully—particularly during this time of ping-pong, which is a very important time for final discussion and debate on vital amendments? People who are not able to come here in person are at a real disadvantage. I hope the Government Chief Whip will use the usual channels to find a way to get us back to normal as quickly as possible.

Further to what my noble friend the Chief Whip has said, would he accept that it is essential that, from 21 June at the latest, it is expected that parliamentarians should be in Parliament? We should conduct business as normally as possible, in a self-regulating House, from that date. Could my noble friend give an assurance that that is indeed what the Government wish to do?

My Lords, I take the point that it is difficult at this stage with short timetables. Noble Lords do not have very much time to table amendments, but I think that is always the case in ping-pong: it comes back at short notice between the two Houses. It is the way that we have to resolve issues between the two Houses. To a certain extent, whether this happens is not entirely in the gift of the Government —it depends on how long amendments keep on being pushed. I accept that it is difficult and that the hybrid House is not completely as we want it. However, given the circumstances of the pandemic, it is a tribute to the House and the officials who run it that we are able to do business at all. This has been a tremendous achievement and we have done it as well as, if not better than, the other place.

Both noble Lords made a point about coming back to “normal”. I absolutely agree that we want to come back to normal as soon as possible. That is not entirely a matter for the Government or the Chief Whip, because this is a self-regulating House. We have to look at the data and wait for the social distancing review—that is the absolutely critical matter in coming back. As far as the Government and the Leader are concerned, I can say that we want to come back. I agree with my noble friend that parliamentarians should be in Parliament.

Sitting suspended.