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Hybrid Substantive Proceedings

Volume 675: debated on Wednesday 22 April 2020

I beg to move,

That the following orders be made and have effect until 12 May:

Hybrid proceedings

(1) The House shall sit at 2.30pm on Mondays and 11.30am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and on each day the business of the House shall comprise only hybrid proceedings.

(2) Hybrid proceedings comprise:

(a) scrutiny proceedings; and

(b) substantive proceedings.

(3) Members may participate in hybrid proceedings virtually, by electronic means approved by the Speaker, or by attending in the Chamber. The Speaker may limit the number of Members present in the Chamber at any one time.

(4) For the purposes of hybrid proceedings, Members shall give notice by electronic means designated by the Speaker.

(5) At the conclusion of scrutiny and substantive proceedings, the Speaker shall adjourn the House without question put.

Substantive proceedings

(1) Substantive proceedings comprise:

(a) motions in the name of a minister of the crown;

(b) presentation of bills;

(c) subsequent proceedings on public bills introduced by a minister of the crown;

(d) private business;

(e) ministerial statements made with the permission of the Speaker;

(f) personal statements;

(g) motions in the name of the chair or another member of the Committee of Selection;

(h) business which would otherwise be taken

(i) immediately after prayers (except motions for unopposed returns); or (ii) at the commencement of public business.

(2) The question on any motion made by a minister of the crown to add one or more categories of business to the list in paragraph (1) shall be put forthwith.

(3) Except as provided in these orders, substantive hybrid proceedings shall be governed by the practice and standing orders of the House.

(4) If, on any day on which hybrid substantive proceedings are to be taken, a motion of which notice has been given relating to the allocation of time to, and the conduct of, business for that day, in the names of a minister of the crown, a Member representing the official opposition and a Member representing the second largest opposition party, is moved at the commencement of public business by a minister of the crown, the Speaker shall declare the question to be agreed to.

(5) A motion under paragraph (4) may include provision (a) to make designations under paragraph (1) of temporary standing order (remote voting) and (b) to amend the arrangements for remote voting under temporary standing order (Conduct of remote divisions).

(6) Rules relating to the giving and receiving of notices of motions and to the periods of notice required for different categories shall apply as if:

(a) Thursdays were a sitting day on which the House rose at 5pm;

(b) the House rose no earlier than 7.00 pm on Mondays and 6.00 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

(7) Save as provided in paragraph (6) notice periods in respect of all substantive proceedings shall be set by the Speaker.

Presentation of bills

(1) A public bill, of whose presentation notice has been given and whose title has been read by the Clerk, shall be deemed to have been read the first time and to have been ordered to have been read a second time on such day as the Member in whose name the notice stands shall have appointed and shall be ordered to be printed.

Supplementary provisions

(1) Standing Orders Nos 7, 8, 9, 23, paragraph (5) of Standing Order No 47 and Standing Orders Nos 83J to 83X shall not have effect.

(2) In any case where the Speaker has ordered the withdrawal of a Member, or of several Members, under Standing Order No 43 and is required to direct the Serjeant at Arms to give effect to the order, the Member or Members shall be suspended from the service of the House for the following sitting day.

(3) No motion to sit in private may be made during hybrid proceedings.

(4) The Speaker may make such alterations to the practices of the House regarding the conduct of debate as are appropriate to facilitate the effective conduct of hybrid proceedings.

(5) The Speaker may amend any provision of the temporary standing orders relating to hybrid proceedings, if he determines it is necessary to do so in order to ensure that the conduct of business is consistent with the Resolution of the House (Proceedings during the pandemic) of 21 April.

(6) Before exercising his power under paragraph (5), the Speaker shall satisfy himself that he has the agreement of the Leader of the House.

Consequential amendments

That the following amendments be made to the orders of 21 April (Hybrid scrutiny proceedings):

(1) In Order A (scrutiny proceedings), leave out paragraphs (1), (6) and (7);

(2) In Order C (supplementary provisions):

(a) In paragraph (3), leave out ‘Nos 7, 8 and’ and insert ‘No’;

(b) Leave out paragraphs (4), (5), (6) and (7).

The motion builds on the House’s decision yesterday to allow hybrid proceedings for oral questions, statements and urgent questions. Should the House agree to the motion today, we will from next week also be able to debate substantive proceedings remotely. As I announced in my business statement yesterday, the House will have the opportunity to debate the Second Readings of the Finance Bill on Monday, the Domestic Abuse Bill on Tuesday and the Fire Safety Bill on Wednesday next week. By agreeing this motion, it will be possible for Members not present in the Chamber to contribute to the proceedings on those important Bills.

I accept that we have had to move quickly to bring forward these motions. The Commission agreed last week that the new hybrid proceedings approach, as delivered for the first time today for questions and statements, ought to be extended to debates on motions and legislation as soon as possible. The Procedure Committee also recommended rapid extension.

Rapid change inevitably comes with risk, but these are exceptional times, as we all recognise. I entirely concur with the concerns expressed by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee yesterday about making such changes so quickly. I reiterate that these must be temporary changes that will allow the House to carry out its important legislative functions while we comply with the current UK medical advice.

Mr Speaker, may I reiterate the thanks we have given to you and the House Service for ensuring that this morning’s proceedings managed to pass off so remarkably smoothly? It gives us confidence that we are able to build on this next week and to ensure that these changes work.

I turn to the motion and will explain the approach taken. I encourage Members to make reference to the explanatory note that has been published alongside the motion. Section E extends the provision for remote participation by defining hybrid proceedings as comprising both scrutiny proceedings—oral questions, statements and urgent questions—and substantive proceedings. Section F then lists the categories of business that are included in substantive hybrid business, which will include Government legislation.

Paragraphs (4) and (5) of section F set out a mechanism for organising substantive business. For each sitting day, a business motion will set out the proposed arrangements for business, including the timing of debates and any necessary voting arrangements. If that motion is signed by the Government, the Opposition and the third largest party, it will be declared to be agreed to and will govern that day’s business. That approach arises from the clear need communicated to us by the House authorities that, in order to facilitate remote proceedings, they need as much advance notice as possible about the arrangements for business. The Government are committed to working with both the House authorities and the other political parties to ensure that the arrangements made are workable from a technical perspective and meet the needs of Members across the House.

With time in the hybrid Chamber likely to be limited by technical capacity, the House may expect to rise each day earlier than we are used to. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of section F make consequential provisions for notices of motions to be given later in the day, if necessary. Section G allows Bills to be presented, read the First time, printed and set down for Second Reading without the formal physical proceedings in the Chamber, which are currently not compliant with social distancing requirements—although I note that we did remarkably well with the ten-minute rule Bill a few moments ago. It is modelled on the procedure for Bills brought through from the House of Lords, and it will apply to both Government Bills and private Members’ Bills.

Finally, sections H and I replicate or substitute many of the supplementary provisions to which the House agreed yesterday for the hybrid scrutiny arrangements. As this motion extends the new way of working to legislation, further provision is made here to suspend the English votes for English laws Standing Orders and to ensure that you, Mr Speaker, have the power to alter the practices of the House regarding the conduct of debate. That is essential if we are to facilitate the effective conduct of hybrid proceedings and do everything we can to make a success of the new arrangements.

I understand that some Members have concerns about the changes that we are making this week. That is why it is so important that we accept that they must be temporary and keep them under review. The Procedure Committee has an essential role in this, and I certainly intend to do the same, in order that we can be sure that these procedures are working for the House.

I thank the Leader of the House for setting out the motion on hybrid substantive proceedings. We have got to an incredible place today, and I want to put on record my thanks and the Opposition’s thanks to everyone who has made it possible. I know that it has been an enormous effort. We are, I was told yesterday, the first Parliament to become a virtual Parliament, so I congratulate everyone on that.

Members who were taking note yesterday will know that the House agreed to hybrid scrutiny proceedings, and we now move to hybrid substantive proceedings, which will enable the Government to put through their legislation. The motion applies to the other part of our work, beyond the scrutiny side, which will also take place using the virtual and physical process.

It is useful for Members to see exactly what the substantive proceedings comprise in section F of the motion. There is the ability in paragraph (2) for the Government to add to the list of proceedings, if they so wish. Like the Leader of the House, I want to touch on paragraph (4) of section F, which enables the usual channels, the Government, the main Opposition and the second Opposition party to work together to ensure that, if they agree on a particular motion and they all sign it, it is agreed. This is a very useful way of working.

This motion allows us to scrutinise and pass legislation and to vote in this absolutely extraordinary time. It enables us to ask the Government why, if there is personal protective equipment in Birmingham, it has been exported instead of being used here. It enables us to ask why, if there is a capacity of 40,000 for testing, we are only meeting 18,000 tests today, as was highlighted earlier in Prime Minister’s Question Time, and why, if Ferrari can test its workers, we cannot do that here. Democracy is the winner today, and Her Majesty’s Opposition support this motion.

I rise to speak on this motion in particular. I know there is great interest in the next motion, but I want to be clear that I am speaking on behalf of the Procedure Committee with regard to hybrid substantive proceedings.

It would be fair to say that the proceedings so far have gone well. From the Procedure Committee’s point of view, we are pleased with the progress that has been made. Mr Speaker, you will know that we have opened an inquiry to evaluate the continued operation of the hybrid system, and I am sure that colleagues across the House will want to share their views and experiences with that inquiry.

I will make a small number of points. We note that the first substantive business to be dealt with will relate to Government business almost entirely. Could the Leader of the House give some indication of when Opposition days, Back-Bench business days and other categories of business may be considered for debate? Those are all important parts of our proceedings in the House and part of how hon. Members are able to represent their constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) made exactly that point yesterday about her Adjournment debate on flooding. That is incredibly important to her constituents, and she needs to have a forum in which she can make those points in a timely fashion and get responses from Ministers. I realise it is not a business statement, but will the Leader of the House consider whether there will be time for an urgent debate on the approval required for the lockdown regulations, which I believe is required in any event by 15 May? That is something that the Procedure Committee would like to see the Government do sooner rather than later.

We are very grateful that the House has been able to achieve virtual proceedings in such short order. However, it is important to put on record that I do not think that any of us would feel that, after the length of recess we have had, only being able to question the Health Secretary for, I think, 45 minutes and with only around 40 Members able to take part is sufficient scrutiny and gives Members the level of contribution and debate that they would like.

I echo, and perhaps the Chair of the Procedure Committee would agree, that this is not necessarily about trying to be critical of Government, but about ensuring that Members can get answers from Ministers quickly, and often more directly, in the Chamber, be that virtually or by being here. That would be quite constructive. The Health Secretary, in fairness, has always said that he welcomes the challenge and welcomes the questions, but we need that with more Ministers. That sort of debate would be very helpful to Members across the House.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Health Secretary in particular, who was my deputy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport some time ago, never shied away from an opportunity to be at the Dispatch Box. I am sure he would welcome every opportunity that came, because he wants to get the message across and he wants to answer those questions —and there are a lot of them.

There is a lot of confusion. People are understandably concerned and frustrated about the situation they find themselves in. They have come to their Member of Parliament wanting answers, and we need time to be able to get those answers for them.

My final point is a plea to the Leader of the House to consider giving priority to a general debate on the Government’s response to the covid-19 crisis. That would not require a Division. It would not require any of the concerns, which I know will be expressed in the debate on the next motion, relating to remote voting. It would, however, mean that Members had the time to be able to raise important points on behalf of their constituents. If this place is for anything, it is for Members to express their constituents’ concerns and to get responses from Ministers.

May I first thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward this motion? I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on the way the business has been conducted. Issues were raised in Wales questions, Prime Minister’s questions and the Health statement that are very important to all those involved. We saw some of the technical difficulties that may arise. Some Members—for whatever reason, whether to do with broadband or other technical issues—were unable to convey their questions in the manner in which they hoped. I therefore seek some assurance from the Leader of the House that, when it comes to such technical issues, we will be in a position where we find ourselves able to navigate that technological methodology. Will assistance from House staff also be available to Members across the way?

I was reassured by the comment from the Leader of the House that the measures are temporary and under review. I insist that they are temporary. I do that personally, but I think the whole House likes it that the Leader of the House has said that. If the virtual Parliament is not seen to be working in a way that encompasses all the viewpoints in this House, we will have to ensure that it will.

The right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) referred to issues that come up every day. Today, the issue I wished to raise was about cancer patients. There are 3 million people in the UK living with cancer. There is a possible impending crisis, with tens of thousands of cancer deaths possibly occurring inadvertently owing to the unavoidable focus on covid-19. We need to have a system of scrutiny that will enable me and others to bring forward questions. Those questions will not be brought forward in a critical fashion—let us be quite clear about that—but with concern and to seek the support, help and assistance of Ministers. We will be asking Ministers, for instance, what will be done for those who are waiting for life-saving surgery and treatment that has been postponed, and what assurances the Health Secretary will be able to give to those who need to attend hospital that it will be safe and secure.

The real issue is how do we do that? I understand that the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, are very keen to ensure that that happens. I welcome and support totally the system that has happened today. It shows that we are able to adapt. I hope that I will be able to adapt in the same way as everybody else. I wish to do so. I want to ensure that everyone, myself included along with all other right hon. and hon. Members, can be a part of the process to scrutinise Ministers and Departments, and to ensure that accountability is there for all.

A number of important points have been made. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), Backbench Business and Opposition days are obviously important, and the motion does provide for those to be added. That will really depend on the technological capacity as to whether it is possible to extend the time available. That also applies to Adjournment debates. The team working on the technology is a very small team and what they have done is absolutely fantastic. We have to support them and be grateful for the work they have done to expand it as far as they have.

On the lockdown requirements and a debate on them, there are a couple of affirmative statutory instruments which will at some point have to come to the House for approval. I will take away the point that a general debate would be welcome. As my right hon. Friend correctly pointed out, this is not business questions so at least I do not have to give a formal answer on that, but I did hear my right hon. Friend’s point.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) says he will be adaptable, and I am very impressed by that. I hope that he manages to adapt so that his presence virtually is as frequent as it is physically, because I think the whole House would miss him were it otherwise. He asked for technical assistance and whether that can be provided to Members. That is a matter for the House authorities rather than the Government, but the Government are working with the House authorities to provide technical assistance. He is right to say that this is temporary, and I cannot reiterate that strongly enough, but he also asked what other ways there are of holding the Government to account. It may be worth noting the really terrific work being done by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who has been holding daily calls with Members of Parliament where any issues can be raised, and then has been acting as a filter, in the absence of Parliament, to get answers from Ministers. Her action has been enormously well received, and I think it is a positive alternative form of scrutiny.

Question put and agreed to.