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House of Commons Hansard
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Business of the House
20 May 2020
Volume 676

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We come now to the motion on business of the House. Mr Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the shadow Leader of the House. The reference in the motion to the statement that has already taken place is superseded, but this does not affect the remainder of the timings. This item of business is debatable. My provisional determination is that there will be a remote Division on the motion. I propose to call only the Leader of the House to move the motion, the shadow Leader of the House, the Chair of the Procedure Committee and the Scottish National party spokesperson. I will ask each of them to speak for no more than two minutes. I call the Leader of the House to move the motion.

Motion made,

That—

(1) The following arrangements shall apply to today’s business:

Business

Timings

Remote division designation

Statement: The UK’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol

30 minutes from the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

None

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

No debate (Standing Order No. 57)

None

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

No debate (Standing Order No. 57)

None

Trade Bill: Second Reading

Up to two hours and 15 minutes from the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order; suspension; up to three hours and 30 minutes from the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

Remote division

Trade Bill: Programme

No debate (Standing Order No. 83A(7))

Remote division

Trade Bill: Money

No debate (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a))

Remote division

Liaison (Membership)

Up to four hours and 30 minutes from the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order

Remote division

At the conclusion of each debate, the Speaker shall put the Question on each of the motions on the Order Paper relating to the business listed in the table for that debate.—(Mr Rees-Mogg.)

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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thought you were going to offer me the Leader of the House’s two minutes.

The coronavirus crisis has created unique challenges for this House and how it conducts its business, and the House has risen to those challenges. To manage the way the House works, we have come together, and all three parties have approved Business of the House motions, as happened on every previous occasion. That consensus allowed the business of the House to continue smoothly, yet for some reason the Government now seem to be hell-bent on breaking that consensus, bringing the hybrid virtual Parliament to an end by any means. The Government are preventing the House from having the opportunity to debate the continuation of the hybrid virtual Parliament, and remote voting procedures. Instead, they are unilaterally deciding to let the orders that cover the virtual Parliament expire without debate.

Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government are so unwilling to let the House express a view on the continuation of the hybrid virtual Parliament? Does he recognise that there is no evidence from Public Health England that it is safe to return to Parliament in the numbers that the Government intend? How will social distancing be maintained in the Chamber? Will he confirm reports in The Times today that he is keen to install perspex boxes in the Chamber to double the number of Conservative MPs behind the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s questions, harnessing Churchill who said that there must be

“a sense of crowd and urgency”—[Official Report, 28 October 1943; Vol. 393, c. 404.]

in the Chamber? How long does the Leader of the House estimate that a socially distant division will take? Is it true that it will take longer than the remote voting system we currently use?

We are not back to normal—only on Monday, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care added a new symptom to the list. This House has a duty to lead by example, and the Government’s advice is that those who can work from home should do so. Parliament has developed a successful system to ensure scrutiny of the Government and the passing of legislation, while working remotely and keeping people safe in the middle of a pandemic. The Government have not provided an honest explanation for why they want to end the hybrid virtual Parliament. They are determined not to allow Parliament to register its dissatisfaction with the Government’s decision, but simply to let hybrid proceedings expire without consulting the House.

The House has a right and a duty to decide proceedings after a debate and a vote, just as we did on 21 April. The Government should follow their own advice and retain the hybrid Parliament, and remote voting, until such time as there are robust safeguards in place, backed by medical evidence, and in consultation with Opposition parties and the House authorities, and with assurances that everyone on the estate can be safe.

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I call Karen Bradley, Chair of the Procedure Committee, who I think is audio only. You have no more than two minutes.

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I am afraid I am audio only, having had a broadband failure. I will not repeat much of what has already been said, but as Chair of the Procedure Committee, I ask the Government to take great care in reviewing the Committee’s recommendations. We have written to the Speaker, and we will produce a short report on this matter, and ask the Government to consider it. As I said during the urgent question, this is a matter for the House. The House must be in agreement with the way that it conducts business. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker are servants of the House, and we must do what the House asks us to do. I ask the Leader of the House to please reflect on that.

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I call Tommy Sheppard to speak for no more than two minutes.

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I wish to endorse and amplify the comments of the shadow Leader of the House. This is undoubtedly the greatest crisis that our world has faced in our lifetimes, and we know that the threat to our health, our society, and our economy is unprecedented. That is why Opposition Members have refused to make political capital out of the Government’s handling of the crisis, and we have sought to achieve consensus wherever we can.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than in discussions about how Parliament itself should operate. We have worked cross-party to make things work as best we can, using technology to allow remote participation—until now. I object to this agenda, because there is nothing on it to extend or modify these procedures—nothing at all. They are simply to be scrapped.

The Government seem determined to force things back to the way they used to be. They cannot and will not answer myriad questions. Can Parliament come back safely? What about Members who are sick or vulnerable? How will numbers be limited? Should we ignore public health advice? Most of all, what essential functions cannot be undertaken remotely? Those questions should be answered before remote engagement is scrapped, not after.

Unable to get us to agree, the Government have thrown their toys out of the pram. This is bizarre behaviour. It would be daft in normal times, but it seems absurd in the midst of a public health emergency, especially as none of us knows what might happen in the next two weeks. My question to the Leader of the House, to which I hope he will respond, is this: will he give an assurance to Opposition parties that he will consult and seek to agree how Parliament should operate after the recess, and will he be prepared to revise his current opinion that all remote working should be abandoned if it can be demonstrated that a solely physical meeting of Parliament presents unacceptable risks to Members’ staff and the public?

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Before I put the Question, I confirm that my final determination is that the Question should be decided by remote Division. There is therefore no need for me to collect the voices or for Members present in the Chamber to shout “Aye” or “No”. The question is, as on the Order Paper. The Question falls to be decided by a remote Division. The Clerk will now initiate the Division on MemberHub. The remote voting period is now open. Members are invited to record their votes using the remote voting system. They will have 15 minutes to record their votes. I will make an announcement when the remote voting period has ended.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a remote Division.

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The remote voting period has now finished. I will announce the result of the Division shortly. I shall suspend the House for five minutes, until 2.26 pm, and will announce the result when the House resumes.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

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I can now announce the result of the remote division that has just taken place.

Question put,

That the Business of the House (20 May) motion be agreed to.

Division 47

20 May 2020

The House divided:

Ayes: 350
Noes: 258

Question accordingly agreed to.

View Details

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Four further items of business today are designated for remote Division. My provisional determination is that remote Divisions will take place on the Second Reading of the Trade Bill, a reasoned amendment, if selected, and an amendment selected to the motion on the Liaison Committee. The provisional determination is that the following will not be the subject of a remote Division: the programme and money motions for the Trade Bill and the main motion on the Liaison Committee.

Bills Presented

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Alok Sharma, supported by The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Elizabeth Truss, Secretary Thérèse Coffey, Secretary George Eustice, Secretary Robert Jenrick, Secretary Grant Shapps, Secretary Brandon Lewis, Secretary Alister Jack, Secretary Oliver Dowden and John Glen, presented a Bill to make provision about companies and other entities in financial difficulty; and to make temporary changes to the law relating to the governance and regulation of companies and other entities.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time 2 June 2020, and to be printed (Bill 128) with explanatory notes (Bill 128-EN).

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Robert Buckland, supported by The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Priti Patel, Secretary Ben Wallace, the Attorney General, James Brokenshire, Lucy Frazer, Kit Malthouse, Alex Chalk and Chris Philp, presented a Bill to make provision about the sentencing of offenders convicted of terrorism offences, of offences with a terrorist connection or of certain other offences; to make other provision in relation to terrorism; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time 2 June 2020, and to be printed (Bill 129) with explanatory notes (Bill 129-EN).