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Business of the House

Volume 682: debated on Monday 12 October 2020

We now have a business statement on which I will call only the shadow Leader of the House and the SNP spokesman to ask questions.

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement.

Further to the earlier statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, tomorrow’s business will now be:

Consideration of a business of the House motion after which the House will be asked to approve the following regulations: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local Covid-19 Alert Level) (Medium) (England) Regulations 2020; The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local Covid-19 Alert Level) (High) (England) Regulations 2020; The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local Covid-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) Regulations 2020; The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Collection of Contact Details etc and Related Requirements) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1005); The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Obligations of Hospitality Undertakings) (England) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1008); The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Obligations of Undertakings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1046); and The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1029).

At the conclusion of proceedings on these regulations, the House will proceed to remaining stages of the Fisheries Bill [Lords]. The business for Wednesday and Thursday remains unchanged from that previously announced. I shall make a further statement announcing future business on Thursday.

I thank the Leader of the House for coming to the House to make a statement.

When will these regulations be published? The Leader of the House listed all of them. Will they be taken together, or separately by region? How long will the debate on the regulations be? Will it be a full day’s debate? There are constituents who are losing their jobs as we speak, and they will expect their MPs to scrutinise and debate the regulations fully. Will the subject matter include the package of economic support available for the communities affected and the evidence that has been used to place our constituencies in the different tiers?

The Leader of the House will know that Members have been unable to take part in some of the debates on primary legislation for public health reasons. Could he confirm that we can return to virtual debates allowing all hon. Members to take part equally as these regulations are so important and they need to do their democratic duty on behalf of their constituents?

The Secretary of State for Health said on Wednesday that there will be a new convention that wherever possible we will be holding votes before such regulations come into force. Could the Leader of the House confirm that if there are any future changes to the tiered system where constituencies are moved from one tier to another, we can have a debate and a vote on that?

We will work with the Government if there is any legislation that needs to be expedited. However, the House first heard of the financial package on Friday when the Chancellor made a statement to the media at the same time as the Prime Minister was talking to the leaders in the north-east and the north-west, and some of our colleagues—hon. and right hon. Members—were not even invited to that call. Will the Chancellor come to the House regarding any future package, because economic support goes hand in hand with lockdown measures? We should not have to hear about this in a “Dear colleague” letter when he is just across the road.

All our citizens behaved absolutely brilliantly during the first lockdown, and that resulted in a lifting of restrictions over the summer. Will the Government repay that trust by ensuring that they treat our constituents’ elected representatives in a democratic way by informing hon. and right hon. Members of any measures that are made in this House, and doing so expeditiously?

I hope that the orders will be laid even while I am speaking, but certainly the intention is for them to be laid very shortly. A programme motion will be attached to that. It will not be a full day’s debate because we will be moving on to the Fisheries Bill, but there will be some hours of debate available.

The right hon. Lady is right to point out that it was unfortunate that the Chancellor’s package was leaked and therefore an announcement needed to be made when the House was not sitting. This is most regrettable, as announcements should be made to the House first, and that was the intention of the Chancellor and of Her Majesty’s Government.

With regard to remote activities, interrogative proceedings remain possible remotely, but it is worth remembering that attendance at this House is essential work and that all the restrictions still allow people to travel for their work, even out of a restricted area, so Members remain entitled, free and, indeed, under some element of duty to attend this House if they are capable of doing so. The commitment is to have votes on matters that are of national significance. Inevitably, that is not a precise definition, but I hope that the Government and Members of this House will work together to ensure that any issues that are of national significance, and are widely deemed to be of national significance, will come to the House first. I think that is the right thing to do, and the commitment that my right hon Friend Secretary the Health Secretary made in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) in a recent statement made this absolutely clear.

May I thank the right hon. Lady for the support that she has volunteered today and for her right praise of the behaviour of the people of the United Kingdom? We are governed by consent and therefore regulations that are passed by this place need the consent of the British people given through their representatives. That has been given in a remarkable way, and I am sure that that will continue. It will certainly be shown in the respect by Members of Her Majesty’s Government to this House. The Prime Minister was on his feet for the best part of two hours answering as many questions as he possibly could, and this level of engagement is only right and proper.

We welcome the opportunities that will exist for scrutiny, and I refer the Leader of the House to the amendment that we tabled to the coronavirus extension motion, which detailed some of the kinds of scrutiny that already take place in Holyrood. Perhaps there are lessons that can be learned about the more open and transparent way that the Scottish Government have been conducting themselves since the start of this process.

Under the proceedings under the pandemic orders, the EVEL—English votes for English laws—Standing Orders have been suspended. Who knows how long that suspension might last for? I would still expect that we will exercise our self-denying ordinance where these regulations relate directly to England and Wales and fall within devolved competence, although, of course, we would be interested in any Barnett consequentials that come from expenditure.

I want to back up the shadow Leader of the House on the point about virtual participation and remote voting. These regulations are going to make it more difficult for Members to travel, irrespective of historical rights. Members might be in households where they have to self-isolate, or they might not want to set that example to their constituents, so I plead with the Leader of the House to consider, at the very least, virtual voting and if at all possible, virtual participation in substantive proceedings.

The devolved authorities and Her Majesty’s Government are working closely together, and I think that is important. It is right that EVEL has been suspended during the time of this pandemic, in the way that we are currently sitting, to ensure that things are passed through this House without requiring the extra complication of the EVEL Standing Orders. I would say with regard to remote voting that the hon. Gentleman has 36 votes his back pocket, and I think he might have had 37 had it not been for a rather unfortunate resignation—least said, soonest mended.

Thank you for the business statement. As Members know, normally, the call list or the ability to get on the call list for tomorrow would have already closed. That would be pretty useless for Members, seeing as they did not know what the business for tomorrow was going to be, so the Speaker’s Office has announced that the call list will remain open today until 9 pm in order for Members to be able to get on the call list for tomorrow.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).