Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 73 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with to allow motions to approve affirmative instruments laid before the House under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to be moved today, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instruments will have been laid before the House.
My Lords, I do not know whether this is the appropriate time to ask, but I will do so nevertheless. I know that the Government Chief Whip, with his usual courtesy, will be able to answer.
We all recognise the importance of getting these measures through as quickly as possible. We realise that this will have an effect on the way this House operates; no doubt the noble Lord will speak to us about that at some point. He will be aware that there is some concern about the way in which the House is dealing with the Committee and Report stages of Bills and the inability of Members who are present to intervene and to participate fully.
The Procedure Committee should look at this. It would be possible for a change in the rules of procedure to give the people present the right to intervene, whereas those not present would have to accept that it would be impossible, technically, for them to intervene. This would make Committee and Report stages much more useful and meaningful for all sides of the House.
This could be done without any difficulties as far as public health is concerned. It would not affect public health measures in any way, but it would greatly improve the way in which this House carries out its functions to scrutinise legislation—which, as the Chief Whip knows, is one of the most important matters this House deals with.
When I have sat in on Committees, I have heard a number of Members on all sides of the House ask about this. I wonder whether the Chief Whip, the usual channels and the Procedure Committee could have a look at this and see whether something could be done about it.
My Lords, obviously I am aware of the point the noble Lord has raised; it is something the Procedure Committee has looked at before. Although there are technical difficulties, I am sure it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with some kind of solution.
The regulations we are debating today, although they do not directly affect this, do affect the arrangements of this House going forward. It is unlikely that we will change the procedures. Obviously, it is not my decision—ultimately it is a decision of the House—but this will be discussed at the Procedure Committee. We are going to look at when we might be able to return to a more normal, physical House—subject to social distancing and health advice, of course. Obviously, all of that has to be taken into consideration. The current likelihood is that we will continue with our current arrangements, or thereabouts, until the Summer Recess—but that is not a guaranteed position. It has to be decided, but in my opinion that is likely.
It is acknowledged that most Members on all sides of the House take seriously the intervention stages—the amending stages—of legislation. I will report to the Senior Deputy Speaker what the noble Lord has said. When we have a meeting, we may be able to discuss that, but it is unlikely to change before we come back in September.