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Government response to reports on procedure under covid-19 published

29 January 2021

The Procedure Committee published the Government’s response to its reports scrutinising virtual participation and the use of call lists and time limits on speeches in debates.

Government Response

The Government’s response to these reports includes the following points:

  • The Government’s firm view is Parliament best serves the UK public when MPs are present in Westminster to the fullest extent possible due to the important nature of its work
  • House of Commons Authorities have made every effort to ensure that the physical proceedings in operation are in line with Public Health England guidance and safe for Members and the staff of the House
  • Significant mitigating actions have been taken to allow Members to take part in some aspects of proceedings virtually, including the roll-out of proxy voting and remote participation in scrutiny proceedings, including select committees
  • Speech lengths and call lists during debates are a matter for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. However the Government is concerned about the impact proposals for no ‘injury time’ could have on the flow of debates and Members’ willingness to accept interventions
  • A motion to extend remote participation to substantive proceedings in the Chamber to all Members was the first item of business during the recall of the House on 30 December 2020. This arrangement is in place until 30 March 2021
  • In light of representations from across the House expressing concerns about the continuation of Westminster Hall debates, the Leader of the House tabled motions to suspend sittings in Westminster Hall and sitting Fridays for the foreseeable future

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, said:

"The Procedure Committee is grateful for the Government’s response to our reports on virtual participation in debate and the use of call lists and time limits on speeches.

"I am glad that the Government tabled the motion to extend virtual participation to all Members at the end of last year, particularly as our Committee had serious concerns about previous eligibility criteria for virtual participation.

"The Committee still has concerns about the balance of time between frontbench and backbench speeches in debates.

 "The Committee will continue to review House procedure and we look forward to discussing this further with the Leader of the House on Monday."

Committee reports

In the Committee’s report on virtual participation, published on 18 November, it found that virtual participation in debate should not be determined by reference to clinical vulnerability to covid-19, nor was it appropriate to determine eligibility on a basis different to that for virtual participation in scrutiny proceedings.

The Committee’s report on call lists and time limits on speeches in debates followed on 7 December.

The report found that although restrictions imposed on access to the Chamber under current conditions are understandable and a proportionate means of implementing public health guidance, they nevertheless run counter to the principle that every Member has an equal right to be present in the Chamber.

Evidence session with the Leader of the House

On Monday 1 February, the Committee will question Rt. Hon. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House of Commons, on changes to House of Commons procedures since the start of the pandemic.

The MPs will also question the Leader on the Committee’s new inquiry into House of Commons procedures and the territorial constitution.

Further information

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