Back to the future? Procedure after coronavirus restrictions Contents

Formal minutes

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Members present:

Karen Bradley, in the Chair

Aaron Bell

Nigel Mills

Kirsty Blackman

Douglas Ross

Jack Brereton

James Sunderland

Bambos Charalambous

Owen Thompson

Sir Christopher Chope

Liz Twist

Chris Elmore

Suzanne Webb

James Gray

William Wragg

Kevan Jones

Draft Report (Back to the future? Procedure after coronavirus restrictions), proposed by the Chair, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1 to 20 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 21 read as follows:

Changes made to the procedure and practice of the House since the start of the pandemic have been introduced on the explicit basis of their being temporary and time limited. We do not question that this is the procedural reality. However, as the course of the pandemic has become more complex and lasted months rather than weeks, it has become less clear whether it is desirable, or even possible to revert fully to practice before March 2020. On 1 July the Leader made the case that a full reversion was necessary:

lots of things have been agreed on the basis that they are temporary, and it would be improper to make those permanent without restoring the status quo ante first.

Amendment proposed, in line 3, to leave out from “limited.” to “On” in line 6.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph 22 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 23 read as follows:

The possibility of a full reversion or hard reset to every aspect of pre-pandemic practice and procedure in the House has become less likely as the pandemic lasted longer than anyone hoped or expected when formal restrictions were introduced in April 2020. In our First Report we ourselves recommended a period of six weeks for initial review and concluded that the “present package of modifications is proposed in the context of an unprecedented national emergency and is not to be seen as a basis or precedent for changes to procedure and practice outwith this situation”. We reiterated this point in our Third Report.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the beginning of the paragraph to “In” in line 4.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph 24 read as follows:

We stand by our earlier conclusions. But we, as is the Leader, are clear that these are decisions to be taken properly by the House and not by the Government or this Committee. We do not believe that a fair-minded observer would have grounds for believing that the Members moving or supporting procedural changes arising from the pandemic had done so in bad faith if they were subsequently retained following a specific decision to do so. In April 2020 many Members believed that the pandemic would, at some stage, be ‘over’ in a meaningful sense, and hopefully sooner rather than later. In our Third Report, we indicated our intention to “assess all temporary procedures and practices which have been introduced, to establish whether there is any merit in adapting them for use by the House once coronavirus restrictions have ceased”. But even at the end of May, our Third Report envisaged a more nuanced course to the pandemic. In March 2021 it seems more likely that, though suppressed by a successful programme of vaccinations and greater understanding of transmission risks, the possibility of new strains means that a residual risk will be present for some time yet. We share the Leader’s caution that “[i]t is a dangerous business making forecasts about where this pandemic will go and therefore how flexible one can be about doing things.”

Amendment proposed, to leave out from “Committee” in line 3 to “In” in line 6.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Another Amendment made.

Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph 25 read and agreed to.

Paragraph 26 read as follows:

We do not believe that a full reversion to all aspects of pre-pandemic practice and procedure is either necessary or desirable. What matters is that the House itself decides which measures it retains—or not, as the case may be.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from “We” to the end of the paragraph and insert “recommend that the House reverts to all aspects of its pre-pandemic practice and procedure.”—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph 27 read as follows:

This will depend on the House’s ability to express its will, which rests in turn on the bringing forward of motions in a manner which allows for the tabling of amendments. In our First Report we accepted the case—exceptionally—for the motions introducing hybrid proceedings to be moved without notice, which the Leader acknowledged as extraordinary in his remarks in the Chamber.

Question put, That the paragraph stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6

Noes, 8

Kirsty Blackman

Aaron Bell

Bambos Charalambous

Jack Brereton

Chris Elmore

Sir Christopher Chope

Nigel Mills

James Gray

Owen Thompson

Douglas Ross

Liz Twist

James Sunderland

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraph disagreed to.

Paragraphs 28 to 35 (now paragraphs 27 to 34) read and agreed to.

Paragraph 36 (now paragraph 35) read as follows:

Card reader voting offers obvious advantages in terms of time, certainty and publication of result, over divisions conducted by Members giving their name to clerks in the Chamber. But it is not without its challenges, as Matthew Hamlyn explained to us. Integration with security passes is convenient for Members but adds an undesirable layer of technical complication which impedes the swift publication of data relating to divisions. We encourage the House Service to seek reliable fixes to these problems. If this cannot be achieved, a separate voting card may be necessary. The Clerk was clear in his evidence to us that card reader voting is possible within the existing procedural framework; no changes to Standing Orders are required.

Amendment proposed, in line 1, to leave out from “voting” to “is” in line 3.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment proposed, in line 4, to leave out from “us.” to the end of the paragraph.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph, as amended, added to paragraph 35 (now paragraph 34).

Paragraph 37 (now paragraph 35) read and agreed to.

Paragraph 38 read as follows:

We recommend that should the House make a decision to retain card reader divisions the House Service makes the necessary investment to make them a viable long-term solution. Such a decision should take place following a debate in accordance with our recommendation at paragraph 9 [now paragraph 8].

Question put, That the paragraph stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6

Noes, 8

Kirsty Blackman

Aaron Bell

Bambos Charalambous

Jack Brereton

Chris Elmore

Sir Christopher Chope

Nigel Mills

James Gray

Owen Thompson

Douglas Ross

Liz Twist

James Sunderland

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraph disagreed to.

Paragraphs 39 to 40 (now paragraphs 36 to 37) read and agreed to.

Paragraph 41 (now paragraph 38) read as follows:

Unlike other temporary orders, the power to extend the Order lies within the discretion of the Speaker. Mr Speaker has indicated that he is content for the change to be made permanent. As it becomes easier for committees to meet physically, it may be that less use is made of it but we see no grounds in principle for its removal.

Amendment proposed, in line 3, to leave out from “permanent.” to the end of the paragraph.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.

Paragraph 42 read as follows:

We recommend that the operative provisions of the temporary order relating to Select Committees (Participation and Reporting) are reintroduced in a Sessional Order at the start of the next Session with a view to similar provisions being included in a subsequent review of Standing Orders, subject to an assessment of their use and in consultation with the Liaison Committee.

Question put, That the paragraph stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6

Noes, 8

Kirsty Blackman

Aaron Bell

Bambos Charalambous

Jack Brereton

Chris Elmore

Sir Christopher Chope

Nigel Mills

James Gray

Owen Thompson

Douglas Ross

Liz Twist

James Sunderland

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraph disagreed to.

Paragraph 43 (now paragraph 39) read and agreed to.

Paragraph 44 read as follows:

It is not necessary for some Members’ ability to participate virtually in proceedings to be prematurely curtailed in order either to make or sustain the case for the benefits of physical proceedings. The reality is that some Members will not be able to come safely into Parliament until rates of vaccination increase and transmission rates drop. We recommend that virtual participation in debate remains for as long as restrictions on capacity in the Chamber are in place.

Question put, That the paragraph stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6

Noes, 8

Kirsty Blackman

Aaron Bell

Bambos Charalambous

Jack Brereton

Chris Elmore

Sir Christopher Chope

Nigel Mills

James Gray

Owen Thompson

Douglas Ross

Liz Twist

James Sunderland

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraph disagreed to.

Paragraphs 45 to 48 (now paragraphs 40 to 43) read and agreed to.

On the proposal of the Chair, and with the leave of the Committee, a single Question was put on paragraphs 49 to 50.

Paragraphs 49 to 50 read as follows:

Almost a year into the pandemic, the House can see how events since March 2020 have raised wider issues about the House’s decision-making processes. The House has an opportunity to improve those processes, should it wish to. We are now extending our call for evidence to seek views on what such an improved process might look like, and what factors the House should consider when it comes to make decisions on changes to procedure and practice. While the House must respond to events and cannot anticipate the course of the pandemic, there is no need for the House to limit itself to purely reactive measures. Indeed, there would be merit in the House adopting a framework by which future decisions can be assessed.

We issue our revised call for evidence with the intention of enabling the House to identify which measures, if any, it sees a role for as we emerge from the pandemic. We will report again to the House with specific recommendations.

Question put, That the paragraphs stand part of the Report.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6

Noes, 8

Kirsty Blackman

Aaron Bell

Bambos Charalambous

Jack Brereton

Chris Elmore

Sir Christopher Chope

Nigel Mills

James Gray

Owen Thompson

Douglas Ross

Liz Twist

James Sunderland

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly negatived.

Paragraphs disagreed to.

An Annex—(The Chair)—brought up and read, as follows:

Terms of reference

The Committee agreed the following terms of reference for its inquiry on 30 April 2020:

This first call for evidence was supplemented by a specific call between 1 and 8 October:

The Committee now issues a further call for evidence in response to the following questions:

Amendment proposed, to leave out lines 24 to 35.—(Mr William Wragg.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Annex, as amended, agreed to.

Two papers were appended to the report as Appendix 1 and Appendix 2.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Report, as amended, be the Eighth Report of the Committee to the House.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 8

Noes, 6

Aaron Bell

Kirsty Blackman

Jack Brereton

Bambos Charalambous

Sir Christopher Chope

Chris Elmore

James Gray

Nigel Mills

Douglas Ross

Owen Thompson

James Sunderland

Liz Twist

Suzanne Webb

Mr William Wragg

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report, as amended, be the Eighth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chair make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That embargoed copies of the Report be made available, in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 134.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 17 March at 2.30 pm.




Published: 14 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement