17.Normal activities in the Chamber were in effect suspended on 18 March, when the Speaker announced that informal steps had been taken to limit the number of people “crowded together” in the Chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions. Modifications in the House’s practice have been in effect for some two-thirds of the days on which the House has sat during this Parliament. As the Chairman of Ways and Means has pointed out to us, “anyone who was elected for the first time last December has not seen the House working [ … ] as it ought to do.”.
18.Procedurally, the hybrid model of April 2020, and the principle of parity between physical and virtual participation which underpinned it, placed substantial restrictions on the operation of the Chamber. Even though the hybrid model has been discontinued, several of these restrictions remain in place for debates as well as for questions and statements, because of the restriction on the capacity of the Chamber and the requirement to continue the operation of call lists.
19.Since 2 June, the Speaker (or the Member chairing proceedings in the Chamber) has been authorised to limit the number of Members present in the Chamber at any one time. The number of persons allowed to be present in the Chamber (including the Speaker and House officials) is limited to 50, and the places where Members may and may not sit in the Chamber have been clearly marked out. Members may presently speak from 42 places on Government and Opposition benches: a small number of places are available in the undergalleries beyond the Bar, where Members may observe proceedings but cannot presently be called to contribute to them.
20.The temporary order expressly authorising the Speaker to modify the practice of the House in the conduct of debate as appropriate to facilitate the effective conduct of proceedings was allowed to lapse on 20 May and was not revived on 2 June. On 1 June the Speaker wrote to all Members to announce that he was continuing a number of the practices temporarily adopted for hybrid proceedings, to ensure that presence in the Chamber to participate in proceedings was compatible with the limits on safe spacing. Certain of these changes have had a direct effect on the conduct of debate:
21.The House has de facto accepted the necessity of these arrangements. They make a number of significant temporary changes in the practice set out in Erskine May and in the rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House issued by the Speaker and Deputy Speakers:
22.We will report separately about the effect of these arrangements on the way debate is conducted under coronavirus restrictions.
19 HC Deb, 18 March 2020, : from this date business managers began to place an informal limit on the number of Members in the Chamber, to ensure a form of social distancing.
20 95 out of the 135 sitting days since the State Opening on 19 December 2019
21 [Dame Eleanor Laing]
22 dated 1 June 2020
23 Erskine May, 25th edition (2019), ; Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons, November 2018 (reissued December 2019)