House of Lords to move to virtual Oral Questions, Statements and Debates
The House of Lords will next week feature virtual Oral Questions, Private Notice Questions (Lords urgent questions), Statements and non-legislative debates held online to ensure the House can fulfil its important constitutional role, and Members of the House can continue to hold the Government to account, while respecting current social distancing guidelines.
The proposals are set out in guidance published today by the House of Lords Procedure Committee, which includes the Leaders of the political parties in the Lords as well as the Lord Speaker, Senior Deputy Speaker, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers and backbench Members. The paper is available online here.
Members will be supported to use online Microsoft platforms to ask questions of Ministers during the House's daily Oral Questions, listen to and respond to Ministerial Statements and Private Notice Questions, and contribute to non-legislative debates. This is the first time Members will have been able to contribute to these proceedings without being physically in the Chamber of the House of Lords.
Debates on legislation will initially continue to be held in the Chamber with an expectation of limited participation. This is because any proceeding that requires the House to take a decision must still be done through a physical sitting of the House. Further trials to allow Second Reading and Committee Stage debates to take place virtually will be undertaken over the coming weeks.
The initial proceedings of the ‘virtual' House will not be broadcast. It is expected that broadcasting of virtual proceedings will begin from 5 May. Hansard reports of the virtual proceedings will be published online around three hours after they take place.
Commenting on the changes Lord Fowler, the Lord Speaker, said:
“The House of Lords, like everyone else in this unprecedented crisis must adapt how it works to keep everyone safe while continuing to fulfil its vital role.
“Members of the House of Lords have significant expertise to bring to the collective battle with COVID-19. We have leading clinicians, nurses, scientists and economic experts with real world experience of the challenging issues the Government, NHS, businesses and others are grappling with so it is right we provide mechanisms to allow them contribute remotely.
“This is new ground for all of us and the ‘virtual' House of Lords will inevitably face some technical teething problems but I am confident with the hard work and dedication of our Parliamentary staff and the adaptability of our Members we can make a success of it.”