The Leaders, Convenor, Lord Speaker and House Authorities have written to members of the House of Lords today to outline progress in changes to sittings in response to Covid-19. This will include Oral Questions and Oral Statements being held virtually as far as possible. Further details are included in the letter below:
As we approach the Easter weekend the Leaders, Convenor, Lord Speaker and House Authorities wanted to update you on the discussions that have been taking place over the last two weeks about how Parliament can return to its important work on 21 April in a way that allows us all to comply with the important medical guidance in the current crisis.
First and foremost we want to reassure you that we are fully aware of the necessity to ensure that members can hold the Government to account and that Select Committee proceedings can take place in a virtual way. We are all committed to doing what we can to deliver that aim.
The Leaders, Convenor and Lord Speaker have agreed that as a priority Oral Questions and Oral Statements should be, as much as possible, held virtually. A number of Committees have been doing some of their work remotely over this period and that will continue once the House returns. For fully virtual sessions there may need to be a limit on the number being held each day to ensure Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) resources are available but work on this continues. We are also working towards a position in which other types of business – general debates, certain stages of legislation – can be undertaken virtually but we are going to have to make progress on a step-by-step basis.
There has been a huge amount of work undertaken over the last few weeks by the House Authorities and PDS to adapt the technology we use and to bring in new technology to allow our work to take place in a virtual setting. I know you will all join us in thanking those who have been working so hard on our behalf. Whilst this work is being done at pace Members must be prepared for an imperfect system on day one and we would all ask for your understanding and patience as we all work to deliver a better system over the weeks ahead. Initially, participation in virtual proceedings will be limited. To start with these proceedings will not be available for broadcast but the Official Report will be published.
Microsoft Teams is being rolled out to all Members by the end of 15 April. Any member who may wish to be involved in virtual proceedings when the House returns will have to use Microsoft Teams. So we would strongly encourage all Members to use the period before the House meets to familiarise themselves with the platform as this will be the means by which Members can participate in any virtual proceedings.
There will be the need for the House to meet in a very limited physical presence when we return but we are all clear that we hope and expect there is no need for a substantial presence of Members when the House returns. The Usual Channels will continue to work closely together regarding the business that needs to take place in the Chamber with as minimal physical presence as possible. Our aim is for key backbench scrutiny functions to take place virtually.
We strongly urge all Noble Lords to avoid attending the House while the current restrictions apply. In view of the fact we intend a significant amount of business to be able to take place virtually, after Easter the House of Lords Commission will look at how the allowances system can be adapted to reflect this new, temporary way of working.
At this difficult time we as Parliamentarians need to play our part and show leadership to the country. And as the coronavirus situation remains critical we want to do all we can to keep colleagues safe as well as protecting the staff who will have to be present.
We will send out detailed information after the Easter weekend about how proceedings will run between 21 April and the VE Day Bank Holiday weekend, including the steps Members will have to take to be involved virtually.
We all hope you have a most enjoyable Easter weekend at home and send best wishes to you and your families.
BARONESS EVANS OF BOWES PARK
BARONESS SMITH OF BASILDON