The House of Lords made alterations to its procedures to continue to sit whilst managing the risk posed by Covid-19. It moved from physical, to virtual then to hybrid proceedings, with the first remote voting taking place on 15 June 2020.
This article sets out a timeline of the process, highlighting significant developments in the Lords’ development of hybrid proceedings.
16 March 2020
Non-passholders restricted from entering the parliamentary estate except for parliamentary business. Parliamentary travel to other countries is strongly discouraged.
17 March 2020
Restrictions on non-passholders are extended to include visitors to the public galleries and watching committee proceedings.
19 March 2020
23 March 2020
House agrees a motion allowing any member of the Lords to perform the duties of a deputy speaker.
House agrees a motion suspending hereditary peer by-elections.
24 and 25 March 2020
Coronavirus Bill passes all stages in the Lords and receives royal assent.
25 March 2020
House agrees a motion not to consider private member’s bills, balloted debates or ordinary questions for short debate until 21 May 2020.
The Leader of the House of Lords announces the House will only sit on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
House rises early for Easter recess, originally planned for 31 March 2020.
7 April 2020
Lord Speaker publishes statement on UK Parliament’s response to the spread of Covid-19, including work to enable some proceedings to take place virtually.
9 April 2020
Leaders, Convenor, Lord Speaker and House authorities announce further changes to proceedings, including that oral questions and oral statements will be held virtually as far as possible.
15 April 2020
Update from speakers of both Houses, confirming visitor access to the parliamentary estate will not be allowed and parliamentary pass holders, including MPs and peers, are encouraged to work from home where possible.
16 April 2020
First remote select committee meeting: Procedure Committee meets privately via Skype for Business.
Procedure Committee publishes guidance on the following items of business to be carried out online: oral questions, private notice questions, ministerial statements, debates (but not decisions) on statutory instruments, questions for short debate and motions for debate.
The guidance addresses further changes, including that there will be a speakers’ list for oral questions, statements and private notice questions, and the length of time for oral questions will be extended from 30 to 40 minutes.
21 April 2020
House of Lords returns following the Easter recess. House agrees a motion enabling virtual proceedings to take place. The first virtual oral questions take place on the same day. Virtual proceedings are not broadcast live during the first week.
23 April 2020
For the first time, all proceedings are carried out virtually, including the first virtual debates.
28 April 2020
Virtual proceedings are broadcast live for the first time.
House also passes a motion establishing a time limit for debating statutory instruments virtually of one and a half hours.
Economic Affairs Committee becomes the first Lords select committee to broadcast a remote session.
30 April 2020
Procedure Committee publishes second guidance on virtual proceedings. This covers committee stage of public bills taking place in virtual committee.
5 May 2020
First virtual debate on a statutory instrument takes place (Employment Allowance (Increase of Maximum Amount) Regulations 2020). Formal approval of the instrument must still take place in the chamber.
6 May 2020
House passes a motion temporarily changing the payment of allowances. Members who participate during a physical sitting or virtual proceeding are entitled to an allowance of £162. This is applied retrospectively to sittings from 21 April 2020.
House passes a motion enabling the committee stage of public bills to take place in a virtual proceeding.
12 May 2020
Lord McFall of Alcluith, then Senior Deputy Speaker and chair of the Procedure Committee, writes to all members to say the House will return to sitting four days a week from 18 May, and look towards plans for online voting and hybrid proceedings.
Online annunciator (beta) launched: ParliamentNow.
13 May 2020
First virtual committee stage of a bill takes place, on the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill.
14 May 2020
House agrees a motion extending time for private notice questions in a virtual committee from 10 minutes to 15 minutes.
House agrees a motion limiting virtual general debates to three hours and virtual statutory instruments to one and a half hours unless participants agree at the start of the debate to a different time limit. The House agrees there will be one three-hour balloted debate a month (instead of two shorter ones).
House agrees to appoint a select committee to consider the long-term implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK’s economic and social wellbeing.
18 May 2020
26 May 2020
Suspension of all tours and other non-essential visits extended until at least 1 September.
4 June 2020
House agrees that from 8 June, there will no longer be separate physical and virtual proceedings. Instead there will be a hybrid House, allowing both physical and remote participation for an item of business. To allow social distancing, a maximum of 30 members can take part from the chamber at any one time.
5 June 2020
8 June 2020
Start of hybrid proceedings with the Lord Speaker returning to the Woolsack.
9 June 2020
House agrees to update the Code of Conduct to make clear that if a member allows someone else to vote on their behalf in a remote division, it will be a breach of the code leading to a serious sanction.
15 June 2020
29 June 2020
Procedure Committee publishes revised guidance on the hybrid House.
22 July 2020
House passes a motion to return the allowance for physical participation in the chamber or in grand committee to £323. This will take effect from 2 September 2020. Members attending committee meetings either physically or virtually would also be able to claim this amount. Members participating virtually in hybrid proceedings of the chamber and grand committee or voting would only be able to claim £162.
28 July 2020
House agrees a motion enabling hybrid grand committee meetings to take place.
2 September 2020
Hybrid grand committee proceedings take place for the first time, following the return of the House after the summer recess.
7 September 2020
House agrees a motion extending the suspension of hereditary by-elections until 31 December 2020.
25 September 2020
30 September 2020
Divisions are temporarily cancelled following a failure of the online voting system during the first day of report stage of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. The rescheduled divisions take place on 5 October 2020.
2 October 2020
Procedure Committee publishes revised guidance for hybrid sittings.
12 October 2020
House agrees a motion establishing hybrid proceedings for Lords consideration of Commons amendments (ping-pong).
14 October 2020
First hybrid ping-pong stage of a bill takes place, on Commons amendments to the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill.
14 December 2020
House agrees a motion extending the suspension of hereditary by-elections pending a further report from the Procedure Committee in the new year.
8 February 2021
22 February 2021
House approves a motion suspending hereditary by-elections pending a review by the Procedure Committee after the Easter recess in April 2021.
15 March 2021
A global Microsoft outage causes a remote division during third reading of Domestic Abuse Bill to be deferred. The rescheduled division takes place on 17 March 2021.
22 March 2021
Government announces the next state opening of Parliament will take place on 11 May 2021. It said the state opening would be adapted and that certain ceremonial elements would be reduced to ensure it is Covid secure.
25 March 2021
The first of two virtual hustings are conducted for the election of a new Lord Speaker. The second hustings event takes place on 13 April 2021.
13 to 15 April 2021
The election of the new Lord Speaker is carried out remotely. Members vote either online or by postal vote.
26 April 2021
11 May 2021
2021 Queen’s Speech takes place with a reduced ceremony and with fewer people in attendance.
13 May 2021
House of Lords Constitution Committee publishes a report on the impact of Covid-19 on Parliament. The committee argued that while the change to hybrid proceedings had enabled the House to continue to sit in a Covid-secure way, the changes had negatively impacted the ability of the House to scrutinise the Government.
20 May 2021
7 July 2021
House of Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee publishes proposals for amending procedures in the chamber and in grand committee. This would see the return of in-person sittings, while retaining some procedural adaptations introduced during hybrid proceedings. The committee announces that proposals to replace electronic voting would be presented for debate in the House of Lords in the autumn of 2021.
13 July 2021
House of Lords agrees to the amended procedures to replace hybrid proceedings, to be introduced when the House returns following the summer recess. It also agrees to re-establish the £323 daily allowance for all members attending a sitting of the House.
18 August 2021
House of Lords recalled to debate the situation in Afghanistan. The sitting is conducted on a hybrid basis.
6 September 2021
House returns following the summer recess and primarily in-person sittings resume. Some virtual participation remains for members unable to attend in person due to long-term disability.
An adapted form of electronic voting continues with members able to vote remotely. However, with some exceptions, members may only do so when on the parliamentary estate. Three electronic divisions take place during the first day of report stage of the Environment Bill.
19 October 2021
House of Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee agrees proposals to replace the current electronic voting system. The system would enable members to vote in person electronically using their parliamentary passes. As part of these proposals, tellers would no longer be appointed for divisions. The Government announces a motion to approve this new system would be put to the House on 25 October 2021. If agreed, the new system would begin to operate from 1 November 2021.
25 October 2021
House of Lords debates a motion to approve the Procedure and Privileges Committee’s proposals. Backbench amendments to the motion expressing concerns are also debated, including an amendment moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative). This would have required the committee to reconsider its proposals. At the end of the debate, the Senior Deputy Speaker, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, says the concerns raised during the debate would be referred back to the committee. The motion and Lord Taylor’s amendment were withdrawn. Other backbench amendments were not moved.
23 November 2021
House of Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee publishes proposals for ending the use of speakers’ lists for oral questions and ‘secretary of state’ questions. As part of these proposals, members would be able to indicate the day before the question was asked that they wished to participate in the question virtually. They could then be called by the Leader of the House during the oral question.
The committee also said it would continue to seek the opinions of members on the introduction of pass-reader voting.
1 December 2021
House of Lords passes the Procedure and Privileges Committee’s proposals for ending the use of speakers’ lists for oral questions and ‘secretary of state’ questions.
3 December 2021
House of Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee publishes an update on proposals to introduce pass-reader voting in the House of Lords. The committee said it continued to support the introduction of pass-reader voting. However, in a change to its initial proposals, it said that tellers would continue to be appointed for divisions. The committee said it would bring forward proposals for the future conduct of divisions after its next meeting on 17 January 2022.
10 January 2022
28 January 2022
House of Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee publishes revised proposals for the introduction of pass-reader voting in the House of Lords. As announced in the committee’s 3 December 2021 report, the committee proposes that tellers would be appointed for divisions using pass readers.
The committee also publishes proposals to extend the existing arrangements enabling members to participate in oral questions virtually to oral statements and repeated urgent questions.
22 February 2022
House of Lords passes the Procedure and Privileges Committee’s new proposals for introducing pass-reader voting. The decisions on when to introduce the new procedure when it is ready will be taken by the House of Lords Commission.
The House also passes proposals to enable members to participate virtually in oral statements and repeated urgent questions. However, the House also passes an amendment to this motion, tabled by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour), that the House believed the Lord Speaker should call remote participants during questions, oral statements, and repeated urgent questions, rather than the Leader of the House. The change has immediate effect.
This article was updated on 1 March 2022 to include updates to Lords proceedings since January 2022.
Image: Copyright House of Lords 2020 / Photography by Roger Harris