The House of Lords has made alterations to its procedures in order to continue to sit whilst managing the risk posed by Covid-19. It has 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’ move to hybrid proceedings.
16 March 2020
17 March 2020
Restrictions on non-passholders are extended to include visitors to the public galleries and watching committee proceedings.
19 March 2020
Lord Speaker announces he will be ‘working from home’.
23 March 2020
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 members’ 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 takes 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
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
12 May 2020
Procedure Committee publishes third issue of guidance on virtual proceedings.
Lord McFall of Alcluith, 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:
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
House resumes Monday sittings.
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 participate from the chamber at any one time.
5 June 2020
Procedure Committee publishes guidance on the hybrid House.
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
First remote voting takes place.
29 June 2020
Procedure Committee publishes revised guidance on the hybrid House.
Images: Copyright House of Lords 2020 / Photography by Roger Harris