James Sunderland questions the Leader of the House about virtual council meetings which are due to end on 7 May and notes that virtual meetings has increased attendance.
Given the decision by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that local councils should cease meeting virtually from 7 May, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether there is a similar plan for this place? If that is not the case, perhaps we could re-extend that courtesy to the shires, noting that attendance at local council meetings has never been this good.
The House’s proceedings are determined by Standing Orders, and the facilities for virtual meetings were created by statute. This was not a decision by MHCL; it is that the temporary statute expires on 7 May. However, as I understand it, a High Court ruling is due before May on what capabilities there are, and the Government will be supporting the action by Hertfordshire County Council, Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers as the case is heard.
Virtual proceedings have helped councils, but they are allowed to meet, because it is a legitimate business purpose. They have to take covid-secure measures, as we are taking in this House to ensure that this House operates. The Government are not unsympathetic to considering how these things operate in future, but the legislation that was temporarily introduced expires on 7 May. My hon. Friend will know that we have a Queen’s Speech coming, and we have a number of Bills going back and forth between the Lords and the Commons, so the ability to legislate between now and then is extremely limited.