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UK News

Technical hitch meant bishop left with ministerial no-show at start of virtual question time

by Press Association

A technical glitch has been blamed after a government minister failed to appear for the start of a virtual Lords question time session.

In the absence of Lord Gardiner of Kimble and following a long silence, the Lords Chief Whip Lord Ashton of Hyde came online to apologise and promise "a thorough inquiry".

Lord Gardiner did later succeed in joining the proceedings, but only in audio.

The Environment Minister had been due to respond to a question raised by the Bishop of St Albans about the impact of changing dairy prices on farmers.

Demand for milk and dairy products from restaurants, cafes, hotels and other food retail outlets has collapsed, forcing some farmers to pour away milk and putting businesses at risk of folding, the industry has warned.

When he failed to appear, Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock could be heard to say: "Perhaps a whip could be asked to explain why there is no minister?"

Intervening, Lord Ashton said: "I am very sorry. I have no idea why Lord Gardiner is not available, I apologise to the House.

"Obviously something technical has gone wrong. I can only ask your forgiveness on this occasion.

"There will obviously be a thorough inquiry into this."

The Lord Speaker asked him: "Can you at least stay on the line and at least field the questions?"

Staying to respond to follow up questions by peers, Lord Ashton later said: "I have just seen a message that Lord Gardiner is having technical difficulties. I think we knew that."

When the minister subsequently joined the session, he said: "I do apologise."

He started by answering the bishop's original question, telling peers: "Dairy farmers are crucial in ensuring that food supplies are resilient in this difficult period.

"While prices for most dairy farmers are largely unaffected, some have been impacted by the closure of the food service sector as a result of Covid-19."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was working closely with the industry to support farmers, Lord Gardiner said.

Ending the session, Lord Fowler said: "It was a rather eventful set of questions one way and another.

"These things do happen.

"There have been one or two problems with today's transmission but I think it will get better as we go along.

"Thank you so much all of you for taking part and also the Chief Whip for coming into answer questions."

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