94. The complexity and breadth of business of modern
Government place a premium on the time to conduct adequate scrutiny
of it on the floor of the House of Commons. It therefore is disappointing
that so often the Commons will debate only a single issue in a
sitting day. It is notable that on those days when the Opposition
control business, they may choose to maximise its impact by nominating
two debates of a half day each. Any major Bill will require and
must be given a full day of debate at second reading and exceptional
cases may justify more than one day. However it is not sensible
use of Commons time to insist that all second reading debates
should take a full day as a matter of principle. While we were
drafting this report an occasion arose on which a second reading
debate ran for only fifty minutes, although a full day had been
allocated to it.
This is simply a waste of valuable time in the Chamber. Often
the business of scrutiny would be better served by spending less
time on second reading debates and more time on report stages.
95. We recommend that on occasion the allocation
of time in the Chamber should be a half day, with a full day's
debate still being allocated to a measure when it is justified
by its controversy or the degree of interest in its provisions.
This will be relevant even to those occasions when the House considers
remaining stages, where one and a half days may often be more
appropriate than a single day's or two days' debate. Consultation
would be required between the parties on whether a specific topic
justified a full day or a half day.
96. Parliamentary time for debate and scrutiny is
at a premium. It therefore is regrettable that some of that time
can be lost to divisions which are at the expense of proceedings
in the Chamber. This problem will be exacerbated if, as we recommend,
there are more debates ending half way through the day. The Scottish
Parliament has made more efficient use of plenary time and provided
for more predictable demands on Members by designating a fixed
time for divisions. Plainly this would be impractical for proceedings
in committee or remaining stages on the floor of the House. However
the same considerations do not apply when the House is not meeting
to consider legislation. We are unable at the present time to
reach a recommendation on this matter but hope to examine it further
in the next Session.