A substantive report from the
89. David Kidney MP suggested to us that standing
committees should be able to produce a substantive report of this
kind. Such a report could include a summary of the main amendments
made to the bill, a list of the parts of the bill which were not
debated in committee (either through lack of time or lack of interest)
and identify any areas where the Minister gave an undertaking
to re-consider his or her position before report stage.
A report of this kind could clearly be very useful to the House
when it came to report stage, as well as to outside observers
following the progress of the legislation. However, for the committee
to agree a report of this kind would require at least one deliberative
meeting, eating into time which would otherwise have been available
to debate the bill itself. It could also potentially lead to
attempts to re-open debate on some of the issues arising from
the bill. An alternative would be for the standing committee
report to be a formality, prepared by the clerk and agreed to
on the nod, but in that case there is little point in it having
the committee's imprimatur.
90. Research by a Library Working Group on legislation
briefings found evidence of some demand for updated briefings
on bills, and noted that material produced for second readings
could quickly become out of date.
What is required is a straightforward, dispassionate account of
the committee stage, describing:
a) the main ways in which the bill was amended
(though it should not be necessary to identify every last minor,
technical or drafting change);
b) any significant areas of debate which did
not lead to the bill being amended, for example, on groups of
backbench or opposition amendments that were withdrawn or negatived
or on clause stand part;
c) the parts of the bill which were not debated,
with an indication of whether this was due to the effects of the
programme order or whether the issues raised were adequately covered
by debates on other parts of the bill; and
d) any areas where the Minster gave an undertaking
to reconsider or to bring forward more amendments at report stage
or in the Lords.
The House of Commons Library produces a Research
Paper on each bill before the second reading debate, and is already
planning to produce follow-up briefing papers on selected bills,
such as those which have been heavily amended.
We believe that a report of the committee stage could best be
undertaken by them. We
recommend that the Library produce a report of the standing committee
stage of most Government bills, and those private Members' bills
which have a reasonable prospect of being passed, in time to inform
debate at the report stage.
Showing the amendments made to
91. It can also be very difficult to see exactly
what amendments have been made to a bill in standing committee.
A report on the standing committee stage of the kind recommended
above would be helpful in describing how the bill has changed,
Members and others sometimes also need to know exactly what amendments
have been made. Anybody wishing to do so would need to sit down
with a copy of the pre-committee bill and the Standing Committee
at which amendments were made and where they occurred and reads
across to the copy of the bill as amended in committee.
92. There is a strong case for showing the amendments
in the reprinted version of the bill. A simple system is needed,
for example, showing deleted words struck through and inserted
words in bold. There are a number of technical considerations
to be taken into account including whether or not such a document
could be generated wholly or substantially automatically and whether
any additional printing costs would be likely to be incurred.
We recommend that the House
undertake a feasibility study of showing the amendments made to
bills amended in committee. It might be possible to do this by
means of an on-line version of the bill.
94 This is true of the select committee stage of bills
in New Zealand, which takes place between first and second reading.
The New Zealand Parliament is unicameral and much smaller than
either House of the UK Parliament, with 121 Members. Back
Ev 1. Back
Report of the House of Commons Library Legislation Briefings Group,
30 March 2006 (not published). Back
Also known as the 'funny minute', this is a re-print of the amendment
paper with the fate of each amendment-agreed to, negatived, withdrawn
or not moved-recorded next to it. Back