Select Committee on Procedure of the House First Report






  At its last meeting the Procedure Committee agreed to a recommendation by the Leader of the House that a Working Group should be established "to consider how the procedures of the House can be improved within the existing framework of self-regulation; and to make proposals for ensuring that Lords are better informed of procedure so that self-regulation can work".[1] The Committee has considered the Group's report[2] and recommends the House to accept the following proposals for change in the House's present procedures:

Starred Questions

  A second topical question each week should be created by reserving the fourth question on Wednesdays, for tabling no earlier than the previous Monday. The second topical question should be subject to the same rules as the existing topical question, in particular the rule that no Lord may ask more than two topical questions in one session.[3]

  Lords should be limited to one Starred Question (instead of the present two) on the order paper at any one time, unless they are successful in the ballot for topical questions.

  The Committee endorses the following additional guidance recommended by the Working Group:

    (a)  Ministers' answers should be shorter. Their initial answer should not generally exceed 75 words. Supplementary questions and answers should also be shorter and confined to not more than two points.

    (b)  The problem of how supplementary questions should circulate around the different parts of the House cannot be resolved by a rigid rule. The Government side should not expect to have every alternate supplementary. In giving guidance, the Leader should be mindful of the interests of all backbenchers, including the Liberal Democrats and the Crossbenchers.

    (c)  If two or more Lords rise at once, they should be more ready to give way immediately, rather than provoke a shouting-match, which is undignified and wastes time. If the Leader rises, other Lords should sit down at once.

  The Committee reminds the House that the Lord who tabled the question has no automatic right to ask a final supplementary question.[4]

Business immediately after Starred Questions

  The Committee is concerned at how much noise is created when Lords leave the Chamber after Starred Questions. Lords should do so silently; those remaining in the Chamber should avoid conversations at this point. It is in order for the Lord moving the next business to pause for a short period until the House is quiet again. The Clerk should not start the clock until he begins to speak.

Drafting of amendments

  In appropriate cases amendments should take the form: Page x, line y, leave out paragraph (b), and not: Page x, leave out lines 1 to 3.

Grouping of amendments

  For an experimental period until the summer recess, government departments should produce draft groupings of amendments for consultation by 2.30pm on the working day before debate (rather than at lunchtime on the day, as at present). To enable departments to do this, marshalled lists of amendments should be published on the working day before the debate (rather than on the day of debate, as is normal at present). Lords should be encouraged to facilitate this by tabling amendments no later than 5pm two days before the debate, whenever possible. Amendments handed in later than this will be published in a revised marshalled list or in supplementary list. The experiment should be confined to committee stage.

Tabling of amendments

  Outside recesses, the deadline for handing in amendments for printing the next day should be 5pm (4pm on Fridays) instead of 6.30pm (5.30pm for a marshalled list, 4pm on Fridays) as at present. During recesses the deadlines will remain unchanged (10am to 5pm).

Repeat amendments

  An amendment identical (or of identical effect) to one pushed to a vote by the mover and defeated in committee should not be retabled for report stage. The amendment should be changed more than cosmetically if it is to be retabled. However, it would not be desirable to restrict the reopening at report stage of an issue debated and voted on in committee.

  An amendment agreed to on division in committee should not be reversed at report stage except with the unanimous agreement of the House.


  The time for divisions should be extended from six to eight minutes; the time for appointing Tellers would in consequence be extended from three to four minutes.

"Bill do now pass"

  The motion "That this bill do now pass" should be moved formally and should not normally be debated. Ministers should if necessary respond to points raised on the motion by other Lords. The motion should not be an occasion for thanking those involved in the passage of the bill.


  The Committee does not accept that the number of statements repeated in this House is unreasonable. They are important policy announcements. While there will be exceptions, the time for the two Opposition front benches and the reply to them should be limited to 20 minutes, as for the backbenches.[5] Backbenchers too should exercise restraint, restricting themselves to brief comments and questions rather than speeches, so as to allow more Lords to intervene within the 20 minutes available.

  The time when a statement is to be taken (for example, "after amendment 20" or "after the first debate"), once agreed between the whips, should be put on the annunciator. A Lord who was not present to hear a statement should not speak on it. The practice of noting unrepeated statements on the cover of Hansard should be revived.


  The Committee endorses the following reminders of the courtesies of the House:

    (a)  Lords should bow to the Cloth of Estate on entering the Chamber, though not on leaving.[6] Lords should also bow when the Mace passes.

    (b)  A Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following his own, and for the winding-up speeches. Ministers cannot be expected to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the Minister's closing speech. A Lord who becomes aware in advance that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the list of speakers.

    (c)  Reading of speeches is alien to the custom of the House. In practice, some speakers may wish to have "extended notes" from which to speak, but it is not in the interests of good debate that they should follow them too closely

    (d)  Lords should never address one another in debate as "you".

    (e)  Lords should refer to "the noble Lord, the Minister", or simply "the Minister", but not "the noble Minister".

    (f)  The Lord who follows a maiden speaker (and only that Lord) should congratulate him on behalf of the whole House. Other Lords should not leave the Chamber while this takes place.

    (g)  Lords should not pass between the Lord who is speaking and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair.[7]

    (h)  Lords should not move about the Chamber while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or the Chair. This does not apply when the Lord Chancellor is speaking as a Minister from beside the Woolsack.

    (i)  Lords should not bring books or newspapers into the Chamber, except for reference in debate.[8]

  The Committee reminds the House that private conversations in the Chamber are not desirable.


  The Committee agreed that the Working Group's proposals for training (paragraphs 71-78) should be considered further. The Clerk of the Parliaments informed the Committee that he proposed to begin a revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders for issue by the beginning of the next session.

  The Committee expressed its gratitude to Lady Hilton of Eggardon and the members of the Working Group for their work on procedure in the Chamber.


  The Committee considered a proposal from the Government Chief Whip that, as an experiment from the return of the House after the Easter recess, the general debate day should be moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays. The experiment would last until such time as government business filled the debate day, probably mid-June 1999. The Committee noted that there was strong opposition to the proposal. If such a change were to be made on an experimental basis, the Committee recommends that the House should meet at 3 pm on Wednesdays and 2.30 pm on Thursdays.[9] However, in the absence of agreement on the Chief Whip's proposal, the Committee makes no recommendation on the proposal or on sitting times. The issue should be left to the House to decide.

1   4th Report (1997-98), HL Paper 144. Back

2   The report is printed as HL Paper (1998-99) 34. Back

3   See Companion to the Standing Orders, p 86. Back

4   Companion, p 85. Back

5   As recommended in the Procedure Committee's first report 1994-95, agreed to by the House on 10 January 1995. Back

6   Standing Order 17(2). Back

7   Standing Order 17 (1). Back

8   Companion, p 64. Back

9   The Committee was led to understand that this would be because party meetings would be held on Wednesdays. Back

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