20. The most important proceedings in the Chamber
are proceedings on public bills. Scrutinising and revising legislation
is one of the key functions of Parliament, and the principal role
and raison d'etre of the House of Lords as a somewhat independent
It is also how most of the time of the House is spent. It is therefore
of the greatest importance that procedures for handling legislation
are sound, and that Lords understand and respect them.
21. As indicated above, we are aware that the
freedoms of all Lords to take part in proceedings on bills are
very great, and are open to abuse. In our view, the House will
be best able to perform its revising role if these freedoms are
maintained; therefore abuses must be identified and avoided. Abuses
come in two kinds: lack of consideration for the rest of the House;
and excessive exploitation of the procedures to try to frustrate
the will of the majority. The House of Lords is traditionally
intolerant of both these kinds of behaviour.
22. We believe that our procedures for bills
are sound, and should not be changed in some of the more radical
ways which have been suggested to us. In particular, we do
NOT endorse suggestions that:
(a) groupings of amendments should be made
(b) at Committee Stage, the Question that
each Clause stand part of the Bill should no longer be put;
(c) the rule against re-opening an issue
which has been decided upon at a previous stage, which applies
at Third Reading, should also apply at Report Stage; and
(d) starred amendments (which are tabled
on the eve of debate) and manuscript amendments (which are tabled
on the day) should be prohibited at all stages.
23. Each of these moves would make life easier
for Ministers and civil servants (or, in the case of (b), the
Lord in the Chair). However, they would reduce the freedom of
the House to perform its principal role.
24. However we recommend a modest set
of changes, which we believe would improve the procedures without
reducing the freedoms of the House.
Dates of debate
25. The dates of debate on the various stages
of bills are sometimes varied at short notice. This can cause
great inconvenience, particularly to back-benchers who may have
long journeys or other commitments. We recommend that the Government
Whips Office should make every effort to inform such Lords of
changes of plan.
Length of speeches
26. The Companion says, rightly, "Long
speeches engender tedium and tend to kill debate" (p. 68).
It goes on to recommend a guideline limit, for back-bench speakers
in Second Reading and other non-time-limited debates, of 15 minutes.
It acknowledges that "on occasion, a speech of outstanding
importance . . . may exceed the limit".
27. We consider that this guidance should be
refined. 15 minutes should be seen as an outside limit; in most
situations, as Lords experienced in public speaking will know,
a better target is 10 minutes. There will of course continue to
Postponing the title
28. Each Committee Stage begins with the Question
"That the title of the bill be postponed", i.e. that
amendments to the title be taken last. This Question should never
be debated, and must always be agreed to. We recommend that it
be dispensed with, and that amendments to the title be taken last
as a matter of course.
Drafting of amendments
29. We recommend that amendments to leave out
a piece of text identifiable by a number (e.g. paragraph (a),
or sub-paragraph (ii)) should normally be tabled in the form "line
1, leave out paragraph (a)", rather than in the form "leave
out lines 1 to 10", unless the simpler form would be ambiguous.
We believe that amendments in this form are easier to read.
Tabling of amendments
30. At present Lords may hand in amendments
to the Clerks, for printing the following day, at any time up
to the rising of the House. The Public Bill Office operates an
informal deadline, for amendments to be printed the following
day, of 6.30pm, or 5.30pm for a marshalled list, or 4pm on Fridays.
In the interests of certainty, and to allow time for all amendments
to be processed thoroughly before being printed, we recommend
a deadline of 5pm, or 4pm on Fridays.
31. The current timetable for groupings is as
departments send draft groupings
to the Government Whips Office by 10.30am on the day of debate;
the Government Whips Office transmit
them to the Opposition by 11am;
Lords have until 1.30pm to comment;
final groupings are issued by 2pm.
Failure to meet these deadlines regularly causes
difficulties, especially for back-bench peers. Even when they
are met, Lords have very little time to consider the groupings
before the debate begins.
32. We therefore propose that departments should
produce draft groupings for consultation by 2.30pm on the day
before debate, rather than at lunchtime on the day as at present.
At present this would be made impossible by the large number of
amendments tabled at the last minute; but we propose below that
this number should be reduced.
33. To enable departments to produce draft groupings
the day before debate, the marshalled list would have to be issued
on that day, rather than on the day of debate as at present.
Therefore any amendments tabled two days before debate would be
starred, and amendments handed in later than that would have to
be printed on a supplementary list or revised marshalled list.
34. We recommend flexibility as to whether to
apply this system to Third Reading. In cases where only the 3-day
minimum interval is allowed after the end of Report stage, it
might not be workable.
35. The effect of our proposals is shown in
the following table.
|Deadline for amendments for marshalled list
||D minus 1 . . . 5.30 pm|
Any amendment tabled after this is liable to be printed on a separate sheet
|D minus 2 . . . 5 pm|
Any amendment tabled after this would be liable to be printed in a supplementary or revised list
|Marshalled list available||D . . . 8 am|
An amendment tabled on the day of debate is a manuscript amendment
|D minus 1 . . . 8 am|
|Department produces draft groupings||D . . . 10.30-11 am||D minus 1 . . . 2.30 pm|
Any amendment tabled after 5 pm on D minus 1 would be liable to be printed on a separate sheet. An amendment tabled on the day of debate would be a manuscript amendment
|Deadline for comment on draft groupings||D . . . 1.30 pm||D . . . 1.30 pm|
|Final groupings||D . . . 2 pm||D . . . 2 pm|
|D = Day of debate.|
36. Manuscript amendments, tabled on the day of debate, are
exceptional, as they should be; but many marshalled lists contain
numerous amendments tabled the previous day, frequently by the
37. We stand by the freedoms of the House, but we suggest
that they should be exercised with restraint. We consider that
tabling amendments the day before debate should not be prohibited;
but neither should it be encouraged. It is inconsiderate and unhelpful
to ask Lords to consider in the afternoon amendments which they
only received that morning. In the case of non-Government amendments,
the chances of last-minute amendments receiving proper consideration
by Ministers must be slim. Last-minute amendments also make the
work of constructing and agreeing groupings more difficult; discouraging
them will of course make it easier to produce draft groupings
earlier than at present, as recommended above.
38. We have been expressly asked to suggest an answer to
a question put to the Procedure Committee by the Clerk of the
Parliaments, following an incident on the School Standards and
Framework Bill: should
Lords be prohibited from retabling at Report Stage an amendment
which was defeated in Committee?
This is not the same question as whether Lords should be prevented
from reopening a decided issue (to which we say No), since
different amendments may raise the same issue.
39. We consider that a Lord who puts an amendment to a vote
in Committee, loses, and simply returns to the charge on Report
without any attempt at compromise or genuine refinement, is abusing
the time of the House. We recommend that, if an amendment is pressed
to a division by the mover at Committee stage, and is defeated,
it should be deemed undesirable for any Lord to table the same
amendment, or one whose effect is indistinguishable, on Report.
40. Although we do not want to see the reopening of issues
at Report Stage prohibited altogether, some Lords would support
thisnot all of them on the Government front bench; and
this lobby may grow, unless Lords show more restraint in exercising
the freedom which we wish to preserve. The Companion contains
the simple but sound advice, that:
"Arguments fully deployed in Committee of the Whole House
should not be repeated at length on Report" (page 134).
In other words, though a Lord is entitled to reopen an issue on
Report, he should refrain from making what amounts to the same
41. We would go a little further: if an issue is reopened
on Report, it should be for a good reason. This might be, for
example, because in Committee the Minister promised to consider
the matter; because the authors of the amendment have refined
their own position; because, having read in Hansard what
the Minister said in Committee, Lords wish to raise further questions;
or simply because in Committee the amendment came on too late
for proper debate.
42. The time allowed for Lords to reach the Chamber to vote
should be extended from 6 to 8 minutes, to allow for the increasing
use of offices further from the Chamber or even outside the Palace.
The 3-minute deadline for the appointment of tellers should be
extended to 4 minutes, to allow time for the Clerks to arrive
from more distant offices. This would require amendment of Standing
Order 51. The change would of course apply to all votes, not just
those on bills.
"That this Bill do now pass"
43. After any Third Reading amendments, the House has an
opportunity to debate a bill in its final form on the Question
"That this bill do now pass". This is too often used
as an occasion merely to thank Lords who have taken part in proceedings,
and their staff. While such thanks may be well-deserved, they
are not a proper use of parliamentary time, and they delay the
next business. If such thanks become more rare, they will also
become more valuable. We recommend that any thanks should be brief,
and should generally be restricted to persons outside Parliament
and Government who have been outstandingly helpful.
44. Even more undesirable is the practice whereby Lords who
took part in earlier stages speak at length on "Bill do now
pass", to review the issues and reiterate the arguments.
This too causes waste of time and delay.
45. Unless a genuine attempt is being made to throw out the
bill at its final stage,
there is normally no need to debate "Bill do now pass"
at all. We recommend that this should become the norm; Ministers
should simply move the motion formally.
Reminders of good practice
46. From our own experience, and from the correspondence
we have received,
it appears that there are other aspects of procedure on bills
where existing conventions and procedures are adequate, but some
Lords need to be reminded what these are. In particular:
(a) Lords who find, in a debate such as a Second Reading,
that all their points have been made already by others, should
say so and sit down.
(b) Speeches on amendments should be confined to the point
of the amendment. Second Reading speeches on amendments are unacceptable.
(c) A Lord who decides not to move an amendment should
rise and say "Not moved" when it is called; he should
not make a speech. If he wishes to make a speech, he should say
"I beg to move" (at either the beginning or the end
of his speech); then, after other Lords have spoken, he should
reply to the debate, and either beg leave to withdraw or seek
(d) At Report and Third Reading, and when considering
Commons amendments, Lords should speak to each amendment only
once, and should not continue the debate after the Minister's
speech. The device of speaking
"before the Minister (or other noble Lord) sits down"
is legitimate for a genuine intervention,
but must not be used to make a second speech.
47. We recommend that these conventions be added to the guidance
in the Companion.
48. One way to avoid issues being raised repeatedly in formal
proceedings, or even being raised in the Chamber at all, let alone
by last-minute amendment, is to deal with them informally, or
before the bill is introduced by "pre-legislative scrutiny".
Pre-legislative scrutiny has traditionally been conducted on the
basis of green papers and white papers; but the Government have
begun producing draft bills, for scrutiny by Joint or Select Committees
and by the public.
49. The Government have also extended the practice of offering
an informal meeting between Ministers, civil servants and Lords
interested in the bill, between Second Reading and Committee Stage.
50. These initiatives make for better understanding of the
issues before the bill reaches the Chamber, and better use of
the time of the House. They may also make it easier for the Government
to make concessions. They are therefore welcome developments.
11 According to Reforming the House of Lords, "The most
distinctive and important role of the present House of Lords is
the specialist expertise and independent perspective it can bring
to the scrutiny of legislation" (Cm 4183, p. 6). Back
12 Currently the only such restriction is that manuscript amendments
are prohibited at Third Reading, by SO 46. Back
13 The Public Bill Office already occasionally produce an early marshalled
list, for the convenience of peers, especially when there has
been a long interval between stages. Back
14 7 July 1998, col. 1200. Back
15 At present, amendments may be retabled at Report. The rule against
putting the same Question twice in one Session (Companion
p. 89) is held not to apply, since the Question is put to two
different bodies: a Committee at Committee Stage, the House on
16 This last happened on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill
on 20 July 1993. Back
17 See Appendix 2. Back
18 Or, in the case of a private member's bill, the speech of the
Lord in charge. Back
19 For example, seeking clarification, or seeking an answer on a
point not covered by the Minister. Back
20 This was recommended in 1992 in Making the Law (para. 400),
the report of the Hansard Society's Commission on the Legislative
Process chaired by the late Lord Rippon of Hexham, following a
suggestion made by Lord Aberdare. The suggestion was picked up
in the report from the Group on Sittings of the House, also chaired
by Lord Rippon, in 1994 (HL Paper 83, 1993-94), and commended
by the Procedure Committee in its 1st Report 1994-95. Back