Annual Report and Accounts 1999-2000


Part I - Review of the Year

Business of the House

General

20.  The House of Lords is now one of the busiest Parliamentary chambers in the world, and 1999[2]> was another particularly busy year. The House sat on 157 days and for 1,190 hours--only marginally less than in 1998 (163 days and 1,211 hours), the busiest year in its history. Indeed, the average length of each day's sitting rose in 1999 to 7 hours 35 minutes --a new record. For the first time, the average time at which the House adjourned was after 10.00 pm.

21.  These statistics and the trends in recent years are illustrated below and in Appendix C.

Sitting days and sittings after 10 pm

Days


House of Lords sittings: total number of hours

Hours


Legislation

22.  Detailed scrutiny and revision of legislation remains the most important role of the House of Lords, and, in 1999, 56% of the time of the House was taken up by the consideration of Government bills. Record numbers of amendments were tabled and record numbers agreed to, and the details in respect of each Government bill are set out in Appendix D.

Time spent in the Lords on Government Bills

Hours


23.  Apart from the House of Lords Bill, three bills in the 1998-99 session attracted particularly close attention. The Greater London Authority Bill, with 476 pages, 425 clauses and 34 schedules, became the longest Bill to pass through the House[3] and the Bill to which the highest number of amendments have been tabled (2,356) and made (887). The Immigration and Asylum and the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bills also proved contentious and were heavily amended.

24.  There were a number of disagreements between the Houses, notably on the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill concerning a clause (which the Lords omitted) to limit incapacity benefit to those who had been in recent employment. The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which lowered the age of consent for males from 18 to 16 and which had been passed by the Commons, was rejected at Second Reading. It was reintroduced in the 1999-2000 session and brought from the Commons in February 2000 endorsed with the certificate from the Speaker in accordance with the Parliament Act.

25.  The Government's legislative programme for the 1999-2000 session, with 32 bills announced in the Queen's Speech in November, is one of the fullest in recent years and, by the end of the period covered by this Report, the House faced the prospect of a congested timetable for the remaining bills and a protracted spillover period.

26.  One of the early bills introduced in the Lords was the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill which sought to restrict the use of jury trial. This was not proceeded with after the Government suffered a significant defeat in Committee. It was later reintroduced in the Commons in amended form. Two other Lords' bills (the Local Government and the Learning and Skills Bills) also proved controversial in respect of the debate over the repeal of clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1986 which prevents local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

27.  The House took the view that candidates for the Greater London mayoral and assembly elections should be able to circulate a single election communication by way of freepost delivery. Accordingly, on 22 February, the House rejected the Greater London Authority (Election Expenses) Order 2000, the first affirmative instrument to be rejected by the House since the Southern Rhodesia (United Nations Sanctions) Order 1968. On the same day, a motion for an Address for the annulment of the Greater London Authority Elections Rules 2000 was agreed to, the first time that a negative instrument had been rejected by the House. Subsequently, it was agreed (by amendment to the Representation of the People Bill) that candidates could include a communication in a single booklet of election addresses to be circulated by freepost.

28.  There were 27 Government defeats on public legislation during the period--two fewer than in 1998-99 but significantly more than in the immediate preceding years (16 in 1997-98 and 10 in 1996-97).

29.  Eight bills were considered in Grand Committees (ie. off the floor of the House) taking eight hours in all. This procedure eases pressure of business in the Chamber. For the first time, a private members' bill, the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Bill, was considered in a Grand Committee. In addition, three draft bills were considered by select committees (see paragraph 41 below).

30.  There was little Private Bill work. Only four bills were deposited in November 1999 and only two petitions deposited against bills.

31.  Recommendations from a working group of officials for changes in the format of bills and Acts of Parliament were approved by the Procedure Committee and the Commons' Modernisation Committee, with minor alterations. The new format is expected to take effect from the beginning of session 2000-01.

32.  The House agreed to a recommendation by the Offices Committee that the record copies of Acts of Parliament should be printed on archival paper instead of vellum and that the second record copy should cease. Resolutions of both Houses were required to give effect to this recommendation, but the Commons rejected such a resolution in June 1999.

Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee

33.  The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which reports on the appropriateness of delegated powers in bills and on deregulation orders and which has no parallel in the House of Commons, had another busy year. It made 29 reports (including a special report outlining its work during the 1998-99 session[4]) and reported on 57 bills, two draft bills, five sets of Government amendments, three proposals for deregulation orders and two draft deregulation orders.

Debates and Questions

34.  Despite the amount of legislation before the House, the proportion of time devoted to general debates and debates on select committee reports rose from 16% in 1998 to 20% in 1999. In March 2000, following its publication in January, a full debate was held on the Report of the Royal Commission (chaired by Lord Wakeham) on the Reform of the House of Lords, A House for the Future[5].

35.  There are now two topical starred questions each week, on Wednesday and Thursday. This procedure has proved popular and a ballot is necessary to choose which question should be tabled. There was a further growth in the number of written questions: 4,320 were tabled in 1999 (compared with 4,149 in 1998 and only 2,653 in 1997). The growth in these questions in recent years is shown below.

Questions for Written Answer


Committees

36.  The number of investigative select committees has grown significantly in the present Parliament and, towards the end of the year, the Liaison Committee (which considers requests for ad hoc committees and advises the House on the resources required for committee work) began a major review of select committee activity and made an interim recommendation for the appointment of a new Constitutional Committee.

37.  The European Communities Committee, with its six Sub-Committees on which some 70 Lords serve, was reappointed in the 1999-2000 session with modified terms of reference to reflect developments in the European Union and was renamed the European Union Committee. Amongst the 19 reports which the Committee made were major reports on Prosecuting Fraud on the Communities' Finances, Organic Farming and Enlargement.

38.  In December, the House agreed a Scrutiny Reserve Resolution, the effect of which is that the Government should not agree in the Council of Ministers to any proposal on which parliamentary scrutiny by the Committee has not been completed.

39.  The Science and Technology Committee made three reports to the House, including Non-Food Crops and Science and Society; the latter attracted much interest in the media. At the year end, the Committee had embarked on enquiries into Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Aircraft Cabin Environment.

40.  The Select Committee on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, which was appointed in December 1998, reported in July 1999. The report requested that the Committee should be reappointed in the new session on a permanent basis. On the recommendation of the Liaison Committee, it was reappointed in February 2000 but for no more than a year.

41.  The House continued to contribute to pre-legislative scrutiny of draft bills, following the appointment of the Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services and Markets Bill in March 1999. That Committee completed a second report on the draft Bill's compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights in May. Two further committees, a Joint Committee on the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill and a Committee on the draft Freedom of Information Bill were appointed, both reporting in July. The reports of these Committees were widely appreciated when the Bills were subsequently introduced and considered in the two Houses. The Committees have, to date, been required to work under considerable pressure with tight reporting deadlines.

Procedure

42.  Amongst the issues considered by the Procedure Committee was the question of the applicability to the House of Lords of the Freedom of Information Bill (currently before the House). Parliament will be covered by the Bill but, as Authorised Officer, the Clerk of the Parliaments will be able to refuse to disclose information on the grounds of parliamentary privilege or prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. Applicants for information will be able to ask that such an intended refusal by the Clerk of the Parliaments should be referred for advice to a panel of five members of the House, chaired by a Lord of Appeal and with the assistance of the Information Commissioner.

43.  The House agreed a resolution setting out new practice on matters sub judice which gives the Lords the same limited right as the Commons to debate a sub judice matter when the circumstances warrant it. The resolution, which was recommended by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, adds to the discretion which the Leader of the House already has to allow discussion of matters sub judice in cases of ministerial decisions and issues of national importance. The exercise of this discretion by the Leader may not be challenged in the House.

44.  In addition, the Procedure Committee recommended that the Lord Chancellor should no longer read out the Queen's Speech at the beginning of the afternoon sitting after the State Opening of Parliament.

Judicial Business

45.  The number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary remained at 12, although during the year two (Lords Saville of Newdigate and Phillips of Worth Matravers) were rarely available for judicial work in the House owing to their chairmanship of public enquiries elsewhere. In April 2000 it was announced that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, would succeed Lord Browne-Wilkinson as Senior Lord of Appeal on his retirement at the end of May.

46.  Statistics on the number of appeals and petitions for leave disposed of and on the backlog of appeals are given in Part II (page 28). Several expedited cases were heard during the year: one, Dimond v. Lovell (an insurance case relating to car hire payment) was responsible for the greatest number of cases ever to be stayed in the lower courts pending judgment by the House; the appeal of Myra Hindley against the Home Secretary's decision to impose on her a "whole life" tariff was also heard and dismissed; the appeal of the former spy, George Blake, about royalties from his autobiography was heard and was awaiting judgment at the end of the period covered by this report; and the case of B v. Director of Public Prosecutions led to an important change in the law governing the age of consent.

47.  The Finance and Staff Sub-Committee agreed to a proposal from the Law Lords that four legal assistants should be appointed to carry out research in connection with appeals and other duties. These appointments will be made in time for the beginning of the new legal year in October 2000. Responsibility for the Law Lords' book collection was transferred to the Library (see Part II, page 28).

Register of Interests

48.  The Register of Lords' Interests was republished in February 2000. The continuously up-dated Register is available for consultation in the House and on the Internet. The Sub-Committee of the Committee for Privileges on Lords' Interests did not meet, since no allegation of failure or breach of the rules was put to it.

49.  In April 2000, the Committee on Standards in Public Life announced that it would begin an enquiry into standards of conduct in the House of Lords. The proposed enquiry was the subject of a debate in the House on 10 May when it was argued that the Committee had no right to consider the internal affairs of the House. This view was rejected in a vote.

Overseas Relations and International Assemblies

50.  Contacts between the House and overseas parliaments and international assemblies, which have grown in recent years, were maintained.

51.  The Lord Chancellor was represented by Lord Tordoff, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, at the Conference of European Union Speakers held in Lisbon in May 1999 and at a meeting of Speakers from European and G8 countries in Bonn and Berlin in September 1999 to mark the 50th anniversary of the German Parliament. He was represented by Lord Boston of Faversham, Chairman of Committees, at the biennial Conference of Commonwealth Speakers in Canberra and Sydney in January 2000; and again by Lord Tordoff at a Conference of Speakers of Second Chambers held in Paris at the invitation of the French Senate in March 2000 and at the biennial Conference of Speakers from Council of Europe Countries held in Strasbourg in May 2000.

52.  Visitors from overseas parliaments included the President of the National Council of the Provinces of South Africa, the President of the Parliament of Swaziland and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Councillors of Japan. Visits overseas by Lords as representatives of the House included participation by four women Peers in a Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Women Parliamentarians held in Naples in March.

53.  Members of the House continued to serve on UK delegations to certain international assemblies: seven serve on the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, one of whom, Lord Russell-Johnston, is President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly; two serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly; and three on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

54.  The Clerk of the Parliaments continued as President of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments and attended meetings of the Association in Brussels and Berlin.


2   Most statistics in this report relate to the calendar year 1999. In some cases they relate to the Parliamentary session 1998-99 (November 1998 to November 1999). Financial statistics relate to the period 1 April 1999 to 31 March 2000. Back

3   Except for Consolidation and Finance Bills Back

4   HL paper 112, session 1998-99. Back

5   Cmnd. 4534. Back


 
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