CASE STUDY THREE: THE WARM HOMES
AND ENERGY CONSERVATION BILL
52. The scope of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation
Bill - a Private Members' bill originating in the House of Commons
- was determined by the definition of fuel poverty, but it enabled
regulations, subject only to negative resolution procedure, to
substitute a different definition. The Committee considered that
Parliament could not be confident that the bill would not be amended
by regulation so as to apply to circumstances which were outside
those contemplated by Parliament in approving the bill.
53. There is a difficulty for the House of Lords
in considering Private Members' bills originating in the House
of Commons late in the parliamentary session. In the House of
Commons, unlike the House of Lords, "private members' time"
is strictly limited. House of Commons Standing Order No 14 provides
for 13 Fridays on which Private Members' bills have precedence
over Government business.
By the time the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill reached
the House of Lords, there were no more such Fridays left in the
present session. On rare occasions the Government provides some
of its own time for the discussion of a Private Member's bill
in the House of Commons. This sometimes happens to enable discussion
in the House of Commons of Lords amendments to Private Members'
bills received at a late stage of the session.
But at the time that the Committee reported on the bill, although
the Government supported this bill there was no guarantee that
the Government would make some of its own time available in the
House of Commons for the discussion of any amendments made by
54. We considered carefully the suggestion made to
us during oral evidence and in the subsequent written submissions
that amending a Private Members' bill at such a late stage in
the session might lead to its failure, the assumption being that
the House of Commons would decline to make parliamentary time
available to consider the Lords amendments which would be involved
(QQ 18-19, 39-40). We nevertheless felt it right to identify those
recommendations which we would make if this were a government
bill. All of these were of a technical and limited nature and
should not take up much parliamentary time in either House.
55. We accordingly reported on the bill in the following
"If this were a Government
bill we would make the following recommendations:
- the bill should be amended to extend the ambit
of clause 1(2)(a) so as to limit changes of definition to ones
of fine-tuning in the light of changed technical considerations;
- clause 1(2)(b) should be deleted;
- the power in clause 1(2) should be made subject
to the affirmative resolution procedure.
We recognise that the House
will also have to consider the fact that this is a Private Member's
Bill and that unless a small amount of Government time were to
be provided in the Commons to consider any Lords amendments to
it the bill would be likely to fall for lack of time. The bill
clearly has widespread support and the potential to affect the
well-being of very many people. It will therefore be for the House
to decide what view to take if it considers that these amendments
are appropriate but members are nevertheless told that the making
of any amendment would kill the bill because there is no more
time for private members bills in the House of Commons this session.
If this were to be the case we consider that it would obviate
the work of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber. We would,
however, understand why, in the case of a benignly intentioned
bill such as this, the House of Lords might feel compelled to
stifle its protests and let the bill pass unamended."
56. The dilemma for the House of Lords which such
a travesty of parliamentary scrutiny poses was debated fully during
the second reading debate on 13 October 2000, when the Committee's
report was frequently quoted.
In moving the motion for the second reading of the bill Lord McColl
of Dulwich summarised the problem in the following way:
"I know that in an ideal
world the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee would wish
this House to go further. The committee recommends that, were
the Bill a government Bill, it should be amended to narrow the
scope of any future definition. However, it recognises the specific
difficulty with the Bill, which is that it is a Private Member's
Bill and there is now no further time set aside for the Commons
to consider any amendments we may make. As such, any amendments
we make could cause the Bill to fail to become law. That risk
was set out clearly to the committee by the DETR representatives,
and the committee took it very seriously."
57. We recommend that the Procedure Committee
should consider the problems created when Commons Private Members'
bills arrive in the House of Lords late in the session, and whether
it is right that the House of Lords should effectively be denied
the right to amend such bills.