Annual Report 2002-03



ANNUAL REPORT 2002-03



Review of the Year


CHANGES IN WORKING PRACTICES


1. Last year's Annual Report1 indicated that a Group of six Members, chaired by the Leader of the House, had been appointed in July 2001 to consider how the working practices of the House could be improved. The Group's report ­ published in May 20022 ­ put forward a package of recommendations aimed at improving the scrutiny work of the House without the need for excessively late sittings. Its report was debated in the House in May and its recommendations were then considered by the Procedure Committee. After further debate in the House in July, the changes proposed by the Committee were approved and took effect from the new Parliamentary session in November for a trial period of two sessions. The proposals were not without controversy, and there were lengthy debates and divisions both in the Procedure Committee and on the floor of the House. Taken together, they represent the most significant series of changes to the working practices of the House for many years.

2. The main changes, with an indication, where appropriate, of their impact during the period covered by this Report, are as follows:

  • A Select Committee to examine the merits of statutory instruments: As the Group noted, there is a large body of support for a committee to examine the substance of statutory instruments. The Liaison Committee, which reviews the select committee work of the House as a whole, subsequently recommended that such a committee should be established at the beginning of the Parliamentary session 2003-04.
  • Starred Questions: The time for starred questions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays was extended to 40 minutes; the number of starred questions on those days was increased from four to five; and the additional questions on those days were to be topical questions, drawn by ballot.
  • General Debates: It was agreed that there should be some increase in the number of general debates held on Wednesdays; and the desirability of debating select committee reports and general topics in prime time was emphasised. It was agreed that Wednesdays should be available for general debates until the end of June. However, with much business before the House, it proved difficult to find time to debate committee reports in prime time even in the early months of 2003.
  • Sitting Hours of the House and the use of Grand Committees: The Group recommended that the House should rise no later than 10 pm on Mondays to Wednesdays and that a new standing order should provide that no item of business should begin after 10 pm. On Thursdays the House should sit at 11 am and rise by 7 pm. These changes were to be coupled with greater use of Grand Committees, in which bills are considered off the floor of the House. In general terms, the Procedure Committee endorsed these recommendations but opted for "a firm convention" that the House should rise by 10 pm rather than a standing order. The Committee also put forward an alternative timetable for Thursdays whereby the House would meet at 11 am, adjourn at 1.30 pm and resume at 3 pm, when starred questions would be taken. The business would conclude by 7.30 pm although an unstarred question, lasting up to 11/2 hours, could be asked thus putting back the adjournment until 9 pm.

These new arrangements had been in place for only 18 sitting weeks at the end of the period covered by this report. Six Bills were considered in Grand Committees lasting a total of 44 hours. This represented an increase on most previous years, but there was a much greater increase in the use of these committees in the months immediately following the end of the reporting year (see paragraph 15).

In practice, with a busy legislative programme, the House has not always adjourned by 10 pm on Monday to Wednesday and business (other than unstarred questions) has not always been completed by 7.30 pm on Thursdays. On 21 occasions the House sat after 10 pm for a total of 16 hours, while on six Thursdays business (other than unstarred questions) ran beyond 7.30 pm for a total of 21/4 hours.

As agreed, the new arrangements will be reviewed towards the end of the two session trial period. One particular aspect ­ the lunchtime adjournment of the House on Thursdays ­ may be subject to earlier review.

  • A more balanced Parliamentary Year: The Group recommended that the House "should be willing to sit in September, and in return the House should have longer recesses at Christmas, Easter or Whitsun, or rise earlier for the summer recess". In November 2002, recess dates for the year ahead, including a longer than usual Easter recess and a two week sitting in September 2003, were announced and subsequently the House agreed (on division) a Resolution confirming the new pattern for the summer recess.
  • Finance Bills: The Group recommended that procedures should be established to enable the House to deal more effectively with Finance Bills without encroaching on the financial privileges of the Commons. On the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee was given power to appoint a Sub-Committee to consider the Finance Bill (without investigating the incidence or rates of tax). A Sub-Committee was duly appointed in April and reported in June before the 2003 Finance Bill completed its passage through the Commons3.

3. In view of these important changes in working practices and the radical restructuring of the domestic Committees of the House (see paragraph 20), a new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House was published in February 2003.

Business of the House


General

4. The House of Lords is one of the busiest Parliamentary chambers in the world. It sat on 156 days in 2002, six more than the House of Commons; and the average length of each daily sitting in the Chamber was just under seven hours. This does not include work in committee.

5. The proportion of time devoted to general debates and debates on select committee reports (21%) was higher than in some recent years. Amongst important debates was that on the Report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, held over two days in January 2003, in which 95 Members took part. A series of debates was held on the situation in Iraq, one of which was in September for which the House was recalled.



6. A new procedure was established to consider Northern Ireland Orders which come before the House for affirmative resolution while devolved government in Northern Ireland is suspended. These orders were referred to, and debated in, Northern Ireland Orders Grand Committees.

7. There were 120 divisions in the House in 2002, of which 35 resulted in Government defeats.

8. Statistics on the business of the House and the trends in recent years are illustrated below and in Appendix D.

Legislation

9. Detailed scrutiny and revision of legislation is the most important role of the House of Lords. The House spent 52.8% of its time on legislation and there was a high level of activity throughout the year. 36 bills received Royal Assent and 8,457 amendments were dealt with by the House (compared with 3,433 in 2001-02).


10. Thirteen public bills received Royal Assent on the last day of the 2001-02 session in November 2002. The four most controversial bills were still being debated by the two Houses just days, and in two cases only hours, before the end of the session.

11. The debate on the Adoption and Children Bill centred on whether same-sex couples should have the right to adopt. In the end, the Commons' view ­ that they should ­ prevailed. Following Lords' scrutiny of the Animal Health Bill, provisions about adjusted compensation payments were omitted; the Secretary of State was required to publish guidelines concerning the exercise of the power of preventative slaughter; and provisions about biosecurity guidance, the development of a national contingency plan and reviews of import controls were added to the Bill. Further compromises were reached over the Enterprise Bill and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill (which, in October 2002, was recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House for further detailed scrutiny because of the large number of Government amendments tabled to the Bill).

12. Seven private members' bills received Royal Assent between April and November 2002. Two of these had been introduced in the House of Lords: the National Heritage Bill and the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill. The latter was, unusually, taken up by the Government when it reached the Commons. Both Bills reproduced in whole or in part Government Bills which had been lost at the dissolution of Parliament in 2001.

13. In the 2002-03 session, seven major Government bills were introduced in the Lords, including the Licensing Bill. This Bill implements a fundamental revision of the licensing laws covering both entertainments and the sale of alcohol. The proposal to require a licence for any secular entertainments (concerts, plays, etc.) provided in places of public religious worship was heavily criticised both at Second Reading and in Committee, and an amendment was agreed at Report to remove this requirement. A Government defeat at Report exempted from regulation live music in pubs and clubs if the audience was under 200 and the performance was over by 11.30 pm.

14. Other bills introduced in the Lords included the Sexual Offences Bill, to which almost 600 amendments had been tabled by the start of the Committee stage in March 2003.

15. From April to November 2002, four bills were considered in Grand Committees over a total of 17 days. Following the changes in working practices which took effect from the new session in November 2002 and included the intention to make greater use of Grand Committee procedure, a further six bills were considered in this way by the end of March 2003. Ten bills were therefore considered in Grand Committees during the year for a total of 98 hours ­ significantly more than in any previous year. From April 2003, their use increased still further.

Private Bills

16. Private Bill activity, though low, was marginally higher than in 2001-02, with two bills being committed to select committees. The City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, which had a protracted passage through the House of Commons over three sessions, contained controversial proposals to reform the business franchise in the City of London Ward Elections. Following a week-long select committee hearing, the Bill was reported without amendment, and received Royal Assent at the end of the 2002-03 session. Only three Private Bills were introduced in November 2002, and it is anticipated that there will be little Private Bill activity for the foreseeable future.

Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

17. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reports on the appropriateness of delegated powers in bills and regulatory reform orders. Statistics on the work of the Committee, including the number of reports published and the number of bills and regulatory reform orders considered, are set out in the report of the Legislation Office (page 52). In addition to its usual reports, the Committee published a Special Report on Henry VIII powers4 to make incidental, consequential and similar provision. This had been prompted by the concern expressed in the House following the late introduction by the Government of a significant Henry VIII power at the Third Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill (allowing the Government to amend primary legislation by means of a statutory instrument which could be debated but not amended by Parliament). The Special Report was debated in the House on
14 January 2003.

 
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