First Report from the
Select Committee on Procedure of the House
TUESDAY 17 DECEMBER 2002
on Procedure of the House
1. Relevance of supplementary questions and answers
The Committee has noted an increasing tendency for
irrelevant supplementary questions to be asked and answered. We
remind the House of the guidance in the Companion to the Standing
Orders (paragraph 4.96):
"Supplementary questions should be confined
to the subject of the original question, and ministers should
not answer irrelevant questions."
2. Attendance by speakers in debates
The Committee has also observed since the start of
this session a frequent disregard of the customs of the House
in relation to attendance at debate. These are clearly set out
in paragraphs 4.23 to 4.25 of the Companion to the Standing
"4.23 Members of the House taking part in a
debate are expected to attend the greater part of that debate.
It is considered discourteous for Members not to be present for
the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that
following their own, and for the winding-up speeches. Members
who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able
to stay until the end of a debate should remove their names from
the list of speakers. Ministers may decide not to answer, orally
or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear
the minister's closing speech.
4.24 There are reasons for these customs. Members
who have missed the speeches before their own will not know what
has already been said and so points may be repeated or missed.
Members who leave soon after speaking are lacking in courtesy
to others, who may wish to question, or reply to, points they
have raised. Debate may degenerate into a series of set speeches
if speakers do not attend throughout.
4.25 It is, however, recognised that some Members
may have commitments related to the judicial or committee work
of the House which may prevent them from being able to attend
as much of the debate as might otherwise be expected."
Recently, some speakers have not only failed to stay
for "the greater part" of a debate but have been absent
during the opening or closing speeches. We remind the House that
this is contrary to well-established custom and that Lords who
find themselves unable to stay until the end of a debate should
normally withdraw their names from the list, and not simply apologise
when beginning their speeches.
3. Length of interventions on statements
The Companion to the Standing Orders (paragraph
4.81) States: "Ministerial statements are made for the information
of the House, and although brief comments and questions from all
quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made
the occasion for an immediate debate".
The Committee has noted recent instances of interventions
from backbenchers which are far from brief. We remind the House
that, with a twenty-minute limit on backbench questions and answers,
long interventions and long replies are unfair to others who may
wish to speak.
4. Time limit for submitting Private Notice Questions
At present a Private Notice Question has to be submitted
to the Leader of the House before 12 noon, but before 10 a.m.
on a day when the House sits before 1 p.m. This means that the
earlier time limit now applies on Thursdays when the House sits
at 11 a.m. even when Starred Questions are not taken until 3 p.m.
Accordingly we recommend that the earlier time limit
should apply only on days when Starred Questions (if any) are
to be taken before 1 p.m.
5. Time for presentation of bills
Another consequence of the new arrangements for Thursday
sittings is that, under Standing Order 42(3), bills can no longer
be presented after Starred Questions in the afternoon. That paragraph
is as follows:
"(3) Bills may be presented either at the beginning
or end of Public Business. Bills brought from the House of Commons
may be read the First time at any convenient time during Public
We recommend that the Standing Order should be amended
by the addition of a new second sentence: "On Thursdays Bills
may also be presented after Starred Questions in the afternoon."
6. The Companion to the Standing Orders
The Committee has approved the publication of a new
edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders to take
account of significant changes since the publication of the 18th
edition in October 2000. The changes agreed by the House on 24
July 2002 on the basis of the Report of the Leader's Group on
the Working Practices of the House and the 5th Report from this
2001-02, were for a trial period of two sessions. The changes
will be incorporated in the new edition, with footnotes to show
that they are for a trial period.