Eleventh Report from the
1. Recommendations 9, 20 and 22 of the Leader's
Group on Working Practices
related to Grand Committees. The Leader of the House has brought
forward a number of proposals, drawing upon these recommendations,
which we now put before the House. In so doing, we suggest that
the new arrangements described below, if agreed by the House,
be introduced on a trial basis, for the duration of the 2012-13
session of Parliament. This Committee will then review the trial,
and make a further report to the House, so that the House can
reach a final decision.
SITTING HOURS OF GRAND COMMITTEES
2. Recommendation 22 of the Leader's Group was
22. We recommend that the sitting hours of the Grand
Committee should in future be more predictable and longer. We
propose that, with the exception of a period of around two weeks
at the start and end of each session, there should be a presumption
that the Grand Committee will sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
of each sitting week, from 10.30am to 12.30pm, and from 2.30 until
3. The Leader of the House, while supporting
the Group's recommendation that Grand Committee sittings should
be longer, proposed, as an alternative to morning sittings, that
Grand Committees on primary legislation should sit from 3.30pm
to 10pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, from 3.45pm to 10pm on Wednesdays,
and from 12 noon to 7pm on Thursdays. He suggested that these
extended sittings should include a one-hour dinner break or, on
Thursdays, tea break. He proposed no change to sitting times of
Grand Committees on other types of business (such as statutory
instruments or general debates).
4. Most members of the Committee favoured longer
sittings, though some concerns were expressed at the impact of
such sittings on backbench and opposition Members. In putting
the Leader's proposals before the House we therefore add the proviso
that Grand Committees should under no circumstances sit later
than the new proposed finishing times.
ORAL STATEMENTS IN GRAND COMMITTEE
5. Recommendation 9 of the Leader's Group was
9. We recommend that, on days when more than one
oral statement needs to be taken, the option should be available
to take the second and subsequent statements in the Moses Room.
Such statements would take precedence over other business scheduled
in the Moses Room.
6. The Leader of the House, while supporting
the recommendation, suggested that there would be practical difficulties
with allowing statements to take precedence over other business
scheduled in the Grand Committee. He accordingly proposed that
on days when more than one oral statement is to be made or repeated,
and a Grand Committee on primary legislation is due to sit, the
option should be available to take one of the statements in the
Grand Committee's dinner or tea break, subject to agreement in
the Usual Channels. We support the Leader's proposal.
COMMITTAL OF COMMONS BILLS TO GRAND COMMITTEE
7. Recommendation 20 of the Leader's Group was
20. We recommend that a rule be established, and
included in the Companion, that all Government bills introduced
in the Commons should be considered in Grand Committee, apart
from major constitutional bills and emergency legislation and
other exceptionally controversial bills. In the case of such bills,
the minister in charge of the bill should, when moving the committal
motion to Committee of the Whole House, make a brief statement
explaining to the House why the bill was deemed unsuitable for
8. The Leader of the House proposed that, instead
of a firm "rule" subject to certain defined exceptions,
there should simply be a "presumption" that Government
bills introduced in the Commons should be committed to a Grand
Committee, except where the Usual Channels agree otherwise. The
formal committal would take place, as now, on a motion, and this
motion would, as now, be debatable and amendable.
9. Opinions within the Committee differed on
whether the approach recommended by the Leader's Group or that
proposed by the Leader of the House was preferable. However, the
majority of the Committee endorsed the Leader's proposed wording,
which we put before the House accordingly.
10. We make the following recommendations
to the House:
- That for the duration of the 2012-13 session
of Parliament, Grand Committees on primary legislation should
rise no later than 10pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and
no later than 7pm on Thursdays;
- That these extended sitting times should include
provision for a one-hour dinner or tea break;
- That on days when more than one oral statement
is to be made or repeated, and a Grand Committee on primary legislation
is due to sit, the option should be available to take one of
the statements in the Grand Committee's dinner or tea break, subject
to agreement in the Usual Channels;
- That there should be a presumption that Government
bills introduced in the House of Commons should be committed to
a Grand Committee, except where the Usual Channels agree otherwise;
- That these arrangements be adopted on a trial
basis for the duration of the 2012-13 session of Parliament, before
being reviewed by this Committee.
11. Some members of the Committee dissented
from these recommendations. It is for the House as a whole to
decide whether or not to agree them.
Questions for Written Answer
12. The number of Questions for Written Answer
tabled in the House of Lords has risen steadily for a number of
years. In the 2003-04 session an average of 29 Questions for Written
Answer were tabled each sitting day. This figure rose to 48 each
day in 2009-10, and in the current session to date has risen to
an average of 60 each day.
13. The Treasury estimates the cost of Questions
for Written Answer at £159 per Question.
Thus the cost to the public purse of House of Lords Questions
for Written Answer in the current session has been of the order
of £9,500 in respect of each sitting day, or some £1.5
million per annum.
14. It has been a longstanding practice of the
House that Members are entitled to table up to six Questions for
Written Answer each sitting day. We believe that this is still
an appropriate maximum figure for any given day. However, six
is a maximum, not a target: if a small number of Members regularly
or continuously table Questions up to the maximum number permitted,
their actions can quickly impose a disproportionate burden upon
the Table Office, upon answering Departments, and upon the taxpayer.
This would not, in our view, be an appropriate use of the right
of Members to ask Questions of the Government.
15. We therefore recommend that, in addition
to the current daily limit of six Questions for Written Answer
each sitting day, Members should be entitled in future to table
a maximum of 12 Questions for Written Answer each sitting week.
16. If this recommendation is agreed by the House,
the new limit will apply to each calendar week in which the House
sits, regardless of how many sitting days fall within that week.
There will be no change to the limits that apply to "tabling
days" in the long recess.
1 Report of the Leader's Group on Working Practices
(HL Paper 136). Back
Written Statement, 27 April 2011 (WS 14). Back