Report of the Leader's Group on Working Practices - Leader's Group on Working Practices Contents


Chapter 6: List of Recommendations

Oral questions

1.  We recommend that consideration be given to conferring upon the Lord Speaker the role currently performed during question time by the Leader of the House, for a one-year trial period in the first instance, beginning no sooner than 5 September 2011. In the event of the Lord Speaker's unavoidable absence from the House, we recommend that the same task be performed by the Chairman of Committees. [Paragraph 38]

2.  We recommend that the procedure adopted in early 2010, whereby Secretaries of State sitting in the Lords should answer three oral questions, on one Thursday each month, directed to them in their ministerial capacity, should be made permanent, with a view to its revival as appropriate. [Paragraph 41]

3.  We further recommend that there should be a monthly question time dedicated to questions on House of Lords matters addressed to the Leader of the House. [Paragraph 42]

Private notice questions

4.  We recommend that the Lord Speaker interpret the criteria for allowing Private Notice Questions more liberally. We believe that the presumption should be that if an issue is an urgent matter of national importance, the application should be granted. [Paragraph 45]

Saving time

5.  We recommend that instead of Members seeking leave to ask the questions "standing in their name on the Order Paper", Members should read out the text of the question, using the formula "My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government ...." To ensure that this does not take up too much time, we further recommend a mandatory limit of 40 words for oral questions (excluding the introductory formula given above). [Paragraph 48]

6.  To ensure best use of question time, we re-affirm the existing guidance in the Companion on the conduct of question time, while recommending that it be supplemented by the following guidance, based on that already found in the Guide to the Code of Conduct:

  • Members should not take up the time of the House making trivial declarations of non-financial and non-registrable interests. [Paragraph 49]

7.  Finally, we recommend the addition of the following new guidance:

  • Questioners should not thank the Government for its answers, nor ministers thank questioners for their questions. [Paragraph 50]

Statements

8.  We recommend that the usual channels should, in deciding whether to repeat a statement in the Lords, also consider whether it would be a good use of the House's time for the statement to be read out. In exceptional cases (for instance a long statement, which has been publicly available for some hours) it may be appropriate for the text of the statement to be reproduced in the Official Report without being read out; the remaining oral exchanges would take place in the Chamber as at present. [Paragraph 57]

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. [Paragraph 59]

10.  We recommend that the guidance on backbench contributions on oral statements be clarified, by removing the reference to "brief comments". To avoid speech-making, and with a view to increasing the number of Members who can intervene on statements, we recommend that backbench contributions should be limited to questions to the minister. [Paragraph 62]

11.  We support the practice of increasing the time available for backbench questions to 30 or 40 minutes in exceptional circumstances. [Paragraph 63]

12.  We recommend that consideration be given to conferring upon the Lord Speaker the role currently performed during oral statements by the Leader of the House or the Government front bench, for a one-year trial period in the first instance, beginning no sooner than 5 September 2011. In the event of the Lord Speaker's unavoidable absence from the House, this task would be performed by the Chairman of Committees or by another Deputy Speaker. [Paragraph 64]

Who speaks for the executive?

13.  We recommend that renewed consideration be given, possibly by the Procedure Committees of the two Houses, to the means whereby ministers sitting in either House may be enabled to make statements to and answer questions in the other House. [Paragraph 69]

Pre-legislative scrutiny

14.  We recommend that there should be a presumption that all bills embodying important changes of policy (particularly constitutional bills) should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. Where such bills have not previously been the subject of wide consultation, by means of green and white papers, this presumption should be a requirement. If the Government does not publish a bill in draft, it should formally explain and justify its approach to the House. [Paragraph 84]

15.  We recommend that the Leader of the House, along with the Leader of the House of Commons, explore ways in which the process for reaching decisions on pre-legislative scrutiny can be improved, so as to make best use of the knowledge and experience of Members of the House of Lords. [Paragraph 85]

Legislative standards

16.  We recommend the establishment of a Legislative Standards Committee, either as a Joint Committee or as a Select Committee of the House of Lords, to assess, immediately after introduction and before second reading, the technical and procedural compliance of Government bills with standards of best practice in bill preparation, on which we have made proposals in paragraph 94 of this Report. We recommend that the Committee be appointed for the remainder of the current Parliament in the first instance, and that its effectiveness be reviewed towards the end of the Parliament. [Paragraph 97]

17.  We recommend that the Legislative Standards Committee should report on all Government bills before second reading. If the Committee were set up as a Lords-only Committee, it would report only on bills introduced in this House. If the Committee reported that a bill was not compliant without good reason, it would be for the House to decide whether or not to grant a second reading. [Paragraph 98]

Taking evidence on Lords bills

18.  We recommend that the Legislative Standards Committee be tasked with advising the House, in respect of each Government bill introduced in the Lords, whether an evidence-taking stage is required, and, if so, whether it should be in the form of a one-day hearing with the Government or committal to a Public Bill Committee. We suggest that the last option should be used only on those occasions where consultation has been inadequate, or major elements of policy have not been fully explained. [Paragraph 109]

19.  We have used the term "Public Bill Committee" to describe a 14-day evidence-taking procedure, as this term is familiar both in the Commons and beyond Parliament. We recommend that, with a view to simplifying the House's procedures, the existing, obsolete Public Bill Committee procedure be abolished and replaced by the procedure outlined above. The Special Public Bill Committee procedure would continue to be used for consideration of Law Commission bills. [Paragraph 110]

Grand Committee

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 Grand Committee. [Paragraph 122]

21.  We recommend also that all private Members' bills be committed to Grand Committee. At the same time, the rule that only one bill per day may be considered in Grand Committee should be lifted, allowing private Members' bills to be scheduled after other business, which might include Government bills. If no amendments were tabled by the deadline of 5pm the previous day, it would be open to the Member in charge of the bill to move a motion in the Chamber to discharge the order of commitment. [Paragraph 123]

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 6.30pm. [Paragraph 124]

Clauses not considered by the Commons

23.  We recommend that, in cases where clauses or parts of a Government bill are not debated in the Commons, the Government should submit a memorandum to the Legislative Standards Committee, flagging up which clauses have been affected. The Legislative Standards Committee should review the Government's memorandum, and report its findings to the House in order to assist Members in subsequent scrutiny of the bill. [Paragraph 128]

Speaking times

24.  We recommend that the guidance in Chapter 4 of the Companion on speaking limits should be repeated in Chapter 8, and thereby extended unambiguously to proceedings on legislation. [Paragraph 132]

25.  We further recommend, as the Chamber clocks are currently used to time debates on amendments rather than individual speeches, that consideration be given to improving the number and visibility of annunciator screens in the Chamber, so that Members can more easily keep track of the length of individual contributions. [Paragraph 133]

Post-legislative scrutiny

26.  We recommend that the House of Lords appoint a Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, to manage the process of reviewing up to four selected Acts of Parliament each year. [Paragraph 141]

Delegated legislation

27.  We recommend that the House should adopt a resolution asserting its freedom to vote on delegated legislation, and affirming its intention to use such votes to delay, rather than finally to defeat, such legislation. Such a resolution would establish the House's role as a revising chamber in respect of delegated as well as primary legislation. [Paragraph 155]

28.  We recommend that the resolution should contain the following elements:

  • That the House asserts its freedom to decline to approve any draft affirmative instrument, or to pass a prayer to annul any negative instrument, laid before it by the Government;
  • That the purpose of the House's use of this power is to enable the Government of the day to reconsider the policy set out in the instrument;
  • That in the event that the House has declined to approve an affirmative instrument, and the Government has laid a substantially similar draft instrument, and this instrument has been approved by the House of Commons, the House will agree to the approval motion without amendment;
  • That in the event that the House has passed a prayer to annul a negative instrument, and the Government has laid a substantially similar instrument, the House will not vote on a prayer to annul the second instrument. [Paragraph 156]

The tabling and scheduling of debates

29.  We recommend the establishment of a House of Lords Backbench Business Committee. We recommend that the committee be charged with selecting specific types of backbench business, which are set out in detail below. [Paragraph 178]

30.  We recommend that the Committee be made up of 12 Members, all sitting on the backbenches. It would be for the parties and the Crossbenchers to determine the mode of appointment, though we see merit in parties and groups electing representatives, as they have done to the House Committee. Membership should be subject to regular rotation (or re-election). [Paragraph 179]

31.  We believe that the Committee will strengthen self-regulation, by bringing greater transparency and accountability to the process whereby backbench business is scheduled. The aim of the Committee would be to take account of the views of all Members, as well as the concerns of the public, in selecting topical or important subjects for debate. In so doing, it would consider applications from any Member or Members of the House, and might invite those Members to present their applications in person. [Paragraph 180]

32.  In particular, we recommend that the Backbench Business Committee should, initially, be tasked with selecting:

  • Subjects for debate on those Thursdays (from autumn 2011, one each calendar month up until the end of January in any given session) currently set aside for balloted debates.
  • A one hour topical Question for Short Debate each week. We suggest that the Committee should select the Question for Short Debate on Thursday, from a list of suggestions submitted to the Committee by Members in the course of that week. The question would be asked the following Tuesday or Wednesday.
  • Questions for Short Debate to be taken in Grand Committee on a predictable day set aside for such debates (for instance, the first Monday each month). [Paragraph 181]

33.  We recommend that Members be limited to one Question for Short Debate in House of Lords Business at any one time. We further recommend that each Question for Short Debate should indicate the date on which it was tabled; after six months it should be removed from the list. [Paragraph 184]

34.  We recommend that, in allocating those Questions for Short Debate for which it is responsible, the Backbench Business Committee should give priority to Members who have not previously asked a Question for Short Debate in the current session. [Paragraph 185]

35.  We recommend that a ballot, on the day of State Opening, should be conducted to determine the order of priority of those Questions for Short Debate tabled at the start of the session. [Paragraph 186]

Neutral wording

36.  We endorse the principle that motions for debate should normally be worded neutrally. However, we note that substantive motions for resolution, incorporating statements of opinion, are already admissible, and therefore recommend that, in selecting topics for debate, the Backbench Business Committee should also consider proposals for such motions, whose purpose would be to allow the House to express an opinion on important issues of the day. [Paragraph 192]

37.  We suggest that during the trial period short debates on motions for resolution, held either in the dinner break or at the end of business on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays, might be appropriate. It would be for the Committee, in discussion with the usual channels, to consider this matter further. [Paragraph 193]

Time-limits and speakers' lists

38.  We recommend that the guidance in the Companion on the wording of Questions for Short Debate should be clarified as follows: "Questions for short debate last for a maximum of 1½ hours and should therefore be limited in scope." [Paragraph 200]

Simple language

39.  We recommend that the next edition of the Companion incorporate guidance confirming that the House of Commons may be referred to by name rather than as "the other place". [Paragraph 207]

40.  We recommend that the current convention on appellations be discontinued. Instead, we recommend that Members should refer to other Members by title ("Baroness xxx", "Lord xxx", "the Bishop of xxx"); where Members do not know or choose not to use the title, they should refer simply to "the noble Lord", "the noble Baroness", "the right reverend Bishop" or "the minister". Members of the same party or group could still be referred to as "my noble friend". [Paragraph 208]

41.  We recommend that the practice of debating "motions for papers" be discontinued, and that in future all general debates not inviting the House to reach a positive decision take place on "take note" motions. [Paragraph 209]

Measuring influence

42.  We recommend that, instead of ministers offering to write to participants in debate and to place copies of such letters in the Library of the House, there should be an obligation on ministers to publish written responses to all substantial points raised in House of Lords debates (and not answered orally) in Hansard, as Written Ministerial Statements. Such responses should be signed by the minister who replied to the debate. [Paragraph 213]

Public initiation of debate: petitions

43.  We recommend the abolition of the procedure for public petitions to the House of Lords, which is archaic and has fallen into disuse. We consider that in the longer term it may be desirable to introduce a more effective procedure for public initiation of business in the House of Lords, but, in view of recent developments in the Commons, we make no recommendation in that regard. [Paragraph 220]

44.  In the interim, we recommend that evidence of support from outside bodies, such as non-governmental organisations and the voluntary sector, be adopted by the Backbench Business Committee as one of its criteria in selecting subjects for debate in the House. [Paragraph 221]

Committees

45.  We recommend that the House establish two additional sessional select committees, with the intention of enhancing its capacity to scrutinise Government policy. In determining the remit of these committees, we recommend that particular regard be paid to the need for Lords committees to:

  • Make best use of the knowledge and experience of Members of the House;
  • Complement the work of Commons departmental select committees;
  • Address areas of policy that cross departmental boundaries. [Paragraph 236]

46.  We recommend that in future the work of all investigative select committees of the House should be subject to regular and systematic review, and that, following the appointment of the two additional committees recommended above, any further sessional committees should only be appointed to replace existing committees, without creating extra demands on resources. [Paragraph 237]

Committee chairmen: mode of appointment

47.  We recommend that House of Lords select committees be charged with electing their own chairmen. Chairmen of sessional select committees would be elected for three sessions, unless before completion of that term they either resigned or the Committee passed a formal vote of no confidence. [Paragraph 240]

Chairman of Committees and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees

48.  We recommend that the Chairman of Committees and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees should in future be elected by secret ballot of the whole House. The detailed rules governing such elections should be embodied in Standing Orders. [Paragraph 248]

Debates on committee reports

49.  We welcome the willingness of committees to hold debates on committee reports in the Moses Room, and recommend that, in order to assist in planning timely debates, one day a month in Grand Committee be set aside for such debates. [Paragraph 254]

50.  We recommend that, in order to promote wider Member interest in select committee work, the scheduled publication of committee reports be listed on the Order Paper, and that, for a trial period, up to five minutes after the end of oral questions should be made available for committee chairmen to draw Members' attention to newly published reports. [Paragraph 255]

Business management and self-regulation

51.  We reaffirm the longstanding convention that the House should consider Government business in "reasonable time". This convention creates obligations for all. The Government should allow the House a "reasonable" time to consider any bill—that is to say, an amount of time proportionate to the complexity and importance of the bill, so that the House can scrutinise it thoroughly. In so doing they should respect the minimum intervals between stages of legislation, In exchange the House, in particular the main opposition parties, should respect the convention that the Government is entitled to have its business considered in reasonable time. [Paragraph 272]

52.  We urge the Leader of the House to consider ways in which the work of the usual channels could be made more accessible to the House as a whole. There should be a more clearly defined role for the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, and also a role for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. [Paragraph 273]

53.  We recommend that the usual channels communicate information on business scheduling more widely. They could do so, for instance, by indicating in Forthcoming Business the number of days (possibly within a range discussed by the usual channels) anticipated for stages of Government bills. Such indications would not be binding, but would assist the House in judging what, in the context of each bill, constituted "reasonable time". [Paragraph 274]

54.  We remind all Members of the "firm convention" that the House should normally rise by around 10pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; target rising times should reflect this convention. Whenever there is a reasonable expectation that the House will sit significantly later, we recommend that the Government Chief Whip should make a business statement, explaining the reason for the late sitting, after oral questions. [Paragraph 275]

55.  We recommend also that the House should in future sit at 2pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so allowing up to an additional two hours sitting time each week. [Paragraph 276]


 
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