Memorandum submitted by Mrs Angela Browning
MP and Mr Richard Shepherd MP
The Majority Report reflects the opinion of the Modernisation
Select Committee that the Sessional Order of 7 November 2000 is
As a general observation it has not secured the proper
consideration of bills and it now ensures, because of the principled
opposition of the Opposition, that the House consistently rises
later than it has hitherto in this Parliament.
As many feared, the Sessional Order has increased
the power of the Executive over the timetable of bills in Standing
Committee and denied the House the ability to cover shortfalls
Every bill this session has been guillotined. Few
enquiries if any are made of the Official Opposition or opposition
parties as to what time may be necessary to properly discharge
the duty of scrutiny. This may perhaps best be illustrated by
reference to the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. The out time
from Standing Committee, which had been set immediately after
Second Reading and without any reference to the weight of issues
raised at Second Reading, simply proved inadequate. When the guillotine
fell at 7 pm in Standing Committee the Committee had only reached
Clause 90 out of 132. There were amendments yet to be considered,
including Government amendments. Those experienced members who
chaired the Committee were clear that there had been no filibustering.
The whole of Part III, from Clause 49 to Clause 69, had also not
been considered. The Guillotine arrangements for Report Stage
were also so tight that clauses and amendments which had not been
considered in Standing Committee were not considered at Report.
As Mr Simon Hughes said on the floor of the House:
'Debate on the early parts
of the Bill was often guillotined and we did not fully consider
the rest, so it is true to say that we had not properly considered
many measures, including significant clauses.' (Hansard col 750)
As the House knows, the Government tabled a Motion
'the Bill shall be deemed
to have been reported to the House, as amended by the Committee
and as if those Clauses and Schedules the consideration of which
has not been completed by the Committee has been ordered to stand
part of the Bill with the outstanding Amendments which stood on
the Order Paper in the name of Mr Charles Clarke.'
The Speaker advised the House that there is no
precedent for such a Motion (Hansard col 728).
The Shadow Leader of the House said at col 738:
'If we are to accept tonight
that a Committee and all its outstanding business, which I shall
mention in a moment, are deemed to have been considered and concluded,
why do we not deem Second Reading debates to have been completed?
Why do we not deem Report stages to have been completed? Why do
we not deem ourselves to be elsewhere, and allow some robots to
sit on these Benches and legislate on behalf of the people of
We do not believe that it is in the interest of the
House and of its standing among those whom we are elected by to
pass a motion that is an untruth. Nor is it proper to consign
to the Lords an unconsidered bill.
The Select Committee in writing its Report would
permit no analysis of what has actually happened to consideration
of bills under the Sessional Order of 7 November 2000. We believe
this would have been a helpful exercise to the Select Committee
and the House in assessing whether the Sessional Order has achieved
the aim of properly scrutinising bills.
Of the 'beliefs' expressed in the Select Committee
Majority Report, in paragraph 7:
'We believe that if these procedural approaches are
supported by all we will have improved the legislative 'terms
of trade' to the benefit of everyone: et seq.'
We reject the view that it improves the 'terms of
trade' for everyone. It is clearly to the disadvantage of the
Official Opposition, to the expressed disadvantage of backbenchers
and minorities and to the balance between the majority and the
minority within the House. It has strengthened the Government's
control over procedures with no discernible concession to the
Opposition. It is true that the Government will get greater certainty
for this legislative timetable. The proposition that Opposition
parties and backbenchers will get greater opportunities to debate
and vote on the issues of most concern to them simply has not
been borne out by experience in this Session of the experiment
of systematic guillotining of all bills. Similarly the evidence
of this Session is that the House has not scrutinised legislation
better and we would refer back to the Government Motion of 12
March, to which we have previously made reference, as indicative
of this failure.
In April 1985 the Select Committee on Procedure published
a report (HC 49 1984-85) recommending that timetables should be
set up at the start of Standing Committee debates on all controversial
bills. This report was debated on 27 February 1986, but rejected
by the House by a majority of 65. John Biffen (the then Leader
of the House) maintained that on balance Governments would be
advantaged by the Procedure Committee's proposals and stressed,
'Every Government is tomorrow's possible Opposition'.
The efficient working of the House is dependent on
a degree of tolerance and forbearance by the majority towards
Opposition and minority opinion. The present Sessional Order,
brought in contrary to the expressed principled opposition of
the Opposition and minorities, has denied the House its central
role of properly examining Government legislation. We are concerned
that if the majority does not permit proper scrutiny of its bills
the relevance of Parliament to the citizen will continue to decline.
We regret that in seeking to amend the procedures
of the Programming of Bills, the Modernisation Committee has not
taken evidence from Members of Parliament, the Clerk of the House,
nor apparently consulted the Speaker with regard to Speaker's
Rulings that relate to these procedures. Neither has there been
any structured analysis of the obvious defects in the proceedings
set out in the Sessional Order made by the House on 7 November
2000, relating to Programming.