FIRST REPORT FROM THE SELECT COMMITTEE
ON PROCEDURE OF THE HOUSE
MONDAY 1 MARCH 1999
1. REPORT OF
At its last meeting the Procedure Committee
agreed to a recommendation by the Leader of the House that a Working
Group should be established "to consider how the procedures
of the House can be improved within the existing framework of
self-regulation; and to make proposals for ensuring that Lords
are better informed of procedure so that self-regulation can work".
The Committee has considered the Group's report
and recommends the House to accept the following proposals for
change in the House's present procedures:
A second topical question each week should be
created by reserving the fourth question on Wednesdays, for tabling
no earlier than the previous Monday. The second topical question
should be subject to the same rules as the existing topical question,
in particular the rule that no Lord may ask more than two topical
questions in one session.
Lords should be limited to one Starred Question
(instead of the present two) on the order paper at any one time,
unless they are successful in the ballot for topical questions.
The Committee endorses the following additional
guidance recommended by the Working Group:
(a) Ministers' answers should be shorter.
Their initial answer should not generally exceed 75 words. Supplementary
questions and answers should also be shorter and confined to not
more than two points.
(b) The problem of how supplementary questions
should circulate around the different parts of the House cannot
be resolved by a rigid rule. The Government side should not expect
to have every alternate supplementary. In giving guidance, the
Leader should be mindful of the interests of all backbenchers,
including the Liberal Democrats and the Crossbenchers.
(c) If two or more Lords rise at once, they
should be more ready to give way immediately, rather than provoke
a shouting-match, which is undignified and wastes time. If the
Leader rises, other Lords should sit down at once.
The Committee reminds the House that the Lord
who tabled the question has no automatic right to ask a final
Business immediately after Starred Questions
The Committee is concerned at how much noise
is created when Lords leave the Chamber after Starred Questions.
Lords should do so silently; those remaining in the Chamber should
avoid conversations at this point. It is in order for the Lord
moving the next business to pause for a short period until the
House is quiet again. The Clerk should not start the clock until
he begins to speak.
Drafting of amendments
In appropriate cases amendments should take
the form: Page x, line y, leave out paragraph (b), and not: Page
x, leave out lines 1 to 3.
Grouping of amendments
For an experimental period until the summer
recess, government departments should produce draft groupings
of amendments for consultation by 2.30pm on the working day before
debate (rather than at lunchtime on the day, as at present). To
enable departments to do this, marshalled lists of amendments
should be published on the working day before the debate (rather
than on the day of debate, as is normal at present). Lords should
be encouraged to facilitate this by tabling amendments no later
than 5pm two days before the debate, whenever possible. Amendments
handed in later than this will be published in a revised marshalled
list or in supplementary list. The experiment should be confined
to committee stage.
Tabling of amendments
Outside recesses, the deadline for handing in
amendments for printing the next day should be 5pm (4pm on Fridays)
instead of 6.30pm (5.30pm for a marshalled list, 4pm on Fridays)
as at present. During recesses the deadlines will remain unchanged
(10am to 5pm).
An amendment identical (or of identical effect)
to one pushed to a vote by the mover and defeated in committee
should not be retabled for report stage. The amendment should
be changed more than cosmetically if it is to be retabled. However,
it would not be desirable to restrict the reopening at report
stage of an issue debated and voted on in committee.
An amendment agreed to on division in committee
should not be reversed at report stage except with the unanimous
agreement of the House.
The time for divisions should be extended from
six to eight minutes; the time for appointing Tellers would in
consequence be extended from three to four minutes.
"Bill do now pass"
The motion "That this bill do now pass"
should be moved formally and should not normally be debated. Ministers
should if necessary respond to points raised on the motion by
other Lords. The motion should not be an occasion for thanking
those involved in the passage of the bill.
The Committee does not accept that the number
of statements repeated in this House is unreasonable. They are
important policy announcements. While there will be exceptions,
the time for the two Opposition front benches and the reply to
them should be limited to 20 minutes, as for the backbenches.
Backbenchers too should exercise restraint, restricting themselves
to brief comments and questions rather than speeches, so as to
allow more Lords to intervene within the 20 minutes available.
The time when a statement is to be taken (for
example, "after amendment 20" or "after the first
debate"), once agreed between the whips, should be put on
the annunciator. A Lord who was not present to hear a statement
should not speak on it. The practice of noting unrepeated statements
on the cover of Hansard should be revived.
The Committee endorses the following reminders
of the courtesies of the House:
(a) Lords should bow to the Cloth of Estate
on entering the Chamber, though not on leaving.
Lords should also bow when the Mace passes.
(b) A Lord who is taking part in a debate
is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered
discourteous for him not to be present for the opening speeches,
for at least the speech before and that following his own, and
for the winding-up speeches. Ministers cannot be expected to answer,
orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay
to hear the Minister's closing speech. A Lord who becomes aware
in advance that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end
of a debate should normally remove his name from the list of speakers.
(c) Reading of speeches is alien to the custom
of the House. In practice, some speakers may wish to have "extended
notes" from which to speak, but it is not in the interests
of good debate that they should follow them too closely
(d) Lords should never address one another
in debate as "you".
(e) Lords should refer to "the noble
Lord, the Minister", or simply "the Minister",
but not "the noble Minister".
(f) The Lord who follows a maiden speaker
(and only that Lord) should congratulate him on behalf
of the whole House. Other Lords should not leave the Chamber while
this takes place.
(g) Lords should not pass between the Lord
who is speaking and the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair.
(h) Lords should not move about the Chamber
while a Question is being put from the Woolsack or the Chair.
This does not apply when the Lord Chancellor is speaking as a
Minister from beside the Woolsack.
(i) Lords should not bring books or newspapers
into the Chamber, except for reference in debate.
The Committee reminds the House that private
conversations in the Chamber are not desirable.
The Committee agreed that the Working Group's
proposals for training (paragraphs 71-78) should be considered
further. The Clerk of the Parliaments informed the Committee that
he proposed to begin a revision of the Companion to the Standing
Orders for issue by the beginning of the next session.
The Committee expressed its gratitude to Lady
Hilton of Eggardon and the members of the Working Group for their
work on procedure in the Chamber.
2. THE GENERAL
The Committee considered a proposal from the
Government Chief Whip that, as an experiment from the return of
the House after the Easter recess, the general debate day should
be moved from Wednesdays to Thursdays. The experiment would last
until such time as government business filled the debate day,
probably mid-June 1999. The Committee noted that there was strong
opposition to the proposal. If such a change were to be made on
an experimental basis, the Committee recommends that the House
should meet at 3 pm on Wednesdays and 2.30 pm on Thursdays.
However, in the absence of agreement on the Chief Whip's proposal,
the Committee makes no recommendation on the proposal or on sitting
times. The issue should be left to the House to decide.