51. Statements share some of the features of
Starred Questions. They are frequently taken before a full House;
and they are subject to a time limit (20 minutes after the front-bench
but there is no list of speakers. Therefore, like Question Time,
Statements put self-regulation under strain. As at Question Time,
there is no "Question" before the House, so there cannot
be debate; it is worth emphasizing that only "brief comments
and questions for clarification" are allowed (Companion
52. Unlike Questions, Statements are primarily
front-bench events, serving the constitutional function of enabling
Ministers to give important news first to the Parliament to which
they are accountable; and they can be highly disruptive to the
scheduled business of the House. Most Statements, of course, originate
in the Commons; according to the Companion the decision
whether to have a Commons Statement repeated is for the Leader
of the House,
but by current practice it is up to the Official Opposition. The
Opposition spokesmen usually receive the text of each Statement
in advance, to enable them to prepare their remarks; back-benchers
usually do not. It is therefore reasonable that the front benches
have the lion's share of the time. In dealing with Statements,
the front benches must nonetheless bear back-benchers in mind:
both those who wish to raise questions on the Statement, and those
waiting to take part in other business which the Statement interrupts
53. It has been put to us from several quarters
that fewer Statements should be taken, and that both front- and
back-bench interventions should be shorter. Some Lords favour
time-limiting the front benches; some even wonder whether Commons
Statements should be repeated at all.
54. The nature and scale of the problem can
be seen by looking at the 20 Statements (all repeats) between
the summer and Christmas recesses in 1998.
The following points emerge:
(a) 20 Statements were repeated out of a
possible 28, i.e. 71 per cent of Commons Statements were repeated.
Of the 8 not repeated, 3 were answers to Commons Private Notice
Questions, and 3 were the second Statement of 2 on the same day.
(b) On average, Lords proceedings on the
lasted a total of 52 minutes. Commons proceedings, to which no
formal time limits apply, lasted on average just 5 minutes longer.
On 5 occasions, this House took longer than the Commons.
(c) On average, front-bench exchanges took
22 minutes. On 4 occasions they took 30 minutes or more; and on
2 occasions the length of front-bench comments drew protests from
the back benches.
(d) The average number of back-benchers to
speak within the 20 minutes allowed was 6; the total was never
more than 10. In the Commons, the average was 18, the total never
fewer than 10. On 2 occasions the duty Whip rebuked a back-bencher
for going on too long.
These figures only confirm what active members of
the House already know.
55. We do not recommend any formal rule changes;
we believe that the House's existing conventions on Statements
are satisfactory, provided that all Lords respect them. However,
in our view, the Opposition should be more selective in asking
for Statements to be repeated.
Seventy-one per cent seems to be too high a figure.
56. Secondly, the front benches should be brief,
and should restrict themselves to "brief comments and questions
for clarification" as the Companion says. In 1995,
the House agreed that "the time for front-bench questions
and comments and the Minister's reply should not normally be longer
than the period for back-benchers", i.e. 20 minutes.
This decision is not reflected even in the up-to-date Companion
accessible via the PDVN,
and appears to have been forgotten; we recommend that it be reaffirmed
57. Back-benchers 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. In this respect Lords could learn from the
example of the House of Commons.
58. We also recommend that:
(a) The time when a Statement is to be taken
(e.g. "after amendment 20" or "after the first
debate"), once agreed between the Whips, should be put on
(b) A Lord who was not present to hear a
Statement should not speak on it.
(c) The practice of noting unrepeated Statements
on the cover of Hansard should be revived.
21 A 20-minute limit was introduced for discussion
of repeated Statements in 1988, and extended to Lords Statements
in 1989. The front-bench exchanges were excluded from the time
limit in 1990. Back
22 "Ministerial statements made in the Commons are repeated
in the Lords, when, in the opinion of the Leader of the House
following discussion through the usual channels, they are on a
matter of national importance" (Companion p. 81). Back
23 Excluding the Statement on Iraq on 16 December, which was made
the occasion of a short debate, by agreement among the usual channels. Back
24 Including the Statement itself. Back
25 This is not a novel recommendation. In their 1st Report 1987-88,
the Procedure Committee recommended "that the criterion for
oral repetition of a Statement should be strictly interpreted,
so that the number of Statements taken orally is substantially
reduced." In 1985-86, 74 per cent of Commons Statements and
answers to Private Notice Questions were repeated in the Lords. Back
26 Procedure Committee 1st Report 1994-95, agreed to on 10 January
27 Parliamentary Data and Video Network. Back
28 This is the practice in the Commons: see Erskine May p.
29 This practice was introduced in 1988, but has lapsed. It is up
to the Government Whips Office to notify the Editor of Debates
when a Commons Statement is not to be repeated. Back