PART 5: REPORTING ON AMENDMENTS|
113. During the past couple of sessions we have occasionally
reported on amendments when we had been asked to do so. But this
was an infrequent practice. In our first report of this session
we were pleased to record that our proposals in paragraphs 36
and 37 of our 29th Report of Session 1998-99, concerned with the
time-scale for the tabling of Government amendments to bills,
had been accepted by the Government. The attention of all Lords
Ministers' Private Secretaries had been drawn to those paragraphs
to help to ensure that those recommendations are implemented.
The Committee welcomed this prompt and positive response to our
recommendation and believed that this would be for the benefit
of the House.
114. However, at the start of the present session
the Procedure Committee decided that we should report on all Government
amendments containing important delegated legislative powers.
Although we were not invited to comment on this decision before
it was made, we saw it as our duty to try to comply with it, and
we reported on 27 sets of Government amendments this session.
This practice has, however, tested parliamentary Committee procedure
to its limits. More often than not amendments are tabled shortly
before they are due to be considered by the House. Even when they
are tabled a full week beforehand - a helpful commitment made
by the Government Chief Whip - this gives relatively little time
for members to consider the papers and to convene a Committee
115. Throughout the session we have been conscious
of the efforts made by the Government Chief Whip in impressing
on Departments the need to produce material promptly for the Committee.
But although this session the Committee has held more meetings
than in any previous session, the mass of paperwork associated
with amendments, and the unpredictability of the timing of its
arrival has meant that the Committee has struggled to keep up
with this new aspect of its work.
116. Two examples might serve to illustrate the pressures
under which the Committee has been working this session in its
consideration of Government amendments. The first concerns the
Financial Services and Markets Bill. We considered some
Government Amendments for the Committee stage of this bill at
our 10th meeting, on 15 March. The previous afternoon a memorandum
had been received from the Treasury on the amendments, some of
them not then published, for the bill, which began its Committee
stage on 16 March. At that time further amendments containing
delegated powers were likely to be tabled shortly. We considered
the amendments already tabled, with the benefit of a note from
our Legal Adviser, but because of the lack of advance documentation
this had to be circulated, with the Treasury's memorandum, at
the Committee's meeting.
117. In the event we agreed that the amendments contained
nothing which we wished to draw to the attention of the House
at Committee stage. But we also reported that we had inevitably
considered the amendments in haste, which was undesirable, and
that the increasing speed with which the Committee was being asked
to work inevitably put pressure both on the Committee itself and
on its limited resources, and might on occasion mean that the
Committee's report on amendments was published after the House
had considered the amendments.
118. The question also arose during the session whether
when the timescale is particularly tight the Chairman alone should
provide a view as to the acceptability or otherwise of the delegated
powers contained in amendments. This arose, for example, on 14
March in the case of the Government Amendments for the Committee
stage of the Electronic Communications Bill. On that occasion
the Chairman received a letter from the Minister concerning amendments
to be taken in Grand Committee that afternoon.
The Chairman and the Legal Adviser studied the amendments and
agreed that they contained nothing which they would have wished
to draw to the Committee's attention, and this was then communicated
by letter to the Minister.
119. The Chairman, whose view was subsequently endorsed
by the Committee, was uneasy about this practice, on two grounds.
First, the Committee's views have always been those of the Committee
as a whole, and all members of the Committee contribute to its
reports. Second, there is a danger of the Committee being required
to work at an ever faster pace, and without sitting in permanent
session it is impossible to guarantee that it will always be able
to deliver what the House now asks of it.
92 HL Paper 7. Back
See Annex 2 to the present report. Back
10th report 1999-2000, HL Paper 47. Back
This happened to be the day before the Committee was next due
to meet. Back
Indeed, within the past week the Committee was informed of two
sets of Government amendments - for the Third Reading of the Political
Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill and Consideration of Commons
Amendments to the Lords Amendments to the Transport Bill respectively
- with inadequate notice for the Committee to meet to consider
the Chairman's draft report on what were matters of considerable
controversy. We therefore decided, because of the inadequate timescale,
not to publish a report on these amendments. Back