First Report from the Select Committee
on Procedure of the House
TUESDAY 1 FEBRUARY 2000
Parliament is included in the list of public
bodies covered by the Freedom of Information Bill. The Bill would
enable the authorised officer of each House to refuse to disclose
information either on the ground of parliamentary privilege or
prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. In the House
of Lords the authorised officer is the Clerk of the Parliaments.
In the case of other public bodies, the Bill provides that a dissatisfied
applicant for information can appeal to the Information Commissioner.
But there will be no such appeal in the case of Parliament. In
the interests of equity the Committee recommends that the House
should have a mechanism to consider whether a refusal by the Clerk
of the Parliaments to disclose information is reasonable.
The Committee recommends that in cases where
the Clerk of the Parliaments is minded to refuse to disclose information
on the ground of parliamentary privilege or prejudice to the effective
conduct of public affairs, he should ask applicants whether they
accept his decision or whether they wish him to reconsider. If
he is asked to reconsider, he should refer the matter to a panel
of members of the House for advice. The panel should consist of
5 persons, chaired by a Lord of Appeal or a retired Lord of Appeal.
The other members should include a representative from each of
the parties and the Crossbenches. The panel should have the assistance
of the Information Commissioner.
The Committee considered how major new amendments
tabled at report stage could be scrutinised properly, given the
restrictions on debate at that stage. The Committee reminds the
House that whole bills or certain clauses or schedules may be
recommitted to a Committee of the whole House at any time between
committee and third reading. Recommitment allows the House to
give further detailed consideration to a bill or certain parts
of it without the limitations that apply on report and at third
reading. In addition the Committee recommends that, in order to
improve the scrutiny of legislation, the House should whenever
possible have the benefit of a further report from the Delegated
Powers and Deregulation Committee, if appropriate, on any significant
amendments containing delegated powers tabled to a bill after
the committee's initial report.
The Committee agreed that the Clerk of the Parliaments
should inform the House at the beginning of Question Time when
he knows that a Starred Question on the Order Paper is not to
The Committee was informed that a comprehensive
revision of the Companion to the Standing Orders was being undertaken.
The Committee recommends that for the convenience of members the
new edition should be in two volumes. Volume 1 should be an essential
practical guide to conduct and procedure in the Chamber; volume
2 would contain more technical information. Both volumes would
carry the same authority. The Committee will appoint a small sub-committee
to undertake detailed examination of the revised text.