Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report

Conclusions and recommendations

The role of the Member

1.  We recommend that the House authorities identify ways of publicising the work of the Chamber. (Paragraph 17)

Learning the ropes

2.  The political parties and the House authorities should work together to ensure that the needs of new Members are identified and addressed by any induction programme. (Paragraph 30)

3.  An approach that seeks to manage how information is routinely given to new Members seems to be a sensible way forward. (Paragraph 32)

4.  Members must be involved in delivering part of the induction, either on a party basis or supporting what is delivered corporately. We believe that Members should also be involved in determining the content of the programme and that staff planning the induction process should test out their ideas with Members. The whips' offices and executives of political parties should take steps to facilitate this. (Paragraph 33)

5.  The practical difficulties faced by new Members must be addressed in order to ensure that improvements to the induction process have the greatest chance of success. We acknowledge the important work that the Administration Committee is doing in this regard and welcome both their Report on post election services and the response to it. (Paragraph 34)

6.  The House authorities should provide an overall framework for the induction programme within which the parties have dedicated time. The parties and the House authorities should work together in planning the next induction programme. (Paragraph 35)

Using the gap between the election and the Queen's speech

7.  There should be a longer gap than usually occurred in the past between the election and the day the House first meets to permit some of the practicalities that prevent Members from focusing on their new job to be addressed and to make time for an induction programme before the House starts its work. We recommend that the gap should be about twelve days. (Paragraph 39)

Making induction relevant to the business

8.  More effort should be made to ensure that, beyond the initial induction programme, briefings are timed so that they mirror the business of the House as far as possible. (Paragraph 40)

9.  Once the initial new Members' briefings have been completed consideration should be given to opening up some briefings to Members' staff and others, such as those in political offices or staff of the House. (Paragraph 40)

Supporting Continuous Development

10.  We recommend that the House authorities make continuous development opportunities available to all those who want them. (Paragraph 42)

11.  We recommend that the parliamentary parties review the arrangements they put in place for mentoring the new in-take in 2005 with a view to planning an improved process after the next election. (Paragraph 43)

12.  We recommend that the House authorities and parties work together to decide what sort of extra development activities might be useful and how they might best be resourced and provided. (Paragraph 45)

Information and advice for Members

13.  We encourage all Members to ask for advice (Paragraph 46)

14.  We believe that the current short guide to procedure should be expanded. (Paragraph 46)

In the Chamber

Topical Questions

15.  We recommend that oral Question Time should be divided into two periods: an initial period for oral questions under the current arrangements followed by a period of 'open' questions. (Paragraph 53)

Topical Debates

16.  The topicality of debates in the Chamber should be improved. We believe that the House will attract greater attention from Members, the public and the media if it finds a means of debating topical issues. (Paragraph 57)

17.  We recommend that provision should be made in Standing Orders for topical debates on issues of regional, national or international importance to be held on one day each week. Topical debates would last for an hour and a half and be taken immediately after questions and statements but before the main business of the day. (Paragraph 59)

Business Questions

18.  We believe there is a case for formalising business questions in Standing Orders. (Paragraph 64)

Urgent Questions and Urgent Debates

19.  We recommend that guidelines be drawn up to help Members understand what sorts of issues and events might meet the criteria set out in Standing Order No. 21(2). We see a case for extending this advice to cover urgent debates under Standing Order No. 24 and the other opportunities for back bench Members to raise urgent or topical issues. The guidance could usefully include some examples of the types of issues that could be brought up under the different opportunities available to Members. (Paragraph 66)

20.  We believe the Speaker should have greater discretion to vary when a debate, initiated through a successful Standing Order No. 24 application, is held and to decide its length. The Speaker would need to exercise this discretion in consultation with the business managers to mitigate the impact on planned business. (Paragraph 71)

General debates

21.  For the majority of regular debates we recommend rebalancing the current allocation of days and mix of subjects. (Paragraph 82)

22.  We recognise that there are good arguments both ways here. The Government should listen carefully to representations from the main Opposition parties and from back bench Members of all parties about whether a debate should take place on a substantive motion to which amendments could be tabled, and a vote held if necessary, or whether it should take place on a motion that allows a debate without the House having to come to a resolution in terms. (Paragraph 84)

23.  We recommend that debates held for the purpose of discussing a topic be renamed 'general debates' and that debate should take place on a motion 'That this House has considered [the matter of] [subject]'. (Paragraph 85)

24.  There should be a strong convention that such motions moved for the purpose of having a general debate would not be amended (Paragraph 85)

25.  We recommend that the Order Paper for Westminster Hall makes clear that the debates there are general debates, on particular subjects (Paragraph 86)

26.  We recommend that the subject and initiator of each end-of-day adjournment debate be recorded in the formal minutes of the House as well as on the Order paper. (Paragraph 87)

Short debates

27.  We believe that opportunities for a number of shorter debates can be created without any procedural change and that these would encourage more Members to participate. (Paragraph 89)

28.  We are convinced that greater flexibility in managing the business of the House is needed. (Paragraph 89)

29.  The Government and opposition parties should agree more flexible use of time, splitting some of the current all-day non-legislative debates into two or more shorter, more focused debates where appropriate. (Paragraph 89)

Debating Committee Reports

30.  We believe there should be a weekly committee half-hour in Westminster Hall in which a Minister can make a brief response to a committee report, selected for debate by the Liaison Committee, followed by the Chairman or other Member of the Committee. The remainder of the half-hour slot would be available to the opposition front benches and back bench Members generally. The usefulness of these weekly slots in Westminster Hall should be kept under review. We also see no reason why it should not be possible for committee reports to be debated in Westminster Hall on substantive motions: this may require a change to Standing Order No. 10 to make clear that debates on reports of this kind cannot be blocked by six Members. (Paragraph 91)

Time limits on speeches

31.  We believe that in heavily over-subscribed debates the Speaker should have the discretion to impose a twenty minute limit on speeches from the front benches with an additional minute given for each intervention up to a maximum of fifteen minutes of additional time. (Paragraph 94)

32.  Front bench speeches in the one and a half hour topical debates we recommended earlier in the Report should be limited to ten minutes each. However, front bench spokesmen could receive an additional minute for each intervention they accepted up to a total of ten minutes with similar limits set for smaller parties in proportion to the time limits the Speaker recently announced for statements. The Official Opposition and second largest opposition party spokesmen should be able to choose whether to make an opening or a wind-up speech (although additional time for interventions may not be practicable at the end of a debate). The minister with responsibility for the topic would reply to the debate in a speech lasting no more than five minutes. Back bench speeches in topical debates should be limited to not less than three minutes, the precise allocation depending on the number of Members who wished to speak. (Paragraph 95)

33.  The Speaker should have greater flexibility to vary time limits during debates with the objective of allowing all those who wish to speak to participate. We recommend that the Standing Orders be amended to give the Speaker greater discretion in setting and revising time limits on speeches, including raising or removing limits if appropriate. (Paragraph 97)

List of speakers in debate

34.  We do not see a need for lists of speakers in debates. (Paragraph 99)


35.  Removing barriers to participation is important and the use of handheld devices to keep up to date with e-mails should be permitted in the Chamber provided that it causes no disturbance. (Paragraph 100)

Private Members' Motions

36.  We believe there should be more opportunities for back bench Members to initiate business. (Paragraph 114)

37.  We recommend an experiment with a ballot for opportunities for debating Private Members' Motions using one of the longer slots each week in Westminster Hall on a trial basis for a whole Parliamentary Session. We recommend that this experiment should take place during the 2008-09 Session. (Paragraph 114)

The impact of programming

38.  We recommend the operation of programming is kept under review. (Paragraph 123)

Resource implications

39.  We recommend that any debate on the proposals contained in this report should be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum that sets out the resource implications, as far as these can be known or estimated. (Paragraph 129)

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