The Committee aims to make the Commons matter more, increase its vitality and rebalance its relationship with the executive, and to give the public a greater voice in parliamentary proceedings.
INTRODUCTION, CONTEXT AND PRINCIPLES
In the first two chapters the Committee sets out the wider background to its establishment in July 2009; seeks a prompt debate and decision on its proposals and their phased implementation; and describes the principles that have guided its work.
The Committee recommends that the Chairs of departmental and similar select committees be directly elected by secret ballot of the House using the alternative vote. The distribution of individual chairs between parties should be agreed as now by the parties, on the basis of a proportionate division conveyed to them by the Speaker, and put to the House for its agreement. Candidates for chairs would be required to have a minimum level of support from within their party as well as being free to demonstrate support from other Members.
The Committee recommends that members of departmental and similar committees should be elected from within party groups by secret ballot, each party choosing its own publicly declared method approved by the Speaker as democratic and transparent, and that the names then be transmitted to the House for its endorsement.
The Committee also recommends (a) a reduction in the size of a standard departmental committee to not more than 11, with the possibility of adding members to provide for smaller party representation, and a reduction in the overall number of committees (b) a Standing Order ensuring the election of members and Chairs of select committees within six weeks of the Queen's Speech (c) the election by the House of the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
It is the Committee's hope that these changes, to be implemented from the start of the new Parliament but requiring agreement in the last session of this Parliament, will invigorate select committees, leading to higher levels of attendance and participation, and that with other measures described they will help ensure that the work of select committees is more adequately reflected in the work of the House and on the agenda of public debate.
BUSINESS IN THE HOUSE
The Committee examines the current system for scheduling business in the House in detail, and in particular sets out for each category now scheduled by Ministers how far they are really to be regarded as Ministerial as opposed to House or backbench business. It concludes that all time belongs to the House, but also that Governments are entitled to put their legislation before the House at a time of their choosing, and concluded by a set date.
The Committee recommends a system where backbench business is organised by a Backbench Business Committee, responsible for all business which is not strictly Ministerial. That Committee would then join with the representatives of the Government and Opposition in a House Business Committee which would be obliged to come up with a draft agenda for the week ahead, working through consensus, with the Chairman of Ways and Means (the Deputy Speaker) in the chair. The agenda would then be put to the House for its agreement, replacing the weekly Business Questions.
The Committee also looks at the sessional sitting pattern within which the scheduling of business operates and recommends that the House should decide its sitting pattern for itself. It provides a detailed prescription for reforming the way bills are considered on the floor of the House after the committee stage and also makes recommendations on consideration of Lords amendments and on Private Members' Bills.
It will largely be up to the Backbench Business Committee to determine how to fulfil its task of organising non-Ministerial business, but the report gives some indications of the sort of new or refreshed opportunities which might be offered, including readier access to the agenda of the House for select committees and better opportunities for backbenchers to raise matters of current concern.
The Committee calls for the primary focus of the House's overall agenda for engagement with the public to be shifted towards actively assisting a greater degree of public participation.
It calls for urgent discussions on the currently stalled process of introducing an e-petitions system, and for the Procedure Committee to become for a trial period a Procedure and Petitions Committee, dealing with petitions submitted under existing rules. It recommends a number of changes designed to give presentation of petitions greater significance in the House's proceedings, including the possibility of a debate. The Committee also calls for the working up of a scheme for identifying a monthly backbench Motion suitable for debate, alongside the existing Early Day Motions.
The report looks at the prospects for some form of "agenda initiative" which might enable the public to ensure that a given issue is debated in the House. It calls for the House to commission an investigation of the practicalities of such a procedure at national level, drawing on local and international experience, and concludes that the opportunities should be seized for nourishing representative democracy by the exploration of other democratic possibilities.
It concludes that opening up the process of legislation and giving the public a real opportunity to influence the content of draft laws should be a priority in the new Parliament.