3 Explanatory statements on amendments
to bills |
The Committee's report
22. The House of Commons has conducted a series of
experiments with explanatory statements on amendments to bills
since the Modernisation Committee first recommended in September
2006 that the Procedure Committee "draw up a set of rules
governing the tabling and publishing of explanatory statements
to amendments in standing committee".
The aim was to assist Members in preparing for debate in committee
by providing a brief explanation of the intended effect of a proposed
amendment. The first trial took place during the committee stage
of the Legal Services Bill [Lords] in June 2007. A second
trial in session 2007-08 covered three bills, also in public bill
committee. There was then a third trial which ran from February
2009 until the end of session 2008-09 and which extended the facility
to include all bills before a public bill committee, except the
23. In March 2010 our predecessor Committee published
a report which brought together the evidence gathered from these
trials and considered what further steps should be taken.
The Committee regarded the outcome of the experiments as "inconclusive"
and found the take-up of the facility by non-Government frontbenchers
and by backbenchers more generally "disappointing".
On the other hand, the Committee recognised that there had been
positive feedback from Members and that the benefits of explanatory
statements might be greater in a new Parliament where some Members
were less familiar with the process of scrutinising legislation.
The Committee therefore recommended that:
the trial with explanatory statements to amendments
to bills continue in the first year of the new Parliament; that
it be extended to bills in Committee of the whole House and on
report, and to Private Member's Bills; that the opposition frontbenchers
and all backbenchers be strongly encouraged to table explanatory
statements with their amendments; and that the guidelines be changed
to allow explanatory statements of "around 50 words"
and to lift the requirement for such a statement when the amendment
itself is self-explanatory. We hope in this way to increase the
use and therefore the usefulness of this facility without imposing
an undue burden on the House, Government departments or others.
To ensure that the House has a better idea of the value that Members
place on explanatory statements and their contribution to increasing
the scrutiny of Bills, we recommend that at the end of the next
stage of the experiment a full survey be carried out by the House
authorities of all Members and the results analysed by a committee
of the House.
Developments in this Parliament
24. There was little time for the Government to respond
to our predecessor's report before the dissolution of the House
and the General Election. Soon after the nomination of this Committee
in July 2010, we decided to take this up again with the new Government.
In Opposition, the then Shadow Leader of the House, Rt Hon Sir
George Young MP, had told us that his view was that "the
facility should be extended to the floor of the House for the
benefit of those Members who haven't served on the Public Bill
months later, now Leader of the House, he had modified his view
a little. He told us:
I said I would let you have my views on explanatory
statements on amendments. Though some Members say they have been
useful, the arrangements have not been a resounding success.
The original intention behind the Modernisation Committee's
recommendation was that backbench Members could use the facility
to indicate the purpose of their amendments, allowing Ministers
to prepare to address the substance of the points that Members
were seeking to make, rather than the technical drafting of the
amendment. The low uptake by backbench Members means that they
have not really fulfilled this purpose.
The Government wants to provide information for Members
in the most effective way, but also in a cost-effective way. I
am not convinced that explanatory statements will generally be
the best way of communicating with Members. Alternatives, such
as writing to the members of a public bill committee or issuing
written statements, will generally offer a better opportunity
to explain the Government's intentions, without placing an undue
burden on bill teams and Parliamentary Counsel, when they are
under pressure to get amendments drafted and tabled.
I would certainly not oppose the continuation of
explanatory statementsthough the support from Members in
the Committee's evaluations of the process has been somewhat lukewarmbut
Ministers will only table statements where they believe that it
is the most effective way of communicating their intentions to
25. In recent weeks the issue has risen up the agenda
again as a result of interest expressed by a number of Members.
In a debate in Westminster Hall on 3 February 2011 there was complete
consensus amongst those who spoke that it would be of benefit
not just to Members but to those outside the House to have an
accompanying explanation of what a proposed amendment is designed
to do. The Deputy Leader of the House has now also offered Government
Regarding explanations for amendments, we had the
experiment in Committee and I am certainly happy, as far as the
Government are concerned, for that experiment to proceed. Perhaps
we ought to look at having such explanations on Report, too.
26. We have looked again at our predecessor's recommendation
for extending the trial with explanatory statements to proposed
amendments to bills in Committee of the whole House and on report,
and to private Members' bills. We agree that this is the best
way forward. We have also cast a fresh eye over the guidelines
used in the past experiments and again concur with our predecessors
that a few minor changes (to the phrasing of the word limit and
to the need for no explanations where the amendment is self-explanatory)
might be helpful.
27. Previous attempts at embedding this facility
in the culture of the House have failed because of lack of take-up
from Members. We note that the use made by Members declined during
the three phases of the previous experiments. Our predecessors
concluded that this might derive from a lack of awareness of the
existence of the facility, based on the fact that the publicity
drive for the latter two stages of the experiment was much less
intensive than for the first which saw the highest levels of participation.
One way of overcoming this would be to make the tabling of explanatory
statements mandatory. We consider that it would be a mistake to
do so because it could result in perfectly orderly amendments
being disallowed because of a difficulty with an explanatory statement.
Instead, we would support a greater attempt to publicise to backbenchers
the facility to provide such statements. We would also encourage
the Opposition frontbench to make a commitment to provide them
28. In previous experiments the Government has undertaken
to provide statements to all amendments to relevant bills in committee.
We appreciate that this is a significant burden on the Government
and recognise the concerns expressed earlier through Sir George
Young that there may be other, more effective ways of providing
such information to Members in bill committees. We note, however,
that one of the advantages of explanatory statements printed on
the amendment paper is that they are available to all, and we
expect the Government to ensure that background information about
the purpose of amendments tabled in bill committees is published
and accessible. For amendments offered to bills in Committee of
the whole House, we suggest that explanatory statements might
often be the simplest and most effective way of communicating
such information to all Members and the public.
29. We believe that the position is different with
bills at report stage. In his recent speech to the Institute for
Government the Speaker suggested that it would be "worth
exploring [...] whether reasons for all report amendments should
be provided so it becomes clearer whether legislation is being
altered at that stage in response to constructive criticism or
because of changing Ministerial minds."
Such information is not provided at the moment prior to the debate
and we agree that it would be of value to the House if the Government
were required to provide statements where they present amendments
to bills at report stage in order to clarify the origin of those
amendments (for example, whether they arise from commitments made
in committee, are consequential or represent a change of policy).
30. Finally, we recognise that the experimental basis
on which explanatory statements have been permitted in the past
has led to some uncertainty at times and has not enabled the facility
to become part of the culture of the Commons. For this reason,
we consider that it would now be appropriate to allow explanatory
statements throughout the current Parliament. It will then be
up to the House to decide whether to make the facility permanent
after the next Election.
31. We recommend that during this Parliament Members
be permitted to table explanatory statements to amendments to
all bills in public bill committee (except the Finance Bill),
in Committee of the whole House or on Report, and that such statements
be printed on the amendment paper. We strongly encourage Opposition
frontbenchers and all backbenchers to table such statements with
their amendments and we recommend that staff of the House take
active measures to publicise the facility whenever a Member tables
an amendment. We accept that the Government may have other means
to communicate this type of information but we expect the Government
also to use this facility to communicate the intention behind
amendments because it is accessible to all Members and to the
public. Where a bill is taken in a Committee of the whole House,
we consider that explanatory statements will certainly be the
best option. We further recommend that the Government provide
explanatory statements on all amendments proposed on Report, outlining
the reasons for bringing forward those amendments at that stage.
32. We recommend that the House adopt the following
guidelines for the tabling of explanatory statements in this Parliament:
1. Any Member tabling an amendment to a bill in
a Public Bill Committee, in Committee of the whole House or on
Report, including private Member's bills, may at the time of tabling
accompany that amendment with an explanatory statement of around
2. The explanatory statement must describe the
intended effect of the amendment but may not be phrased as an
argument for its adoption or against the existing text of, or
any other proposed amendment to, the bill.
3. An explanatory statement is not required where
the amendment is self-explanatory, except that an explanatory
statement should be provided for all Government amendments on
Report stage giving the reasons for tabling in each case.
4. Questions as to the implementation of these
rules shall be decided by the Chair of the Public Bill Committee,
the Chairman of Ways and Means in the case of bills in Committee
of the whole House or the Speaker in the case of bills on Report.
5. Explanatory statements will be printed in italics
immediately following the amendment to which they relate. Where
several amendments are tabled which are introductory to, consequential
upon or closely linked to another amendment, the explanatory statement
should state that fact and shall only be printed with the first
amendment in the sequence.
13 First Report from the Select Committee on the Modernisation
of the House of Commons, The Legislative Process, Session
2005-06 (HC 1097) Back
The Finance Bill was excluded because of a longstanding practice
whereby the Government supply lengthy explanations of detailed
changes to the law proposed by amendments. Back
Second Report from the Procedure Committee, Explanatory statements
on amendments to bills, Session 2009-10 (HC 410) Back
HC 410, Session 2009-10, para 16 Back
HC 410, Session 2009-10, Back
Letter from the Leader of the House, 10 November 2010, published
7 February 2011 Back
HC Deb, 3 February 2011, 384WH Back
Mr Speaker's Address to the Institute of Government, 18 January
2011, What does scrutiny mean in 2011? Back