Explanatory statements on amendments - Procedure Committee Contents

3  Conclusion and recommendations

16.  We have considered, as the Leader of House invited us to do, whether there is a case for explanatory statements to be "a mandatory part of the scrutiny process".[20] His proposal is that explanatory statements could be voluntary at committee stage but mandatory at report stage.

17.  We agree that the value of explanatory statements is enhanced by more widespread use of the process. We recognise that there are benefits to be gained from wider use of such statements, and we would encourage all Members to provide explanatory statements to amendments wherever possible.

18.  We cannot, however, support the Leader's proposal to make explanatory statements mandatory at report stage. We are concerned that a mandatory requirement would restrict opposition and backbench Members from tabling amendments and would therefore be damaging to the House's ability to scrutinise legislation. We note the views of the Clerk of Legislation on the matter[21] but consider that they underestimate the resource burden which a mandatory requirement would place on Members. That burden would be felt particularly acutely by the Official Opposition, who table a significant proportion of non-government amendments but do not have the resources available to Government to assist with drafting explanatory statements. Were additional support—for example, in the form of extra Short money—to be provided to assist Members in preparing explanatory statements, then the question of whether explanatory statements should be mandatory at any or all stages of a bill would warrant further attention, but we cannot recommend such an approach to the House as matters stand.

19.  The evidence from the pilot suggests that there are few downsides to a permissive approach. The cost to the House, as estimated by the Public Bill Office, in terms of printing and staff resources, is relatively minor. Our last report on this issue concluded that "Previous attempts at embedding this facility in the culture of the House have failed because of lack of take-up from Members",[22] but the Public Bill Office told us that "Members are generally willing, even keen, to provide explanatory statements with their amendments."[23] Explanatory statements perform a useful function and allowing their more widespread use should underline their utility.

20.  We reiterate our earlier conclusion 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.[24] The time has come to conclude the experimental approach and allow the culture of explanatory statements to embed itself. We wish to create a permissive environment where space is provided to backbench Members, the Government and the Opposition to ensure that explanatory statements become an accepted norm of the legislative process.

21.  We recommend that Members be permitted, on a voluntary basis, to table explanatory statements on amendments to all bills at both Committee and Report stage from the start of the 2013-14 Session. The guidelines for the tabling of such statements should be the same as they were for the most recent pilot, subject to any changes which may be agreed from time to time by the Speaker to deal with any minor difficulties which may arise.

20   p.20. Back

21   Para 16 (p.17). Back

22   HC (2010-12) 800, para 27. Back

23   Para 13 (p.17). Back

24   HC (2010-12) 800, para 30. Back

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Prepared 25 February 2013