Revision of Standing Orders |
1. The then Clerk of the House wrote to our Chair
in July 2014 enclosing the results of a comprehensive review of
the House's standing orders which he had commissioned some months
previously. In his letter he invited us to consider the proposals
for revision of the standing orders which he was putting forward,
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons codify
much of the procedures and practices of the House but do not describe
them. Some practices, such as the rule that members should not
speak twice in the same debate derive from decisions of the Chair,
and are considerably older than the Standing Orders, which are
hardly mentioned in early editions of Erskine May. But the Standing
Orders have developed into a mechanism for regulating parliamentary
business and it is important that they are kept up to date.
The Standing Orders are frequently added to,
repealed or amended. They have been changed more than 200 times
between 2000 and end of last Session, an average of more than
17 revisions a Session-and each revision may contain several individual
amendments. In the same period there have been 48 new Standing
Orders and 10 repeals. This has had the incidental effect of making
the numbering of the Standing Orders rather erratic, with frequent
insertions between existing Orders. But despite these continuing
changes, the Standing Orders do not always reflect the developments
in the actual practice of the House: for example, programme orders
invariably disapply certain paragraphs of the Standing Orders.
My first aim in commissioning the review was
to remove anomalies and make the Standing Orders easier to use.
] I have also proposed that provisions that are not used
should be repealed. But my concern for the rights of individual
members and of minorities has meant that some provisions (such
as Members rising in their places to ensure an emergency debate
(SO No. 24) and petitions for present personal grievance (SO No.
155)) have been kept, even though they are very rarely used.
2. We published the Clerk's proposed revisions in
September 2014. The
Clerk had helpfully colour-coded his proposals, marking in red
revisions that bring the standing orders into line with the House's
current practice but entail substantive changes to the provisions
of the Standing Orders; in yellow less significant revisions bringing
the standing orders in line with current practice and removing
unused provisions; and in green purely drafting changes. We have
retained that colour-coding in the proposals we publish in this
report. Those very few proposals which go further than bringing
the standing orders into line with current practice (such as the
rationalisation of the provisions for elections and by-elections
for Deputy Speakers and select committee chairs) are also marked
3. The proposals which we publish here contain a
number of changes from those which were put to us by the then
Clerk of the House. We held a very useful discussion with the
Acting Clerk of the House and a number of his colleagues in December
2014, in the course of which we decided not to proceed with certain
proposed changesfor example, the revisions to the resolutions
on matters sub judice and on Questions to Ministers which
are printed at the back of the volume of standing ordersand
asked for more work to be done on othersfor example, the
Grand Committee standing orders. In the meantime Committee staff
have also had very helpful discussions with Government officials,
in particular Parliamentary Counsel, which have led to the refinement
of certain other proposalssuch as the revisions to Standing
Orders No. 24 and No. 83I, and the recasting of Standing Order
No. 123and to our decision not to proceed with some others.
4. Previous standing order revision exercises have
been undertaken at the behest of the Government. On the last occasion,
in 1996, the then Leader of the House wrote to our predecessor
Procedure Committee inviting it to take on the task.
On the four earlier occasions since 1945 when such exercises have
taken place, committees
have been specially appointed by the House to do so, again on
the initiative of the Government.
5. This time the initiative has not come through
the Government but directly to us from the Clerk of the House.
The need of the House to have as readily comprehensible, and as
up to date, a volume of standing orders as possible has been at
the centre of the exercise. Nonetheless we have recognised the
Government's closeand entirely legitimateinterest
in the task. We have consequently striven to produce a set of
proposals which will help the Government, which under the standing
orders has the primary responsibility for setting the House's
business, do so in a way which is convenient both for it and for
Members, without in any way affecting the ability of Members to
hold the Government to account. In short, we have tried to improve
the ability of all Members, whether of the Government or not,
to use the House's procedures effectively.
How the proposals are set out,
and our report
6. Our revision proposals are contained in an annex
to this report. As mentioned above, we have used a colour-coding
system to indicate the significance of the changes proposed, red
for the most significant, yellow for those less so, and green
for purely drafting changes. The annex also contains brief notes
explaining all the changes. In the report below, we comment only
on those changes where we consider that the notes in the annex
do not provide sufficient explanation in themselves.
7. A second annex contains a proposal for the complete
renumbering of the standing orders following revision. The renumbering
is mainly intended to fill the gaps created by the repeal of standing
orders and remove the need for suffixes where new standing orders
have been inserted between existing ones (we are currently up
to No. 152K, for example). Only in the following cases have standing
orders been moved out of their current sequence:
Order No. 4 (Panel of Chairs) has been merged with Standing Order
No. 85 (Chairs of general committees) and moved to the "Legislation
Committees" (formerly "General Committees") section;
Orders No. 25 (Periodic adjournments) and No. 123 (Sittings of
Committees) have been moved to the "Sittings of the House"
Order No. 76 (Debate on bill reported from public bill committee)
has been recast as "Second speeches" and moved to the
"Rules of Debate" section; and
standing orders relating to individual select committees have
been reordered to place them in alphabetical order, behind the
standing order establishing the select committees relating to
8. The changes set out below do not include all the
changes to internal cross-references consequent on the proposed
revisions and renumbering. These cross-references will be updated
once changes have been agreed by the House and incorporated into
the first full published version of the revised standing orders.
9. The Clerk of the House proposed a number of drafting
changes to apply throughout the standing orders. Those which remain
from the Clerk's original proposals are marked in green in the
attached schedule of proposed revisions. These changes fall into
a number of categories:
of timing conventionthat is, the use of "am"
or "pm" rather than "o'clock"; and
for gender-neutral language, such as "he or she" for
"he", when the pronoun does not refer to a holder of
a specific office, or drafting to avoid the need to use a gendered
"SECTION" FOR "CLAUSE"
10. Amongst the drafting changes proposed was that
"clause", wherever it appeared in the standing orders,
was to be replaced by "section". This would eliminate
the one difference in terminology between a Bill and an Act. Clearly
this change could not sensibly be made without a corresponding
change being made by the House of Lords. We consulted our counterparts
on the Lords Procedure Committee about whether that House would
be willing to make the change, but they indicated in response
that they would not.
We have therefore not included this proposal amongst the revisions
put forward in this report.
Change of name for "General
11. We agree with the Clerk of the House's proposal
to change the naming conventions for so-called General Committees.
The nomenclature "general committees" was adopted by
the House following a proposal by the Modernisation Committee
in 2006. The Modernisation
Committee proposed the abolition of the previous term "standing
committee" (because it was misleading, since most of the
committees so named did not have a standing membership) and the
introduction of the terms "public bill committee" and
"delegated legislation committee".
12. We consider that the term "general committees"
has now served its purpose, as a replacement for the term "standing
committees", and that the time has come to abandon it. The
effect of the proposed changes to Standing Order No. 84 will be
to replace the term "general committees" with the more
helpful "legislation committees", except in the case
of the Grand Committees and the Regional Affairs Committee (which
may consider legislation but are chiefly debating committees).
The changes to SO No. 84 make no substantive changes to procedure
in any of these committees, which will continue as it was before
the change, by virtue of the revised paragraph (2). Paragraph
(2) will ensure that all the relevant provisions of what is now
Standing Order No. 4 (Panel of Chairs) continue to apply to the
Grand Committees and Regional Affairs Committee, as they do at
Standing Orders No. 2A, No. 122B,
No. 122C and No. 122D: Elections and by-elections for Deputy Speaker
and select committee chairs
13. Our report 2010 elections for positions in
the House reviewed the experience of the elections to the
posts of Deputy Speaker and select committee chairs which took
place at the start of this Parliament, and made a number of recommendations
for minor improvements.
Since we reported, there have also been a number of by-elections
for select committee chairs, and a by-election for a Deputy Speaker.
14. We have taken the opportunity of the review of
the standing orders to reconsider some of the recommendations
of that report in the light of the by-elections which have taken
place. As a consequence we are recommending, and have included
in the revision proposals, the following changes to the standing
orders which govern the conduct of those elections:
amendment to paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 2A (Election
of the Deputy Speakers) to make explicit that an election for
a single vacant post of Deputy Speaker will be held only with
candidates from the relevant side of the House (which was what
happened in the case of the recent by-election for Deputy Speaker);
· An amendment
to Standing Order No. 122B (Election of select committee chairs)
to make it explicit that only the first 15 sponsors of a candidate
for select committee chair will be counted and printed;
the sake of consistency and predictability in the conduct of elections,
amendments to Standing Orders No. 2A, No. 122B, No. 122C and No.
122D to provide for:
ballots to be held on Wednesdays;
to be handed in between 10 am and 5pm the previous Thursday; and
timings to be 10am-4pm for all elections.
We consider that it is prudent to retain the discretion
allowed in the existing standing orders for the Speaker to vary
these timings, so that could be done if there were a compelling
reason for diverging from them (for example, if at the start of
a Parliament these provisions would result in the elections for
Deputy Speakers and select committee chairs taking place on the
15. We have also included in these proposals the
addition to Standing Order No. 2A (Election of the Deputy Speakers)
of provision for the Speaker to appoint up to three Members of
the House to serve as temporary Deputy Speakers in the period
between the beginning of the Parliament and the election of Deputy
Speakers. In 2010 a Government motion was moved to allow such
appointments to be made. We recommended this change in our report
on the 2010 elections to House positions.
The Government indicated in its response to that report that it
agreed that this change would be helpful.
Standing Order No. 9: Lapse of
end-of-day adjournment motions at the moment of interruption
16. Changes to paras (3) and (7) of Standing Order
No. 9 are proposed to stop end-of-day adjournment debates lapsing
at the moment of interruption. At present, when the end-of-day
adjournment debate starts before the moment of interruption, the
Member who is speaking must be interrupted at that time and the
adjournment motion must be moved again. These changes will stop
that from happening, so that the debate will continue uninterrupted
until its conclusion. The changes also make explicit the current
practice whereby the end of day adjournment motion may not be
Standing Orders No. 9(4), No.
29, No. 36 and No. 37: Closure
17. Provision relating to the procedure for forcing
closure of a debate, or the proposal of the question during proceedings
on a bill ("Golding closure") is at present contained
in four separate standing orders. The revision proposals include
changes to move the substance of SO No. 37 (Majority for closure
or for proposal of question) into SOs No. 29 (Powers of chair
to propose question, or Closure on proposal of question, as it
is proposed to be renamed) and No. 36 (Closure of debate), and
to delete paragraph (4) of SO No. 9 (Sittings of the House), which
is otiose. No change in procedure is effected by any of these
Standing Order No. 10: Sittings
in Westminster Hall
18. The House agreed on 24 February 2015 to a revised
form of Standing Order No. 10 following our reports on business
in Westminster Hall.
We have not therefore needed to include any revisions to that
standing order in these proposals, although the proposals include
two further changes (to Standing Orders No. 22D (Select committee
statements) and No. 145 (Liaison Committee)) which are consequent
on the revision of SO No. 10.
Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement
of public business)
19. Standing Order No. 14 currently contains not
only the critical provision which dictates the way House business
is now set (paragraph (1), "Save as provided in this order,
government business shall have precedence at every sitting"),
but provision for Opposition days, backbench business days and
private Members' bills (PMBs). It is proposed to split this very
lengthy standing order into four separate orders, relating to
Government business, Opposition business, backbench business and
20. Although some further refinements are made in
addition to this division into four separate standing orders,
the division in itself effects no change to procedure. In particular,
the existing provision in SO No. 14(7)(e) that no changes may
be made to this standing order in backbench time is retained and
applied to all four of the new standing orders (as well as to
SO No. 152J (Backbench Business Committee)).
21. Under the existing SO No. 14(2)(c), Opposition
days and backbench business days taken in the form of half days
are either set down for, or interrupted at, the nominal "mid-point"
of the day (seven o'clock, four o'clock or two o'clock). This
provision is almost invariably set aside by means of a business
motion tabled by the Government in advance of any such half day
and replaced with provision providing for three hours' debate
which may continue (if necessary) after the moment of interruption
(with Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) disapplied).
We propose a change to sub-paragraph (2)(c) so as to provide for
this to be the norm under the standing orders, without the need
for a business motion. The Government will be able to decide at
what point in the business the three hours' debate takes place,
as is the case in existing practice using business motions.
Standing Order No. 20 (Time for
taking private business)
22. A similar change to that made to Standing Order
No. 14(2)(c) is proposed for paragraphs (5) and (6) of SO No.
20. Instead of private business being set down by the Chairman
of Ways and Means at the nominal mid-point of the day (seven o'clock,
four o'clock or two o'clock), it would be set down "during
the time of public business" and would be allocated three
hours which could continue (if necessary) after the moment of
interruption. Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means
under these paragraphs would have to be taken on the day for which
it is set down, as under existing provision, but it would be up
to the Government at what point in the day's business it came.
This exactly mirrors current practice, provided for in each case
by a business motion tabled by the Government and agreed by the
House in advance.
23. A corresponding change will need to be made to
Standing Order 174 relating to private business, which mirrors
its public business equivalent.
Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred
24. A number of types of business are proposed to
be added to the list of questions on which divisions are not deferred
under SO No. 41A. They are:
motions and motions for instructions to committees on bills, when
taken at the same sitting as the second reading of the bill concerned.
These motions form part of the "package" of motions
to be taken alongside second reading and so deferral of the division
would be inappropriate. In current practice an exemption motion
is routinely tabled to apply to such business.
on Opposition and backbench half days and on opposed private business,
which under the proposed changes to Standing Order No. 14 explained
above could conclude after the moment of interruption.
Standing Orders No. 54 (Debate
on estimates) and No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.)
25. Like Opposition and backbench half days, Estimates
half days are under SO No. 54 (3) either set down for or interrupted
at the nominal mid-point of the day (seven, four or two o'clock).
A similar change is proposed to that provision as to those proposed
in respect of Opposition and backbench half days and opposed private
business, namely that instead such business should be allocated
three hours, which may if necessary continue after the moment
of interruption. In effect such business will be guaranteed three
hours' debate, as it would be if set down for the mid-point of
the day, but the Government will be able to decide at what point
in the business it is taken. Again, this mirrors existing practice,
provided for by business motions.
26. A consequential amendment is required to SO No.
55, so that the outstanding questions on estimates are not put
until the conclusion of debate on an Estimates half day, in the
event that such debate is still in progress at the moment of interruption.
SO No. 55 is also proposed to be amended to ensure that debate
on an Estimates day can be concluded before the questions on outstanding
estimates are put following an emergency debate on that day under
Standing Order No. 24.
Standing Order No. 83C: Timing
of evidence-taking sessions
27. The proviso to paragraph (11) of Standing Order
No. 83C (Programming sub-committees) permits the chair of a public
bill committee which is hearing oral evidence to extend the hearing
for fifteen minutes beyond the time set by the resolution of the
programming sub-committee, as agreed to (with or without amendment)
by the public bill committee itself (that is, the sittings motion).
The effect of this provision is to allow flexibility in respect
of the final set of witnesses heard by the committee, so that
it is not necessary to cut them off in the middle of an exchange.
The change proposed will extend that same flexibility (and courtesy)
to earlier sets of witnesses. It will not extend the total amount
of time allocated to evidence-taking, since any extra time allowed
for earlier witnesses will not be available for later ones. No
set of witnesses would need to receive any less time than the
minimum provided for in the sittings motion.
Standing Order No. 83I: Provision
for programmed business in the event of the grant of an a emergency
debate under Standing Order No. 24
28. Standing Order No. 83I (Programme orders: supplementary
provisions) is defective, since it has not been updated in line
with changes to Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) made
in 2007. As a consequence, it is unclear what would happen to
programmed business in the event of an emergency debate taking
place on the day on which the application for such a debate was
made. The proposed revised paragraph (4) is intended to replicate
the intention of the existing provisions, but adapted to the new
arrangements for the timing of emergency debates. Programmed business
would be allocated the same amount of debating time as if the
emergency debate had not taken place. Paragraph (5) is removed,
since arrangements for the business on a day when an emergency
debate takes place on a subsequent day can be made by means of
a supplementary programme motion.
Standing Order No. 88: Lunch
breaks on Thursdays in public bill committees
29. The Chairman of Ways and Means, on behalf of
the Panel of Chairs, has drawn our attention to the inability
of the chair of a public bill committee to prevent a Member from
continuing to speak beyond 1.00 pm on a Thursday, when the sittings
motion agreed by the committee requires it to sit again at 2.00
pm. The effect of the proviso to paragraph (1) of Standing Order
No. 88 (Meetings of general committees), which prevents legislation
committees from sitting at certain times, is to provide for a
lunch break on other days, because on those days lunch time coincides
with the time for questions and statements in the Chamber. No
such break is provided for on Thursdays, so although the sittings
motion may envisage adjournment at 1.00 pm and resumption at 2.00
pm, if a Member has the floor at 1.00 pm and does not wish to
relinquish it to enable the committee to be adjourned, there may
be only a very short, or even no, break between the morning and
afternoon sittings of a public bill committee on a Thursday.
30. The revision proposal is to insert a provision
requiring a public bill committee to be adjourned at 1.00 pm,
but not preventing it from sitting between 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm,
when questions and statements are highly unlikely to be taking
place in the Chamber. That would require the chair of a public
bill committee to adjourn the committee at 1.00 pm, but leave
open the possibility of the committee sitting again at, say, 1.30
pm, if the Government wished (by means of a sittings motion) to
provide for it to do so.
Standing Orders No. 93 to No.
116: Grand Committees
31. Standing Orders No. 93 to No. 116 make provision
for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Grand Committees.
There is considerable scope for rationalisation and revision of
these standing orders, and the proposals originally submitted
by the Clerk of the House would have overhauled them completely,
making a number of changes.
32. Whilst we saw considerable merit in the overhaul
of these standing orders proposed by the Clerk, we were concerned
that now might not be the most appropriate time to make substantive
changes to them. We therefore asked the Acting Clerk to revisit
the proposed changes and to come back with a revised set of Grand
Committee standing orders which made no substantive changes, but
set out the existing provisions more rationally. Proposed new
standing orders A to J are the result of that further work. They
include drafting changes equivalent to those which have been made
elsewhere in the standing orders (such as removal of archaisms
and gender-neutral language), but they do not change any procedures
or practice in the Grand Committees or in how they are set up
and have business referred to them.
Standing Order No. 118: Debating
time for instruments relating exclusively to Northern Ireland
33. Paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated
Legislation Committees) makes provision for the length of debate
on a statutory instrument in a delegated legislation committee.
It currently provides for two and a half hours' debate on a statutory
instrument relating exclusively to Northern Ireland, while all
other instruments receive a maximum of an hour and a half's debate.
This provision for instruments relating exclusively to Northern
Ireland dates back to the time prior to the Belfast Agreement
and the subsequent establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly,
when such instruments, made under the Northern Ireland Act 1974,
often had the character of primary legislation. Now that the Assembly
has been established, with its own legislative powers, there is
no longer any justification for treating instruments relating
exclusively to Northern Ireland any differently from other instruments,
hence the proposed deletion of this provision from SO No. 118.
Standing Order No. 123: Power
of committees to sit notwithstanding adjournment of the House
34. Standing Order No. 123 (Sittings of committees)
gives committees power to sit at any time on any day on which
the House sits. Almost all committees are separately given power
to sit notwithstanding the adjournment of the Housethat
is, to meet during recesses. The proposed change to this standing
order obviates the need to give each select committee the power
to sit notwithstanding the adjournment of the House, as well as
the provision for general committees contained in paragraph (3)
of Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of general committees). The
Committee of Selection, the Backbench Business Committee and the
Standing Orders Committee are not given power to meet during recesses
and so are excluded from the provisions of the revised SO No.
123 by paragraph (2) of the revised order.
Standing Order No. 137A: Agreement
of draft reports by committees meeting concurrently
35. Paragraph (1)(c) of Standing Order No. 137A (Select
committees: power to work with other committees) currently gives
select committees the power to meet concurrently with any other
select committee for the purpose of considering a draft report,
but makes no provision enabling committees meeting jointly formally
to consider amendments to such a report. The proposed revision
would do so. Any draft report then agreed by the committees meeting
jointly would still need to be agreed separately by each committee
before it could be published as a joint report under paragraph
(2) of the standing order.
Standing Order No. 152J: power
of the Backbench Business Committee to make reports to the House
36. Standing Order No. 152J (Backbench Business Committee)
gives that committee the power to report to the House only its
determinations of the business to be taken on allocated backbench
business days: it does not have a general power to report such
as is given to other select committees. The Committee has made
"special reports" about the way it does its business,
relying on the power given to all select committees by SO No.
133 "to make a special report of any matters which it may
think fit to bring to the notice of the House".
The revision proposals avoid the necessity to require the Committee
to use the power to make a "special" reporta
power which is used in a rather different way by other select
committees, whose special reports most often publish Government
responses to their reportsby including a proposal to grant
the Backbench Business Committee the general power to report (for
example, if it wished to report to the House on its work in each
Session). In the report of our review of the Backbench Business
Committee in 2012, we recommended that the Backbench Business
Committee be given the power to hear evidence from Members of
Parliament in public (a change which was made following that report),
but "agree[d] with the [Backbench Business] Committee's Chair
that the full panoply of powers to send for persons, papers and
records is not necessary".
There is no proposal to extend the powers of the Committee to
the taking of evidence, thereby avoiding any suggestion that it
might turn itself into a committee of inquiry. Since the power
to make a special report can be interpreted very widely by any
committee, this change merely acknowledges that the Backbench
Business Committee has found it helpful to make reports in the
past and is likely to do so again. It does not, in any practical
way, change or extend the powers of the Committee.
1 Letter from the Clerk of the House on the Revision of Standing Orders (published
on Procedure Committee website). Back
First Report of the Procedure Committee, Session 1996-97, Standing
Orders Revision (HC 95), para 2. Back
Standing Orders Revision, para 1. Back
Letter from Lord Sewel, Chair of Committees, dates 19 January
2015, to the Chair of the Committee (P81). Back
Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, First
Report of Session 2006-07, The Legislative Process, HC
1097, paras 63-66. Back
Fifth Report of Session 2010-12 (HC 1573). Back
See Speaker's Statement, HC Deb, 8 October 2013, col 58. Back
2010 elections to positions in the House, para 40. Back
2010 elections to positions in the House, para 30. Back
Ninth Report of the Procedure Committee, Session 2010-12, 2010 elections for positions in the House: Government Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2010-12
(HC 1824), Appendix, response to recommendation 10. Back
First Report of Session 2014-15, Business in Westminster Hall,
HC 236, and Fifth Report of Session 2014-15, Business in Westminster Hall: Government response and revised Standing Order No. 10.
HC 1035. Back
See, for example, Business of the House motions agreed on 26 February
2015 to apply on 4 March 2015; on 17 November 2014 to apply on
19 November 2014; and 10 December 2012 to apply on 12 December
See, for example, business motions agreed on 9 September 2014
to apply that day; and on 10 December 2013 to apply that day. Back
See, for example, Orders Papers from 31 March 2014 and 1 April 2014. Back
See paras 19 to 22 above. Back
See, for example, business motion agreed 7 March 2005, to apply
on 9 March 2005. Back
First Special Report of Session 2010-12, Provisional Approach: Session 2010-11,
HC 334 ; Second Special Report of Session 2010-12, Work of the Committee in Session 2010-12,
HC 1926. Back
Second Report of Session 2012-13, Review of the Backbench Business Committee,
HC 712, para 24. Back