Revision of Standing Orders - Procedure Contents

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, telling us

    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    The Standing Orders are frequently added to, repealed or amended.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 […] I have also proposed that provisions that are not used should be repealed.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.[1]

2. We published the Clerk's proposed revisions in September 2014.[2] 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 in red.

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 changes—for 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 orders—and asked for more work to be done on others—for 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 proposals—such as the revisions to Standing Orders No. 24 and No. 83I, and the recasting of Standing Order No. 123—and 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.[3] On the four earlier occasions since 1945 when such exercises have taken place,[4] 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 close—and entirely legitimate—interest 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:

·  Standing 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;

·  Standing Orders No. 25 (Periodic adjournments) and No. 123 (Sittings of Committees) have been moved to the "Sittings of the House" section;

·  Standing 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

·  The 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 Government departments.


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.

Drafting changes

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:

·  removal of archaisms;

·  changes for clarity;

·  changes of timing convention—that is, the use of "am" or "pm" rather than "o'clock"; and

·  amendments 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 pronoun.


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.[5] We have therefore not included this proposal amongst the revisions put forward in this report.

Change of name for "General Committees"

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.[6] 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 present.

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.[7] 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:

·  An 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[8]);

·  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;[9] and

·  For 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:

·  all ballots to be held on Wednesdays;

·  nominations to be handed in between 10 am and 5pm the previous Thursday; and

·  ballot 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 same day).

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.[10] The Government indicated in its response to that report that it agreed that this change would be helpful.[11]

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 opposed.

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 changes.

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.[12] 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 PMBs.

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).[13] 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.[14]

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 divisions)

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:

·  Carry-over 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.[15]

·  Proceedings 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.[16]

·  Periodic adjournment motions.

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.[17]

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 House—that 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".[18] The revision proposals avoid the necessity to require the Committee to use the power to make a "special" report—a power which is used in a rather different way by other select committees, whose special reports most often publish Government responses to their reports—by 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".[19] 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

2 Back

3   First Report of the Procedure Committee, Session 1996-97, Standing Orders Revision (HC 95), para 2. Back

4   Standing Orders Revision, para 1. Back

5   Letter from Lord Sewel, Chair of Committees, dates 19 January 2015, to the Chair of the Committee (P81). Back

6   Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, First Report of Session 2006-07, The Legislative Process, HC 1097, paras 63-66. Back

7   Fifth Report of Session 2010-12 (HC 1573). Back

8   See Speaker's Statement, HC Deb, 8 October 2013, col 58. Back

9   2010 elections to positions in the House, para 40. Back

10   2010 elections to positions in the House, para 30. Back

11   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

12   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

13   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 2012. Back

14   See, for example, business motions agreed on 9 September 2014 to apply that day; and on 10 December 2013 to apply that day. Back

15   See, for example, Orders Papers from 31 March 2014 and 1 April 2014. Back

16   See paras 19 to 22 above. Back

17   See, for example, business motion agreed 7 March 2005, to apply on 9 March 2005. Back

18   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

19   Second Report of Session 2012-13, Review of the Backbench Business Committee, HC 712, para 24. Back

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