The resolution of the House in favour of an early General Election has curtailed the work programme of the Procedure Committee for the 2015 Parliament.
In this report we set out the main items of business on the Committee’s agenda which remain unfinished, and indicate some matters which the Committee in the 2017 Parliament may wish to take up once it is established.
Our inquiry into the Government’s proposals for legislation to provide for the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) has been prematurely curtailed. We had expected to report on the Government’s proposals by the end of the 2016–17 Session, and to undertake substantive scrutiny of the Bill delivering the Government’s proposals early in the new Session. Our terms of reference, augmented following the publication of the Government’s White Paper on legislating for the UK’s exit from the EU, identified a number of issues relevant to the House’s procedures on delegated legislation which need to be addressed before any Bill is enacted. We have reported to the House and published all the oral and written evidence taken in the inquiry to date.
The Committee in the new Parliament ought to examine the implications of the Government’s proposals for the House’s procedures on delegated legislation. The Government has indicated that it is open to a discussion with Parliament on how to achieve a balance between the need for scrutiny of delegated legislation in this area and the need for speed in preparing the statute book for the point of exit. We recognise that the time of Members ought to be directed to examining legislation which is politically or legally important: arguably, the existing procedures for scrutinising secondary legislation do not properly provide for this. If the Government does want to proceed swiftly with a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ in the new Parliament, it ought to arrange for select committees with a direct interest in the matter—including the Procedure Committee—to be established as soon as possible after the House has reassembled: otherwise the Government will struggle to find agreement on an approach to the handling of delegated legislation under the Bill which will command widespread support.
The Committee in the new Parliament may wish to take forward the work on Standing Order revision first proposed by the Committee in the 2010 Parliament. The task has been made more complex by the introduction of the English votes for English laws Standing Orders during this Parliament.
In this Parliament we embarked on a programme of work to examine the House’s procedures on financial matters. The Government is expected to respond to our first report in this field—on better practical scrutiny of the annual Estimates—in the new Parliament. The new Committee may wish to take up the other elements of the programme identified in that report, such as arrangements for scrutiny of the Government’s multi-annual Spending Reviews.
We have published two reports on the new procedures to achieve ‘English votes for English laws’. In both cases we stated our intention to keep these procedures under active review. The new Committee may therefore wish to review the operation of these procedures in the new Parliament.
Our predecessors in 2012 surveyed the House elected in 2010 to ascertain Members’ views on sitting hours, and sponsored a debate, and a series of motions for decision, which enabled that House to take a decision on the hours it wished to sit. We undertook a similar survey in 2016 and have recently published the results. We have recommended that the new Committee survey the 2017 House in the summer of 2018 and sponsor a debate to allow that House to determine its own sitting hours.
The resolution on an early general election has thrown up an uncertainty over the operation of the Standing Order governing the limits to terms served by chairs of select committees. While the matter cannot be resolved before chairs are elected in the new Parliament, we nevertheless recommend that the new Committee examine the issue as a matter of urgency.
28 April 2017