Select Committee on Procedure of the House First Report

First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House


BY THE SELECT COMMITTEE on Procedure of the House


1. Relevance of supplementary questions and answers

The Committee has noted an increasing tendency for irrelevant supplementary questions to be asked and answered. We remind the House of the guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders (paragraph 4.96):

"Supplementary questions should be confined to the subject of the original question, and ministers should not answer irrelevant questions."

2. Attendance by speakers in debates

The Committee has also observed since the start of this session a frequent disregard of the customs of the House in relation to attendance at debate. These are clearly set out in paragraphs 4.23 to 4.25 of the Companion to the Standing Orders:

"4.23 Members of the House taking part in a debate are expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for Members not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following their own, and for the winding-up speeches. Members who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should remove their names from the list of speakers. Ministers may decide not to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the minister's closing speech.

4.24 There are reasons for these customs. Members who have missed the speeches before their own will not know what has already been said and so points may be repeated or missed. Members who leave soon after speaking are lacking in courtesy to others, who may wish to question, or reply to, points they have raised. Debate may degenerate into a series of set speeches if speakers do not attend throughout.

4.25 It is, however, recognised that some Members may have commitments related to the judicial or committee work of the House which may prevent them from being able to attend as much of the debate as might otherwise be expected."

Recently, some speakers have not only failed to stay for "the greater part" of a debate but have been absent during the opening or closing speeches. We remind the House that this is contrary to well-established custom and that Lords who find themselves unable to stay until the end of a debate should normally withdraw their names from the list, and not simply apologise when beginning their speeches.

3. Length of interventions on statements

The Companion to the Standing Orders (paragraph 4.81) States: "Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief comments and questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate".

The Committee has noted recent instances of interventions from backbenchers which are far from brief. We remind the House that, with a twenty-minute limit on backbench questions and answers, long interventions and long replies are unfair to others who may wish to speak.

4. Time limit for submitting Private Notice Questions

At present a Private Notice Question has to be submitted to the Leader of the House before 12 noon, but before 10 a.m. on a day when the House sits before 1 p.m. This means that the earlier time limit now applies on Thursdays when the House sits at 11 a.m. even when Starred Questions are not taken until 3 p.m.

Accordingly we recommend that the earlier time limit should apply only on days when Starred Questions (if any) are to be taken before 1 p.m.

5. Time for presentation of bills

Another consequence of the new arrangements for Thursday sittings is that, under Standing Order 42(3), bills can no longer be presented after Starred Questions in the afternoon. That paragraph is as follows:

"(3) Bills may be presented either at the beginning or end of Public Business. Bills brought from the House of Commons may be read the First time at any convenient time during Public Business."

We recommend that the Standing Order should be amended by the addition of a new second sentence: "On Thursdays Bills may also be presented after Starred Questions in the afternoon."

6. The Companion to the Standing Orders

The Committee has approved the publication of a new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders to take account of significant changes since the publication of the 18th edition in October 2000. The changes agreed by the House on 24 July 2002 on the basis of the Report of the Leader's Group on the Working Practices of the House and the 5th Report from this Committee, Session
2001-02, were for a trial period of two sessions. The changes will be incorporated in the new edition, with footnotes to show that they are for a trial period.

previous page contents

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003