Select Committee on Procedure of the House First Report



In our Fourth Report of last session we recorded that we were circulating a short questionnaire to all members of the House, to be returned by Friday 10 October, seeking views on the timing of Thursday sittings.

By the closing date we had received 368 responses, expressing views as follows:
Option 1 (Thursday sittings to continue as at present): 63 (17.1 per cent)
Option 2 (House sits at 3.00 p.m., rises by about 10.00 p.m.): 100 (27.2 per cent)
Option 3 (House sits at 11.00 a.m. with Starred Questions at the start, rises by about 7.00 p.m.): 200 (54.3 per cent)
Other:5 (1.4 per cent)

In view of the clear majority for option 3, we accordingly recommend that, from the start of 2004, the House should sit from 11.00 a.m. to about 7.00 p.m. on Thursdays. Starred Questions should be taken at the beginning of business.

We recognise that, when the main business is a committee or later stage of a bill, it may be unreasonable to expect those involved to continue all day without a break. One suggestion made to the Committee was that the business concerned should end at 5.30 p.m., and be followed by an Unstarred Question or other business until 7.00 p.m. Other suggestions were that there should be a one-hour break for other business at 4.30 p.m., or that there should be a break of 1½ hours from 1.30 to 3.00 p.m.

Our recommendation, however, is that where business is of this nature there should be a lunch break of about one hour for other business from about 1.30 p.m. We recommend that, as in relation to dinner breaks, it should be possible to take an Unstarred Question, limited to one hour, during this break. No break would be taken when the main business was a Second Reading, a general debate, or a number of short items of business.

Note: If the House wishes there to be no lunch break on Thursdays then an amendment to the motion to approve this Report to leave out this paragraph and the two preceding paragraphs would produce that result.

The proposed change would require judicial sittings to be moved from their usual time of 2.00 p.m. on a Thursday. The Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary has indicated that he sees no difficulty in this.

We recognise that taking Starred Questions at 11.00 a.m. on Thursdays could cause difficulties for those asking and answering topical questions. Accordingly we recommend that the topical question now taken on Thursday should be moved to Monday, with the ballot drawn at 2.00 p.m. the previous Thursday.


The Committee recommends that the Chairmen of the Constitution and Economic Affairs Committees should be exempt from the application of the rotation rule for up to three sessions. This would bring these committees into line with the Science and Technology Committee and the sub-committees of the European Union Committee.


The Committee recommends that the House should adopt, from the start of 2004, the practice of the House of Commons, introduced at the start of the last session, permitting the publication in the Official Report of Written Ministerial Statements. These would replace "planted" questions for written answer, removing the need for a Lord to be asked to table a question. They would be printed separately from written answers in the Official Report, thus eliminating any possible confusion between "planted" and other written answers.

In the Commons notice has to be given on the Order Paper of such Statements. We see no need for such a provision in this House.

We propose that Written Ministerial Statements should be placed in the Library as soon as they are received, so that they are available to Members before they appear in the Official Report.

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