5TH REPORT FROM THE PROCEDURE
Private Notice Questions
1. In 2010 the House agreed that the decision
of the Lord Speaker on an application for a private notice question
should be final. The
Committee has now considered a proposal by Lord Trefgarne that
a procedure be put in place for appealing against the Lord Speaker's
decision; as an alternative, he proposes that the House could
revert to the pre-2006 procedure, where the initial decision was
taken by the Leader of the House, subject to "the general
sense of the House."
2. The Committee believes that the current procedure
works well, and that it would not be appropriate to introduce
a right of appeal against the Lord Speaker's decision. We therefore
recommend no change to the current procedure for dealing with
applications for private notice questions.
Tabling oral questions
3. In our 3rd Report of the current session we
recommended the adoption, on a trial basis, of a procedure for
allocating oral questions by means of a ballot. After a long debate
on 9 January, the House agreed an amendment, tabled by Lord Grenfell,
which instructed us "to consider and report again on the
procedure for tabling oral questions before the Easter recess".
Following that debate, the Chairman wrote to all members of the
Procedure Committee, requesting them to consult colleagues and
in light of this consultation to bring forward proposals for further
4. The consultation suggests that there is general
agreement across the House that more members should be enabled
to participate in oral questions; but there is less agreement
on how to achieve this. We have considered several options, including:
· Moving fully to a ballot, as recommended
in our 3rd Report;
· A ballot either for one or two questions
each day, or for one whole day each week;
· Increasing the number of questions each
day from four to five, and the time allowed from 30 to 40 minutes;
· Introducing a cap on the number of questions
each member may table in a given period.
5. The only one of these options for which there
appears to be broad support is the introduction of a cap. We
accordingly recommend that, with effect from the current year,
members should be entitled to table no more than seven oral questions
in each calendar year.
6. We have also taken this opportunity to discuss
both the distribution and length of supplementary questions. We
remind all members of the House of the existing rules, set out
in paragraph 6.29 of the Companion to the Standing Orders:
"Supplementary questions~~ may be asked but
they should be short and confined to not more than two points.
If a supplementary question exceeds these guidelines, the minister
need only answer the two main points. Supplementary questions
should be confined to the subject of the original question, and
ministers should not answer irrelevant questions~. The essential
purpose of supplementaries is to elicit information, and they
should not incorporate statements of opinion. They should not
7. We further remind members that "giving
way accords with the traditions and customary courtesy of the
House." It is essential,
in a self-regulating House, that all members behave with courtesy
and self-restraint, particularly during question time, so as to
allow as many members as possible to participate.
Repeal of Standing Orders
8. In April 2012 the Government published a Green
Paper on Parliamentary Privilege (Cm 8318). The Government also
announced that the Green Paper would be referred to a Joint Committee
for scrutiny. This Joint Committee was duly established, after
some delay, in January.
9. Chapter 9 of the Green Paper covers a number
of miscellaneous issues relating to parliamentary privilege, including
three House of Lords Standing Orders, which the Green Paper suggests
no longer have any continuing purpose. In June 2012 the Leader
of the House agreed, in correspondence with the Clerk of the Parliaments,
that it would not be appropriate for the Joint Committee to consider
House of Lords Standing Orders, and the Clerk of the Parliaments
accordingly brought a paper before the Procedure Committee.
10. Standing Order 16, which dates from 1699,
is as follows:
16. The printing or publishing
of anything relating to the proceedings of the House is subject
to the privilege of the House.
11. Standing Order 16 dates from a period when
both Houses actively sought to prevent publication of reports
of their proceedingsCobbett's Parliamentary Debates did
not appear until 1800. Its original purpose was to limit unauthorised
and scurrilous reporting of proceedings of the House. Following
the development of parliamentary reporting in the early nineteenth
century the protection afforded to documents printed by order
of the House, and to extracts or abstracts of such documents,
was put on a statutory basis in the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840.
12. Standing Order 84, which dates from 1678,
is as follows:
84. In all cases wherein
it is necessary to examine witnesses in perpetuam rei memoriam,
it shall not be taken to be a breach of privilege of Parliament
to file a Bill against a Peer in time of Parliament, and take
out usual process for that purpose only.
13. Standing Order 84 relates to a now obsolete
legal process whereby testimony could be taken before the main
trialfor instance, if the witness were terminally ill.
Such cases are now handled by different means, and the Standing
Order serves no continuing purpose.
14. Standing Order 85, which dates from 1675,
is as follows:
85. No oath shall be imposed
by any Bill or otherwise upon Peers with a penalty in case of
refusal to lose their places and votes in Parliament or liberty
of debate therein.
15. Standing Order 85 is a product of its time:
the Test Act 1673 had provided that all persons filling any public
office were obliged to take oaths of supremacy and allegiance
and subscribe to a declaration against transubstantiation. The
1673 Act did not apply to Peers, and in the next few years the
House resisted attempts by the Commons to extend its provisions
to Peers, which would have excluded those who were Roman Catholics.
This resistance (embodied in part in Standing Order 85) was unsuccessful:
the second Test Act, of 1678, extended to Peers, so excluding
the "five Popish Lords" who had been accused of treason
by Titus Oates.
16. Thus Standing Order 85, while it represented
an important and historic statement of principle, was over-ridden
by statute as early as 1678, and has therefore had no effect for
more than 300 years. Although the Test Acts were repealed in the
1820s, the Standing Order continues to contradict the Parliamentary
Oaths Act 1866, under which it is unlawful for members of the
House of Lords to sit or vote unless they have sworn the oath
17. We therefore conclude that Standing
Orders 16, 84 and 85 are obsolete, and recommend that they be
Repetition of answers to House
of Commons urgent questions
18. On 22 November 2012 the House agreed the
following recommendation, contained in the Committee's 2nd Report
"We recommend that the following procedure for
repeating answers to House of Commons urgent questions be adopted,
on a trial basis, until the end of the 2012-13 session:
· The answer given in the Commons will be
repeated in full, as a statement;
· It will then be followed by ten minutes
of question and answer (as for a private notice question);
· The existing rules on the conduct of PNQs,
set out in paragraph 6.35 of the Companion, will apply;
· The first question will normally be asked
by the Opposition front bench, unless the usual channels have
19. We undertook to review the trial in spring
2013. This report sets out the results of that review.
20. Since January the new procedure has been
used 11 times. We believe that it has generally worked well, with
proceedings lasting between 13 and 16 minutes in total. In most
cases answers have been repeated immediately after oral questions,
when attendance is highest, without unduly delaying the main business
of the day.
21. One problem has been encountered: on some
occasions the initial question from the Opposition front bench,
and the answer to that question, have been too long, with the
result that the time allowed for backbench questions has been
squeezed. On 13 February this led to some discussion in the House;
Lord Martin of Springburn later wrote to our Chairman proposing
that the time taken by the front benches should be discounted
in calculating the ten minutes allowed for question and answer.
22. We acknowledge the concern expressed by Lord
Martin, and agree that backbench contributions should not be curtailed.
But the fault lies not with the procedure (which is the same as
for a PNQ), but with the failure of those on both front benches
to observe that procedure. The procedure is clearly set out in
paragraph 6.37 of the Companion to the Standing Orders:
[PNQs] should not be made the occasion for immediate
debate. Proceedings on PNQs follow the rules for oral questions.
In particular, supplementary questions should be short and confined
to not more than two points.
23. Thus the ten minutes following the repetition
of the answer to a House of Commons urgent question should be
devoted to questions and answers, in accordance with the clear
rules set out in the Companion, not to statements or speech-making.
These rules apply to those on the front benches as well as to
back-benchers, and it therefore follows that we endorse the principle
that the bulk of the time allocated to questions and answers under
the new procedure should be available by backbenchers.
24. The Leaders of the main parties have undertaken
to remind their colleagues on both front benches of these rules,
and in light of these undertakings we recommend that the procedure
for repeating answers to House of Commons urgent questions, adopted
on a trial basis in November 2012, be made permanent. We will
keep the procedure under review, and if the problems encountered
on 13 February recur, we will look again at whether the time allocated
to backbenchers should be formally protected.
1 Procedure Committee, 2nd Report, 2009-10 (HL Paper
51), agreed 16 March 2010. Back
Procedure Committee, 3rd Report, 2012-13 (HL Paper 81); HL Deb.,
9 January 2013, cols 145-172. Back
If such a rule had been in force in 2012, it would have affected
five members of the House, each of whom tabled nine or ten questions
in the course of the year. Back
Companion to the Standing Orders, paragraph 4.31. Back
HL Deb., 13 February 2013, cols 663-664. Back