2ND REPORT OF SESSION 2013-14 FROM THE
PROCEDURE COMMITTEE |
1. The Procedure Committee's 6th Report of Session
2012-13 (HL Paper 151) set out a range of proposals by the Leader
of the House to increase the time and opportunities available
for backbench debates. The House agreed one of these proposalsextending
the sitting times of Grand Committees solely considering backbench
Questions for Short Debateon 18 June (1st Report of Session
2013-14, HL Paper 19).
2. On 25 June we considered a memorandum by the
Leader on his remaining proposals. These were:
- A new weekly topical Question
for Short Debate to be selected by ballot;
- Changes to improve the procedures governing motions
for balloted debate.
We support the Leader's proposals, and set out below
how they might best be implemented.
TOPICAL WEEKLY QUESTION FOR SHORT DEBATE
3. As proposed by the Leader of the House, we
recommend that a weekly one-hour slot for a topical Question for
Short Debate (QSD), selected by ballot, should be set aside between
time-limited debates and balloted debates (or after the main debate
if there is only one) on Thursdays from the start of a Session
to the end of January.
4. The ballot would be drawn at 12 noon on Tuesday
for Thursday of the following week. This would allow the
Government Whips Office to include the topical QSD in Forthcoming
Business a week in advance and it would appear in House
of Lords Business for a full week. We believe this timetable
strikes the right balance between giving members enough notice
of the debate and ensuring that it remains topical. Members would
be able to submit entries to the ballot from 10am on Monday morning
until 12 noon the following day.
5. To help ensure that entries to the ballot
are topical, we propose the following testthat the subject
of the QSD must have been covered by at least two mainstream media
outlets on either of the two days that the ballot was open, or
over the preceding weekend. In order to promote debate on a wide
range of topics, we propose that the same subject should not be
debated as a topical QSD more than once in a six-month period,
and that no more than one entry on a subject would be accepted
for the ballot (priority being given to the first tabled). We
envisage these restrictions being narrowly construed: it would
be acceptable to table an entry on a different aspect of a topic
already debated or in the ballot, so long as it also met the topicality
test detailed above.
6. Members would not be permitted to "roll
over" entries from one ballot to the next. An entry could
be re-tabled by the member concerned, but the topicality test
would be applied anew each time.
7. The Clerks would advise members on the interpretation
and application of these rulesas with the tabling of all
questions and motions, we would expect that the advice of the
Clerks be accepted.
8. The proposal for topical QSDs arose as part
of a package intended to create more opportunities for backbench
members to initiate debate. We therefore propose that they may
be initiated only by backbench members,
and that a member may initiate only one topical QSD per session.
9. Should there be no entry to the ballot in
a particular week, or if it were determined that none of the entries
was topical, then the slot the following Thursday would fall and
the second party or balloted debate, if any, would immediately
follow the first.
10. The Leader's original proposal, as set out
in our 6th report, suggested that entries to the ballot should
have the support of a minimum number of members. He has not pursued
that proposal, for two reasons. First, such a requirement would
undermine the principle that all members should have an equal
chance to pursue subjects they care about and have them debated
in the House without having to persuade others of the merit of
their chosen topic. Secondly, canvassing support could prove difficult
given the short window of time available to table entries to the
ballotparticularly for less well-connected members. We
agree, and accordingly do not propose to take forward this aspect
of the Leader's original proposal.
11. We recommend the adoption of a weekly
topical Question for Short Debate, to be selected by ballot, and
governed by the procedures described in paragraphs 3 to 9 above.
12. If this proposal is agreed, we envisage that
ballots for topical QSDs will begin after the summer recess, with
the first topical QSD taking place on 17 October. We propose to
review the procedure in February 2014, with a view to recommending
any refinements that may prove necessary.
Amendment to the Standing Orders
13. An amendment to the Standing Orders is necessary
to give effect to this recommendation. SO 40 sets out the order
in which business is entered in the Order Paper, and SO 40(9)
states that "Questions for Short Debate shall be entered
last". We therefore recommend that Standing Order 40(9)
be amended to read as follows (inserted text underlined):
"(9) Questions for Short Debate shall be entered
last, except for balloted topical Questions for Short Debate
on Thursdays, which shall be entered after the first motion for
14. We recommend three changes to the procedure
governing motions for balloted debate, as proposed by the Leader
of the House. First, all entries to a particular ballot should
lapse once the ballot has been drawn, and should need to be formally
submitted anew at the members' initiative for the next ballot.
This would prevent members "rolling over" their motions
and help ensure that members remain actively interested in debating
any motion for balloted debate that they have on the order paper.
15. Secondly, members should be allowed either
a motion for balloted debate or a Question for Short Debate on
the same subject on the Order Paper at any one time, but not both.
It is reasonable to expect members to decide whether they are
seeking a full debate or a short debate and to table a single
item accordinglyit would also prevent members 'spreading
their bets': lengthening both lists and making it harder for other
members to secure either sort of debate.
16. Finally, we recommend that where one balloted
debate has at least twice as many speakers as the other, there
should be flexibility to shorten the less popular debate to two
hours in order to extend the more popular one to three hours.
At present, motions for balloted debate can attract significantly
different numbers of speakers, leading to large discrepancies
in the speaking times for backbench speakers between the two debates.
We consider that allowing an adjustment of a maximum of half an
hour will allow a degree of flexibility, while protecting the
speaking times of members in less well-attended debates.
17. The decision to propose a change to the standard
time-limits would be taken by the usual channels when Speakers
Lists close on Wednesday evening, and the change would be agreed
by the House by way of a Business of the House motion on the morning
of the debates.
18. The Leader's original proposal, as set out
in our 6th report of Session 2012-13, suggested that there might
be a requirement that a minimum number of members indicate their
interest in the subject of a motion as a pre-condition for entering
the ballot. For the same reason that we decided not to take forward
such a requirement in the context of topical QSDs (see paragraph
10), we do not propose to do so for balloted debates.
19. We recommend the adoption of the changes
to motions for balloted debate set out in paragraphs 14 to 17
Tabling oral questions
20. In our 5th Report of last session (HL Paper
150), we recommended that members be entitled to table no more
than seven oral questions in each calendar year. That decision
was to be implemented "with effect from the current year".
The House agreed this recommendation on 24 April.
21. It has been brought to our attention that
some members were unaware that the effect of this recommendation
was that the cap would be implemented retrospectively with effect
from January of this year. While we do not intend to review the
cap on oral questions at this time, we do not wish to penalise
members who tabled questions at the start of the year and were
unaware, at the time the cap was agreed, that the number of questions
they had already tabled would count towards their limit for the
2013 calendar year.
22. Accordingly, we recommend that the cap
on oral questions should be deemed to have come into force from
1 May 2013. The limit of seven oral questions
will therefore be calculated on a yearly basis from 1 May to 30
High Speed 2 and hybrid bill procedure
23. We have considered two proposals from the
Leader of the House in connection with the High Speed 2 (HS2)
hybrid bill. The first is for an amendment to the Standing Orders
for Private Business to enable the public to comment on the environmental
statement accompanying a hybrid bill and for those comments to
be reported to, and to be taken into account by, the House. The
proposed wording of this amendment is given in Appendix 1. The
second is for a motion allowing, for the HS2 hybrid bill only,
electronic deposit of bill documentation at relevant local authorities.
The draft motion can be found in Appendix 2.
24. The House of Commons passed equivalent motions
amending their Standing Orders for Private Business and authorising
the electronic deposit of bill documentation for High Speed 2
on 26 June.
AMENDMENT OF PRIVATE BUSINESS STANDING ORDERS
25. The amendment to the Standing Orders for
Private Business aims to ensure that the House's procedures on
hybrid bills are fully compliant with the objectives of the EU
Directive on Environmental Impact Assessments, as amended by the
Public Participation Directive in 2003. It provides an opportunity
for the public to comment on the environmental statement on a
hybrid bill, for those comments to be taken into account by the
House before it takes a decision on the principle of the bill
at second reading, and for further information to be made available
at third reading.
26. Under the new Standing Order, there will
be a minimum of 56 days from the introduction of the bill in Parliament
for comments on the environmental statement to be submitted to
the Government. These comments must be published. They will be
assessed and summarised by an independent assessor whose report
must be submitted to the House in which the bill was introduced.
A period of 14 days must then elapse before the bill can be given
a second reading. Provision is also made for any further environmental
information that may be required to make the environmental statement
compliant with the Directive to be made available for public comment
in a similar manner during the bill's subsequent progress through
the Houses. This may be prompted by observations made by third
parties, by recommendations of a select committee considering
the bill or on the Government's own initiative. There will be
a minimum period of 42 days for comments to be submitted. These
comments will be published and a summary of them made by the independent
assessor must be published. A period of no less than 14 days must
then elapse before third reading of the bill in whichever House
it then is.
27. The new Standing Order also provides that
at Third Reading the Minister must set out the main reasons and
consideration upon which Parliament is invited to give its consent
to the bill, and the main mitigation measures to offset any adverse
effects of the bill. This information must also be published in
a written statement not less than seven days before third reading.
28. We recommend the amendment to the Standing
Orders for Private Business set out in Appendix 1.
ELECTRONIC DEPOSIT OF DOCUMENTS
29. The draft motion permits the electronic deposit
of required documents for the High Speed 2 hybrid bill. Standing
Orders currently require hard copies of all bill documentation,
including the environmental statement, to be deposited in every
local authority area along the line of route, of which there are
around 250. Due to the scale of the project, the environmental
statement alone for the HS2 bill is expected to run to around
50,000 pages. The proposal is therefore to enable, but not require,
the deposit of this and other material in electronic form in each
local authority area along the route. The Government have undertaken
to make all key documents available in hard copy in all deposit
locations and to continue to provide all the documentation in
hard copy if locations so wish.
Hard copies of all the bill documentation will be available for
inspection in both Houses of Parliament.
30. We recommend the draft motion allowing
the electronic deposit of documents in relation to High Speed
2 set out in Appendix 2.
1 Companion to the Standing Orders, paragraph
This includes Crossbench members and Lords Spiritual Back
Statement by the Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Andrew Lansley,
on 26 June 2013 (HC Deb, col. 419-20) Back