1ST Report from the Procedure
Changes to the leave of absence
1. Currently Standing Order 22 states that members
who cannot attend the House should "obtain leave of absence";
there is no guidance on when it might be more appropriate to resign
or retire. A member on leave of absence is exempt from section
2 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. This means that a member
who does not intend to attend the House can avoid losing their
right to sit by taking leave of absence. Under Standing Order
22 at the start of each session the Clerk of the Parliaments writes
to those members who attended very infrequently in the previous
session inviting them to apply for leave of absence.
2. The Sub-Committee on Leave of Absence has
made two suggestion for changes to the scheme which we endorse.
The first suggestion is for new criteria for when leave of absence
(as opposed to resignation or retirement) is appropriate. A member
applying for leave of absence should be required to state in their
letter that they reasonably expect to take a regular active part
in the House again in the future. If they cannot state this then
the House should refuse to grant leave of absence. We recommend
that Standing Order 22 is revised as follows:
in bold; deletions
(1) Lords are to attend the sittings of the House
or, if they cannot do so for reasons of temporary circumstance,
obtain leave of absence, which the House may grant at pleasure.
but this Standing Order shall not
be understood as requiring a Lord who is unable to attend
regularly to apply for leave of absence if he proposes to attend
as often as he reasonably can.
(2) A Lord may apply for leave of absence
at any time during a Parliament for the remainder of that Parliament.
(2A) When applying for leave of absence a
Lord should state in his written application that he has
a reasonable expectation that he will be in a position again to
take part in the proceedings of the House.
(2B) The provisions (of paragraph 2A)
do not apply to the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great
(3) On the issue of writs for the calling of
a new Parliament the Clerk of the Parliaments shall in writing
ask every Lord who was on leave of absence at the end of
the preceding Parliament whether he wishes to resign under
the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 or, if he expects to attend
again in the future, apply for leave of absence for the new
(4) At the start
of each session of Parliament the Clerk of the Parliaments may
in writing ask any Lord Temporal not on leave of absence,
suspended or otherwise disqualified from attending the House,
who in the previous session attended the House very infrequently,
whether he wishes to apply for leave of absence for the remainder
of the Parliament.
[paragraph (5) was repealed on 30 October
(6) A Lord who has been granted leave of
absence should not attend the sittings of the House until the
period for which the leave was granted has expired or the leave
has sooner ended, unless it be to take the Oath of Allegiance.
(7) If a Lord, having been granted leave of absence,
wishes to attend during the period for which the leave was granted,
he should give notice to the House accordingly at least three
months before the day on which he wishes to attend; and at the
end of the period specified in the notice, or sooner if the House
so direct, the leave shall end.
(8) In applying the provisions of this Standing
Order the Clerk of the Parliaments may seek the advice of the
Leave of Absence Sub-Committee of the Procedure Committee."
3. The second suggestion is to encourage a member
who could not commit to returning as an active member in the future
to agree to retire. The leave of absence scheme should be used
only by members who cannot attend the House for reasons of temporary
duration. A member who has no reasonable expectation of returning
as an active member at some point in the future should retire
under the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. The House will not grant
leave of absence to a member whose application has not stated
that they have a reasonable expectation that they will return
as an active member at some point. We recommend that words
to this effect are included in the next edition of the Companion.
Ballot for oral questions slots
4. Under the current rules, oral questions slots
become available at 2pm four weeks before the sitting day on which
they are to be asked. Between 2pm and 2.15pm, priority is given
to members tabling questions in person, and then to members telephoning
the Table Office in person. At 2.15pm any remaining question slots
become available to members contacting the Table Office by email
or to members who send in questions via others. This system often
leads to members queuing for slots, particularly during recesses.
The current arrangements put at a clear disadvantage those members
who are unable to be present to queue outside the Table Office
on a non-sitting daywhether that is because they live outside
London, have outside jobs, are physically less able, or for other
5. We therefore recommend a pilot to allocate
by ballot oral question slots that become available during recesses.
The pilot should run from the first day of the forthcoming Christmas
recess until the House returns from the Easter recess 2016. The
ballot would operate as follows:
(a) As is currently the case, members will be
able to submit oral questions no more than four weeks before the
sitting day on which they are to be asked.
(b) Members will be able to submit an oral question
to the Table Office in person, by telephone, by email, or a question
may be submitted by a person authorised on a member's behalf,
at any time between 10am and 1pm on that day.
(c) At 2pm a ballot will be drawn by the clerks.
If more questions have been submitted than there are slots available,
the ballot will determine those questions which are tabled and
their order. If fewer questions are submitted than there are slots
available, the ballot will determine only the order in which they
(d) A member may submit only one question for
inclusion in each oral questions ballot.
(e) If the oral questions ballot falls on the
same day as the separate ballot for topical questions, a member
may enter a question in both ballots but the questions should
be on different subjects.
(f) No more than one question on a subject may
be accepted for inclusion in the ballot and priority is given
to the first which is received. As is the case for the ballot
for topical questions for short debate, this restriction will
be narrowly construed.
(g) Once the ballot has been drawn the Table
Office will contact members who have been successful.
(h) Members will not be able to "roll over"
submitted questions from one day to the next: questions must be
re-submitted for each ballot.
(i) In the event of the day four weeks before
a sitting day being a public holiday in England, the ballot will
take place on the next working day if that is a non-sitting day.
If it is a sitting day then normal tabling arrangements will apply
and there will be no ballot.
(j) If, by the time the ballot is drawn, fewer
questions have been submitted than there are slots available,
from that point the remaining slots will be allocated, as is currently
the case, on a first-come-first-served basis from 2pm.
6. The pilot will be reviewed before the
start of the summer recess in 2016.
Status of interpreted or translated
evidence to select committees
7. The Companion states that "Languages
other than English should not be used in debate except where necessary."
A specific exception permits Lords committees to use Welsh in
Wales. This guidance covers committee written and oral evidence
which are proceedings of the House. Over the years committees
have used the discretion implied by the words "where necessary"
to take evidence by means of interpretation. In light of the recent
experience of the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and
Disability which took evidence in British Sign Language (BSL),
we confirm that the wording in the Companion authorises
committees to take oral evidence in another language, or in BSL,
through interpretation, and to accept written evidence originating
in another language, or in BSL, if accompanied by a translation
into English. In each case, such an approach would only be adopted
when the alternative would be to lose the opportunity to hear
8. Words to this effect will be included in the
relevant section of the next edition of the Companion.
We report this to the House for information.