First Report Contents

Privileges Committee: consequences of establishing the Conduct Committee

14.In April 2019, the House agreed to a report recommending the appointment of a new Conduct Committee to take on the conduct functions of the former Privileges and Conduct Committee, and that the Privilege and Conduct Committee’s remaining functions relating to parliamentary privilege and peerage claims should be carried out by a separate Privileges Committee appointed for this purpose. Historically, privilege issues and the adjudication of peerage claims arise very infrequently: the last time the Privileges and Conduct Committee considered an issue of privilege was in 2010; and no peerage claims have been referred to the Committee since the passage of the House of Lords Act in 1999. It is therefore likely that the proposed Privileges Committee would rarely meet.

Procedure and Privileges Committee

15.Rather than setting up a stand-alone Privileges Committee, we propose that responsibility for considering questions of privilege transfers from the former Privileges and Conduct Committee to this committee, which has a similar membership. The Committee would be renamed the “Procedure and Privileges Committee”. Having one committee responsible for both procedure and privilege is common in other parliaments around the world. Following the departure of the Law Lords, it was thought essential for two retired senior judges to assist with privilege (and conduct) matters. This remains the case since consideration of privilege matters can involve interpretation of both statute and common law. We therefore proposed that in considering any questions of privilege, the Procedure and Privileges Committee should be required to co-opt two Members of the House who are former holders of high judicial office, who will have the same speaking and voting rights as the full members of the Committee.

16.We recommend the following terms of reference for the renamed Procedure and Privileges Committee:

“To consider the procedures of the House of Lords, to consider questions regarding the privileges of the House, and to make recommendations to the House.”

We also recommend that in considering questions of privilege, the Procedure and Privileges Committee should be required to co-opt two Members of the House who are former holders of high judicial office, with the same speaking and voting rights as the full Members of the Committee.

17.At present, Standing Order 77 sets out the composition of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct but there is no equivalent Standing Order for the Procedure Committee. There is no obvious reason why the new Procedure and Privileges Committee would need a Standing Order, so we recommend that Standing Order 77 in its current form should be deleted.

Committees for peerage claims

18.Given that the Committee for Privileges has not been required to consider a peerage claim since 1997, we consider it unnecessary to set up a standing Committee to consider a Petition referred to it under Standing Order 78. Instead, we propose that a committee to consider peerage claims should be set up each time such a claim arose. Such a committee would need to have the right membership for the task. In 2009, the Procedure Committee reported that:

“…Peerage claims are, and have always been, essentially judicial proceedings, and it is essential that they should continue to be decided by an appropriately constituted body. We therefore believe that the requirement in Standing Order 78 that three senior judges should be present should be retained, even though this will require the House to call upon the services of non-Members.”4

The requirement remains the same. We therefore propose the following new Standing Order:

“77A Committees for peerage claims

The House may refer a peerage claim to a committee for determination. In such a case, the Chairman of Committees must table a motion to appoint a Committee to consider the peerage claim and report to the House. Four Members of the House shall be named of the committee, which shall sit with three holders of high judicial office who shall have the same speaking and voting rights as the Members of the committee.”

Consequential changes to Standing Orders

19.Standing Orders 9, 12, 19, 64, 78, 80 and 81 all refer to the Privileges and Conduct Committee. These references will need to be changed in the House agrees our recommendations in the preceding paragraphs. We recommend that the House agrees the consequential changes to the Standing Orders set out in the Appendix to this Report.

20.There is one further change we propose to the Standing Orders. Standing Order 40(3) gives the Chairman of Committees’ (Senior Deputy Speaker’s) business precedence over other public business in the Chamber. This means that reports from committees which the Senior Deputy Speaker chairs are given precedence over the other business on the Order Paper (except oral questions). The Senior Deputy Speaker no longer chairs committees dealing with conduct, services and finance issues, and as a result, the chairs of those committees are not able to benefit from the provisions of the Standing Order. We consider that these three committees should benefit from precedence over other public business in the Chamber. We recommend that the House agrees to the following amendment to Standing Order 40(3):

[new words in bold]

40 Arrangement of the Order Paper [1 June 1954]

Notices shall be entered in the Order Paper in the order in which they are received at the Table, provided that:

(1) Oral Questions shall be entered before other business.

(2) Notices relating to Private Business may be entered before Public Business. At the discretion of the Chairman of Committees they may also be entered later in the Order Paper.

(3) Subject to paragraph (1), notices relating to the Business of the House, and to the Chairman of Committees’ Business, and to the business of the Conduct, Finance and Services Committees shall have priority over other Public Business if the mover so desires.”

4 Procedure Committee, 1st Report, Session 2009-10, HL Paper 13, paragraph 12

© Parliamentary copyright 2020