On two occasions in the last 12 months the House has held ‘debates before second reading’ in Grand Committee. These were a debate on the principles of each Bill held in Grand Committee, before the formal second reading motion on the floor of the House.
On both occasions the decision was agreed in the Usual Channels to ensure the smooth running of business in the House and prevent very late sittings. We were grateful to House Authorities for their flexibility and work to accommodate these changes at short notice.
Going forward we would like to put this practice, even if continues only occasionally, on a more regular footing and agreed by the Committee and the House, in accordance with advice from the Clerks, before doing it again. This would also provide greater clarity for members of the House about the process. As this is a new procedure it is also right, we consider, that certain safeguards are put in place.
With the agreement of the Usual Channels, we would propose the following to the Committee:
1.With agreement of the House, ‘debates before second reading’ may take place in Grand Committee. Such agreement would be sought through a business of the House motion of which the usual notice would be given on the Order Paper.
2.Following such a debate, the House would then give the Bill a formal second reading in the Chamber. It is not expected that this would be the occasion of a debate, but of course any member may speak if they so wish. This procedure is broadly analogous to that followed for secondary legislation that is considered in the Moses Room before formal approval in the Chamber.
3.As stated above, it is not expected that debates before second reading will be used frequently. Any such debates would require consultation with the Usual Channels and agreement by the House. Whilst it is not possible to set out every circumstance in which ‘debates before second reading’ might occur, it is suggested that the following parameters would be reasonable and would guide the Government and opposition parties when making arrangements.
(a)Where a speakers’ list is expected to exceed the capacity of the Moses Room (49 members), then a debate before second reading in Grand Committee is unlikely to be appropriate.
(b)It is expected that this procedure will be more appropriate for shorter, less complex and controversial bills.
4.To ensure that the time the House has to prepare for second reading and committee is not curtailed, the minimum intervals between stages could run as follows:
(a)Two weekends between the first reading of the Bill and the debate before second reading.
(b)14 days from the formal second reading of the Bill in the Chamber to the first day of Committee stage.
5.As at present, no more than one Bill would be considered in Grand Committee on a single day.
We have considered whether to build on the existing procedure for Law Commission Bills (such as the current Charities Bill) to be debated in “Second Reading Committee”. We suggest the two procedures should be kept separate, since different considerations apply. What we propose would be an addition to the list of types of business a Grand Committee can conduct.
We would be grateful if the Committee could give this matter consideration either by correspondence, or at a future meeting, and make a recommendation to the House. We are of course happy to discuss this further with you or any members of the Committee.
EVANS OF BOWES PARK
ASHTON OF HYDE
1 The Social Security Up-rating Act 2020 on 13 October 2020 and the Ratings (Coronavirus) and Director Disqualifications (Dissolved Companies) Bill on 19 October 2021
2 Companion para 3.15; the Companion treats Second Reading Committee separately in paragraph 3.16.