1.In the larger report we published on 6 July 2021, agreed by the House on 13 July, the Committee proposed a set of changes to the House for the operating model of the Chamber after 6 September. In that report, the Committee undertook to return to the House with proposals on two points:
“The first was the issue of extending the sitting times for Grand Committee from four to five hours. The second was the scope for streamlining the process of time-limiting general debates. We are working with the Administration to achieve both these points and will return to the House with proposals on both points.”1
2.On 19 July the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip wrote to the Senior Deputy Speaker to report that both proposals have been developed, working with the Administration, since 29 June, and asking the Committee to agree to both points being put to the House on its return from the summer recess. The letter is reproduced in Appendix 1. This report contains proposals based on that letter and subsequent discussions in the usual channels. We also considered a technical issue which has arisen on Lords-starting private members bills concerning the general requirements on legislative consent motions, and make a proposal to remove what we consider to be an unintended consequence of an earlier decision. The consequential changes to the Companion should the House agree to the proposals in this report are set out in Appendix 2.
3.During the pandemic five hours have been available for business in Grand Committee. Prior to the pandemic Grand Committee sitting times were limited to four hours as set out in the Companion. In addition, there was an informal arrangement allowing flexibility for the Grand Committee to sit slightly beyond the four-hour cut-off point to finish, for example, a group of amendments.
4.The Committee noted at its meeting on 29 June that a permanent extension of the time available for Grand Committee would require further consultation, particularly with external suppliers, as to the resourcing implications. As the Leader and Chief Whip report, those consultations have taken place and the extension of Grand Committee sitting times from four to five hours on occasion would not have significant staff or resource implications. Their letter indicated that the use of time over four hours would be “the exception, not the rule”. The Leader and Chief Whip have also undertaken to give adequate notice of when they expect any Grand Committee to need to sit for the full five hours and stated that extended sittings would need to be agreed in advance. On 13 July the House agreed to recommendations from the Committee to limit question time to 40 rather than the 30 minutes before the pandemic and PNQs to 15 rather than 10 minutes. The Leader and Chief Whip also therefore proposed new start times for Grand Committee, on the basis that for the first hour of the Chamber sitting members and ministers may need to be in the Chamber for oral questions and any Private Notice Question.
5.We recommend that the maximum length of a Grand Committee sitting be extended from four to five hours, noting the Leader and Chief Whip’s undertaking that the use of the full five hours be only by agreement and be “the exception, not the rule”.
6.We recommend that the normal start times of the Grand Committee should be:
Monday, Tuesday 3.45 p.m.
Wednesday 4.15 p.m.
Thursday 1 p.m.
7.If more than one motion is to be taken as a general party debate on a Thursday, a Business of the House motion in the name of the Leader of the House has to be moved to divide the five hours allotted between two motions. The Chief Whip and Leader proposed that this process continue to be streamlined, as it has been under Hybrid House guidance, obviating the need Business motions for general party debates and balloted debates. Where there would only be one motion for debate, it would automatically be limited to five hours. Where there were two, the timings would be divided by agreement between the usual channels and the members sponsoring the debates with the possible divisions of the five hours being two and a half hours each, two hours and three hours or 90 minutes and three and a half hours. The timings would be confirmed to the Table Office no later than the point at which the speakers’ lists close, so that notice could be given on the Order Paper.
8.We recommend that the times for general party debates and balloted debates be divided either as two and a half hours each, two hours and three hours each or 90 minutes and three and a half hours each, through the agreement of the usual channels and the member in whose name each debate is tabled.
9.One small further issue has arisen since the last meeting of the Committee at the end of June. In October 2020 this Committee recommended, and the House agreed:
“that when legislative consent has been refused, or not yet granted by the time of third reading, a minister should orally draw it to the attention of the House before third reading commences. In doing this the Minister should set out the efforts that were made to secure consent and the reasons for the disagreement.”2
10.It has been pointed out that, for a Lords-starting Private Members’ Bill, the aim is for any necessary legislative consents to be obtained by the time of Commons committee stage. So on any such bills requiring consent a ministerial statement at Lords Third Reading will almost always be required but add no value. This will become an issue for the first time in October 2021, when the first of this session’s Lords-starting private members bills are expected to reach their Third Reading stage.
11.We recommend that the requirement for a ministerial statement at Third Reading, if necessary legislative consent has not yet been obtained, should not apply to Lords-starting Private Members’ Bills.
1 Procedure and Privileges Committee, 1st Report (Session 2021-22, HL Paper 41)
2 Procedure and Privileges Committee, 4th Report (Session 2019–21, HL Paper 140)