Second Report Contents

Appendix 1: Letter from the Leader of the House and Government Chief Whip

Letter from the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip to the Senior Deputy Speaker, 19 July 2021

At its last meeting of the Procedure and Privileges Committee discussed and agreed to return to two issues:

Grand Committee sitting times; and

Retaining flexibility in the time limits for general debates.

We are grateful for the work that the Administration have undertaken on these issues and, following discussions in the Usual Channels we are now in a position to ask the Committee to take final decisions on these points. There is one matter on which the Usual Channels are not agreed and we have highlighted that below.

Grand Committee sitting times

Since September 2020 the Grand Committee has had the ability to sit for up to five hours. We understand that the Administration have spoken to the teams that support sittings of Grand Committee, including the broadcasting team, doorkeepers and Hansard, in the Moses Room and a permanent extension of time from four to five hours is manageable.

In proposing these times, we stress that it is anticipated that, subject to the progress of business, the extra time would only be used to ensure that business scheduled in the Grand Committee could finish at the most convenient point for all participants and that the extended hours will very much be the exception rather than the rule. We would endeavour, as now, to give all concerned notice of sittings that were anticipated to run for more than four hours. We understand that not all the Usual Channels agree to making the temporary extension.

In addition, the decisions of the Committee on 29 June, then approved by the House, will affect the start times for Grand Committee. The Grand Committee previously only started proceedings after oral questions and any private notice question were completed. The PPC’s decision to extend the time for oral questions to forty minutes and PNQs to 15 minutes means that retaining the existing start times means there is a risk that ministers, frontbench spokespeople and backbench members who wished to participate in Grand Committee are unable to get to the Moses Room in a timely manner for the start of proceedings. This change has been agreed within the Usual Channels.

Taking these two things together, we would therefore wish to propose that the Grand Committee could sit for the following times:


Current times

New times


3.30pm - 7.30pm

3.45pm - 8.45pm


3.30pm - 7.30pm

3.45pm - 8.45pm


3.45pm - 7.45pm

4.15pm - 9.15pm


2pm - 6pm

1pm - 6pm

Time Limited debates

During the hybrid House there was some flexibility to adapt the time limits for debates. We have found this to be a useful streamlining of the process and consider it is a small improvement that the Committee should retain for party and balloted Thursday debates.

With the agreement of the Usual Channels, we therefore propose that if, on party debate days, only one motion has been tabled for debate, the time-limit should automatically be set at 5 hours. On party debate days where two motions have been tabled and on balloted debate days, the overall five hour envelope should be divided by agreement between the Usual Channels and the members sponsoring the debates. So depending on the number of speakers, debates could both be 2.5 hours each, or 90 minutes and 3.5 hours or 2 and 3 hours. The final time limits would be notified to the Table Office by Government Chief Whip no later than the time at which the speakers’ lists close.

This proposal would make the process for agreeing times for debate more efficient and retain some flexibility to set different times depending on the number of speakers in any debate to ensure that speaking times can be maximised. As now, this would only be done by agreement between the Usual Channels and the mover of the debate.

We understand that, given the time that has elapsed, it is now not possible for motions to be moved in the House before the summer recess. However, we hope that it is possible for the Committee to take decisions on these matters by correspondence before the summer and will ensure that time is available on the first day of the September sitting for any report to be agreed by the House.

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